These gluten-free alternatives to wheat flour are suitable for anyone from people suffering gluten intolerance to those wanting to lose weight. They’re versatile, readily available and will encourage you to be more experimental in the kitchen!
People with Coeliac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder that causes the small intestine to be damaged when gluten is consumed, and those who suffer from gluten sensitivity, should avoid food with gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, oats, barley and rye, which means that most baked goods, pasta, cereal and anything made with flour from these grains will affect those who are gluten intolerant.
There was a time when gluten-free food didn’t taste too good and more importantly was lacking in nutrients like vitamins B6 and B12, calcium, folate and iron. With the healthy eating and vegetarian / vegan trends steadily becoming the norm, gluten-free flours are in the limelight. These flours have always been used in Southeast Asian cooking, as rice, lentils and chickpeas are a staple of the diet; so it made culinary sense to grind them down to make another ingredient.
5 Asian Naturally Gluten-Free Flours
Chickpea Flour (also known as garbanzo, Besan or gram flour)
Traditionally used as a staple ingredient in the cuisines of Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, this flour is used to make flatbreads and to coat vegetables (pakoras) before frying. It contains protein, iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium and B vitamins; and is a very good source of fibre. Due to this, it helps reduce cholesterol by lowering triglycerides, eases constipation and contributes to the overall health of the digestive system.
One cup of chickpea flour contains 356 calories, 21g protein, 53g total carbohydrates and 6g total fat; which makes it lower in calories and carbs than white and whole wheat flour.
How to use: Chickpea Fritters, Socca (pancake), Shan tofu (soy-free tofu from Myanmar) to bind vegan / vegetarian burgers, as a substitute for white flour in bread and cookies, thicken soups and stews, batter for fish / chicken / vegetables
This 100% gluten and grain-free flour is made from the coconut pulp, and is actually a by-product of coconut flesh, which is dried and ground after the milk has been extracted. With its high levels of protein, fibre and healthy fats, this flour is also favoured by those on a Paleo diet and who suffer nut allergies. Its benefits include maintaining a healthy blood sugar level as it’s a low glycaemic food, which is great for those with diabetes and for weight loss; sustaining a good metabolic rate and improves digestive health due to the fibre content.
Half a cup of coconut flour contains 240 calories, 8g protein, 20g fibre, 32g carbohydrates. Due to its consistency, this flour absorbs more water and you don’t have to use too much of it when cooking or baking; and it can be mixed with other flours. There’s also a mild natural sweetness to it so is ideal for baked goods.
How to use: For ketogenic and paleo bread and cookies, batter for fish / chicken, thicken soups and stews, breadcrumb replacement, pancakes
This grain free flour is made from the root of the cassava (also known as manioc or yucca) plant, and is also commonly used in Latin American and Caribbean cuisine. In Malaysia, it’s used in biscuits like the Chinese New Year favourite, kuih bangkit; and teatime staple, kuih bingka ubi kayu. Nutritionally speaking, this flour doesn’t contain the same nutrients as others on this list and is almost all starch. There is very little protein, vitamins, minerals and fat; which means it’s also low in calories and sugar-free. Tapioca flour has a mild taste so can be used in both savoury and sweet cooking.
Half a cup of this flour contains 200 calories, 50g carbohydrates and almost no protein and fat. Due to its easy digestibility, this flour is ideal for those on a Paleo or FODMAP diet; and for those who have grain/nut/dairy allergies.
How to use: Thickening stews, soups, sauces and pudding; flour replacement for flatbread, cookies, tortillas, pizza bases and cake
Not to be confused with rice starch (treated with lye before processing), rice flour is basically finely ground white or brown rice and is a common ingredient in India and Southeast Asia. Like tapioca flour, it’s nutritional content is lacking compared to the bean flours, although it does contain a high amount of fibre, which is good for digestive issues. It also contains choline, which is an important nutrient that transports cholesterol and triglycerides around the body.
One cup of white rice flour contains 578 calories, 127g carbohydrates, 9.4g protein, 2.2g fat and 3.8g fibre. Brown rice flour is the healthier alternative. Rice flour can be made at home by processing rice in a blender until fine – check the online for precise instructions.
How to use: Can be made into noodles, pancakes (especially in South Indian cooking), thicken stews and soups, as an alternative for wheat flour in biscuits, crackers, dumplings and cakes.
Lentil Flour (also known as gram dhal flour)
Lentils contain the third highest amount of protein of all legumes and are a good source of iron, protein, folate (vitamin B9) and dietary fibre. The flour can be made from red, yellow or green lentils; although the most common is made from red split lentils. It’s pleasant flavour makes it easy to incorporate into savoury and sweet recipes, and it’s an important source of protein for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet. Lentil pasta is also gaining popularity as a healthy GF alternative.
Half a cup of lentil flour contains 335 calories, 24g protein and 58g carbohydrates. As lentil flour is basically dried, lightly toasted lentils, you could make it yourself by blending it in food processor.
How to use: As the main ingredient in pancakes, bread, cookies, muffins, vegan omelette, flat breads