There are lots of gluten-free cookbooks out there, and a dizzying, ever-changing array of gluten-free packaged foods showing up on supermarket shelves these days, but the fact is, that the many of them remain mediocre at best, and those that taste great or have decent shelf-life, are often questionable in terms of their nutritional value.

And so, (not surprisingly, just like with “gluten-full” foods) the best way to get great tasting gluten-free baking, with great texture, is to make it yourself.  Unfortunately many people feel intimidated by the prospect of baking, regardless of whether it is wheat flour baking or gluten-free. Yes, baking can be daunting if you haven’t done much of it before getting a diagnosis, and yes, gluten-free baking IS more finicky and exacting than baking with wheat flour, so the fallback for an inexperienced baker is to purchase pre-baked and pre-packaged items rather than making a large purchase of a flour blend that may or may not result in a great baked good.

The fact is that coming up with a good blend can be complicated – allow me to get somewhat technical here. Gluten in wheat flour performs several functions in baking, ranging from its water absorbing/gel creation properties as a hydrocolloid to the stickiness created by Gliadin, or the stretch and strength created by Glutenin. When moistened and heated, these proteins help leaven your baking, but they also gelatinize at high temperatures helping create structure in your baking (so your breads and muffins don’t collapse). To further complicate things, the functions gluten performs that are most important in breads (stretch and leavening) are different than the functions most important for great cookies or pies.  So you can see that creating a duplicate gluten-free blend requires a bit of reverse engineering that unfortunately no single flour alone can replicate. The fact is, most home kitchens do not have the luxury of the space required to store a large number of flours to create different combos on-the-fly, let alone use them all up in a timely manner, therefore an all-purpose blend provides a happy medium kind of alternative.

When it comes to provisioning up your gluten-free pantry, you have no doubt seen that gluten-free blends across the board are MUCH more expensive than wheat flour.  By way of comparison, I can go to one of the best (wheat) bakeries in the city, and buy freshly stone-milled, sifted red-fife wheat flour direct from the baker for $5 per kilogram – and that is a premium product. Regular old all-purpose flour runs around $1-1.50 per kilogram depending on the brand. Most of the gluten-free flour blends I’ll be testing out average $10-15 per kilogram, and unlike wheat flour, have HUGE variability in terms of the their ingredients, flour grind size of one or more of their component flours and utility for multiple purposes – meaning frustration, time, energy and potentially wasted product for the average home baker before finding a blend that works for them.

And so, I thought it was high time I did a bit of a roundup of some of these flour blends so you don’t have to.

 

The Plan

The plan is to bake a number of items with a number of readily available gluten-free flour blends and have some discerning tasters give me their 2c worth.

I plan to make a number of things that the average home baker would be likely to bake: cookies, muffins, pie, cake, sandwich bread and possibly pasta or Asian dumplings.  I will use recipes that I’ve created that I know are tried and true, and just for shits & giggles, we’ll include that as the “control” in each case.    I’ll also provide an approximate cost for the flour used for each recipe so readers will have a benchmark to compare against purchasing flours individually and blending themselves.

Tasters will be trying these out blind, so they won’t know which one contains which flour.  This will be a series of posts, so in the interests of keeping this manageable, I’ll do cookies one week, muffins the following week etc.

Tasters will be asked to score each recipe on: taste, appearance, texture and overall impression (20 points total) and I’ll publish the unvarnished results, whatever they may be.

 

A few disclaimers to start:
  1. I do NOT use a master flour blend for most of my baking or even for each family of items, but rather use a different combination of flours in each recipe.  I bake by weight, so all flour substitutions will be done by weight rather than volume.  If the flour blend contains gums, I will eliminate from the recipe and rely solely on the binders in each flour blend.
  2. I am not being compensated for this by any manufacturer or organization.  All flours have been purchased at retail prices by myself. Any opinions expressed will be mine or those of the tasters.
  3. Tasters will be a combination of people who eat gluten-free and those who don’t.
  4. There are NO affiliate links in this blog post.

 

A rantword about pricing and “gluten-free”

Many of you will be aware that the term “gluten-free” has been defined under regulation in Canada since 2012 by Health Canada, and is enforced for all packaged food products by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  Under this regulation, any food making a claim of “gluten-free” on its label MUST not only disclose any ingredients that may contain gluten (wheat, barley, rye etc…) but must also be prepared to prove by testing that the gluten content falls < 20 parts per million.  If the producer is not testing for gluten content, then any possible cross contamination MUST be noted on the label. Wheat-free oats have been excluded from the gluten-free definition until now, but that is a whole other blog post.

The labelling and testing of products to maintain this standard is not insignificant, and adds to the cost of the final product. If you are a label-reader, you will not doubt have picked up packages of things like spices or rice, or beans that contain this “may contain … “ or “packaged in a facility…” disclaimers.  Statements such as these are being made in order to be in compliance with the Health Canada Regulation without incurring the additional expense of sending products out for testing – EVEN IF THE PRODUCT IS INHERENTLY FREE OF GLUTEN. Think of it as a CYA statement.

So why am I going on at length about this? in part to give readers some sense of the factors that go into the pricing for a final retail product, but also to flag the fact that the same concerns apply at ALL stages of the supply chain! This means a manufacturer of gluten-free flours must

  1. do their R&D to create a blend that works – which means formulating and testing — a LOT of testing and then
  2. source ingredients at a wholesale level and test-bake with them because not all gluten-free flours are created equal (e.g. compare these grinds just in brown rice flour https://plus.google.com/+JaniceMansfield/posts/iPC3sBPNafn – a manufacturer will need to do that for every component of their blend!)
  3. source ingredients that are in fact, certified gluten-free and will be available on an ongoing basis.  The gluten-free landscape is a rapidly shifting one, as people jump in with both feet, hoping to capitalize on this market, and then fade out just as quickly as they discover the costs and level of effort to do this in compliance with the Health Canada regulations are higher than they thought, or that the Celiac community is far less willing to purchase mediocre products than they presumed.

So at the end of the day, all of this contributes to the final product price – and in fact, with many prepackaged blends the customer is paying twice for the costs associated with gluten-free certification – once at the wholesale procurement stage, and again at the final product packaging stage.  (A manufacturer could go to great effort to procure gluten-free flours, but then produce an unsafe product because they were mixing it in a facility with cross contamination present – so testing at both stages remains important!)

Note that this only applies at present to packaged goods, not to goods produced in a bakery or cafe and sold directly to customers. There are currently many bakers making claims of “gluten-free” baking in spaces that produce predominantly wheat baking.  It is important, as consumers to continue to ask questions in cases where you may be unsure.  How is cross contamination managed? Where are gluten-free products stored? and are there different leavenings, spiced, nuts etc sourced and used in the production of their gluten-free products? Do they use separate baking pans and equipment when baking gluten-free cakes and muffins?  … are just some of the concerns.   Again – all of these add to the cost of doing gluten-free in a conscientious way where you are making a product for direct sale.

 

The flours

For each flour tested, there will be a summary table, plus at the end, a list of some other available flour blends that didn’t make it into this round, but may be used for future rounds of testing.  I’m working with a list of products readily available in Canada – there are a few that I would love to have on the list but they either don’t ship here at present, or the cost of shipping is prohibitive.

 

Cup 4 Cup

http://www.cup4cup.com/

This is one of the most widely recognizable brands out there.  It was originally created by Lena Kwak when working as head pastry chef for Thomas Keller at French Laundry in response to customers asking for gluten-free options.  It claims to have premium taste and texture, “just like wheat flour” and also claims to be suitable for 1:1 volume substitutions in all your favourite wheat-flour recipes

Contains dairy? yes
Contains gums? yes
Cost per kilogram (approx) $15.40
Weight per cup (g) 128 g
Calories per cup 480
Carbohydrates per cup (g) 104
Ingredients: cornstarch, white rice flour, brown rice flour, rBST-free milk powder, tapioca flour, potato starch, xanthan gum

 

Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 Baking Flour

http://www.bobsredmill.com/gluten-free-1-to-1-baking-flour.html

Bob’s Red Mill is one of the original companies that began taking gluten-free seriously.  They are located in Oregon, originally stone grinding wheat and other wholesome grains.  As demand for gluten-free products increased, they created a dedicated facility for grinding and packaging gluten-free flours, ranging from brown rice to teff, quinoa etc.  Many years ago, they created one of the first “all-purpose” blends (gum-free) on the market, which has some ardent fans, and others who feel it is heavy on the legume flours.  They introduced this cup for cup flour blend last year, in response to customer requests for something they could use to convert their wheat flour recipes.

As a nice bonus, Bob’s Red Mill has been employee owned since 2010 when owner Bob Moore transferred all his stock to the employees, so your purchases have a very direct benefit for the people making the product!

Contains dairy? no
Contains gums? yes
Cost per kilogram (approx) $11.00
Weight per cup (g) 148 g
Calories per cup 520
Carbohydrates per cup (g) 120 g
Ingredients: sweet rice flour, whole grain brown rice flour, potato starch, whole grain sweet white sorghum flour, tapioca flour, xanthan gum

 

Cloud 9 Gluten-free All Purpose Baking Mix

http://www.cloud9specialtybakery.com/secret-ingredient.html

Cloud 9 is a gluten-free bakery located in New Westminster, BC, that created a gluten-free blend for their own use in the bakery.  As demand for gluten-free grew, they began making their flour blend available and began making them available in larger formats.  They have fairly wide distribution at the moment, in locations such as Costco, and Save On Foods.

Contains dairy? no
Contains gums? yes
Cost per kilogram (approx) $10.50
Weight per cup (g) 152 g
Calories per cup 520
Carbohydrates per cup (g) 116 g
Ingredients: rice flour, buckwheat flour, cornstarch, potato starch, tapioca starch, xanthan gum

 

Namaste’s Perfect Flour Blend

http://www.namastefoods.com/products/cgi-bin/products.cgi?Function=show&Category_Id=4&Id=13

Namaste Foods is a smallish company based in Idaho, that was started in 2000 specifically to create a gluten-free mixes that were also free of the major allergens such as soy, corn, dairy and nuts.  They business growth model was very much a grassroots one – with limited resources for marketing, they chose to spend time cultivating relationships with organziations such as Celiac support groups, and allergy awareness groups.  Now, as a larger company 11 years later, they give back a portion of their proceeds as charitable donations to support groups.

Namaste’s Perfect Flour Blend claims to be a cup for cup substitute in any of your favourite wheat flour recipes.

Contains dairy? no
Contains gums? yes
Cost per kilogram (approx) $14.00
Weight per cup (g) 138 g
Calories per cup 480
Carbohydrates per cup (g) 111 g
Ingredients: sweet brown rice flour, tapioca starch, brown rice flour, arrowroot powder, sorghum flour, xanthan gum

 

Cusine Soleil All-Purpose Mix

http://www.cuisinesoleil.com/en/produits/

Cuisine Soleil was founded in 2005, to create gluten-free, organic ingredients, so customers could make healthy gluten-free foods for themselves.  The company founders have strong academic backgrounds in the agricultural and biological sciences, and crafted their products with agricultural sustainability in mind.  Initially, they focussed on direct sales to customers at small farmers’ markets in the Abitibi area of Quebec.  As they have expanded, they have been able to partner with production and distribution partners, making their products available across Canada.

Their all-purpose blend claims to be a versatile blend.  Although it is implied, it does not explicitly say it is a cup for cup replacement mix, and is free of both cornstarch and potato starch.  All of their flours are certified organic and non-GMO.

Contains dairy? no
Contains gums? yes
Cost per kilogram (approx) $12.00
Weight per cup (g) 148 g
Calories per cup 520
Carbohydrates per cup (g) 120 g
Ingredients: brown rice flour, tapioca starch, chickpea flour, guar gum

 

Ideas in Food: Aki’s low allergy blend from Gluten-free Flour Power

http://blog.ideasinfood.com/ideas_in_food/2015/03/gluten-free-flour-power-bringing-your-favorite-foods-back-to-the-table.html

Ideas in Food is the blog, book and culinary consulting business of Aki Kamozawa and Alexander Talbot. They are consummate experimenters, and began their blog as a means of capturing the results of their experimenting in their restaurant kitchen.

They published their most recent book, Gluten-free Flour Power in March 2015. They bring their understanding of the science of food to everything they do, and this book is no exception – it contains 3 master flour blend recipes, including this low-allergy blend.   These blends have been formulated for the recipes in Gluten-free Flour Power, although they are also intended to be interchangeable in wheat-flour recipes

Contains dairy? no
Contains gums? no
Cost per kilogram (approx) $10.50
Weight per cup (g) 130 g
Ingredients: Tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, arrowroot powder, sorghum flour, Golden flax meal, potato flour

 

Other blends for future consideration

Robin Hood Nutri-flour Gluten-free blend – a somewhat lower priced option, this blend is made from rice flour, sugar beet fibre, tapioca starch and potato starch.

NextJen Gluten-free All Purpose Blend – Created by chef Jen Peters, in order to bake delicious things for herself after discovering she was gluten-intolerent.  This flour is GMO-free, corn-free, preservative-free, dairy-free, and sulphite-free.

Sobey’s Compliments brand Gluten-free Baking blend

Pamela’s Artisinal Flour Blend – another flour blend intended as a 1:1 replacement in wheat-flour recipes

 

Lentil blini
Strawberry Preserves, French style
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Janice Mansfield is a personal chef who specializes in creating customized catering and baking for people with food sensitivities. A recipe developer and baker by day, by night, she enjoys delving into the history of classic cocktails and created a line of cocktail bitters for no other reason than she wanted chocolate bitters in her Manhattans! In her spare time, she documents the antics and unbearable cuteness her two Shiba Inus over at Life in the Shiba Shack.

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