How to Blend Low-Calorie, Gluten-Free Flours/Starches
Katherine from the Kat’s Health Corner blog was remarking on my Pumpkin Currant Muffins and wrote, “I love how you combined the chickpea and quinoa flours — how creative!” What surprised me was the praise. (But thank you, Katherine, thank you!)
The truth is I’m driven, not so much by the desire to be creative, but by the search for low-calorie GF flour/starch blends for baking.
When I first started refashioning recipes, I baked with rice flour because that’s what GF cookbook writers were using. But now I know better. Why? Because three of the four highest-calorie flours are made from rice. The fourth is made from nuts.
- White rice flour: 16 WW points or roughly 800 calories per cup
- Brown rice flour: 16 WW points or roughly 800 calories per cup
- Sweet rice flour: 16 WW points or roughly 800 calories per cup
- Almond meal (used as flour): 20 points or roughly 1000 calories per cup
Wheat flour, by the way, is only 8 WW points per cup or about 400 calories. How fair is that, fellow GF-ers! It’s bad enough we can’t eat wheat, but we also have to manage with higher-calorie flours. If you know who to complain to, please do!
So the question is: How to keep baked products—squares, muffins, breads, cakes—as low in calories as possible, but still be tasty and rise beautifully?
It’s a Step-By-Step Process
Step #1: The recipe. Let’s say you find an interesting non-GF recipe that requires 2 cups of flour. To turn it into a GF recipe, you need an alternative flour/starch blend that equals 2 cups. Why a blend? Two reasons: 1) flours provide nutrition and starches provide “lift” to a GF baked good, and 2) for whatever chemical reason, chances of GF baking success are greater when you use more than one flour mixed with more than one starch.
Step #2: Choose flour/starch portions. You could just divide the 2 cups into quarters and have ½ cup of each flour/starch. But you shouldn’t because starches are higher in calories and extremely low in nutrition. In other words, you want more flour than starch. You decide on the following ratio:
- ¾ cup of a primary flour
- ½ cup of a secondary flour
- ½ cup of a primary starch
- ¼ cup of a secondary starch
Another blend possibility is 1.5 cups flour to .5 cup starch. This would lower the calories, but I would worry that there wasn’t enough starch to get a good “lift.” (Reminder to self: Write note to the spouse, “Darling, I need a test kitchen.”)
Step #3: Choose the primary flour. Now you look for the lowest-calorie flour—one that is only 8 WW points or roughly 400 calories per cup. Some of the bean flours fit the bill because they are higher in protein and lower in carbs and fats. There are four possibilities:
- White bean flour
- Garfava bean flour
- Fava bean flour
- Coconut flour
So far I’ve used either white bean flour or garfava bean flour. The others require testing; I’ll keep you posted.
Because it’s easily available in your local store, you choose garfava flour: ¾ cup for 6 points.
Step #4: Choose a secondary flour: There’s lots of variety among flours that have 12 WW points or roughly 600 calories per cup. I often choose quinoa flour because, if I’m experimenting, I like to use one flour that is tried-and-true for me.
I haven’t yet attempted to mix two of the lowest-calories flours together, i.e., two bean flours or bean flour and coconut flour. When I do, I’ll let you know.
On my advice, you choose quinoa flour: ½ cup for 6 points.
Step #5: Choose primary and secondary starches. Unfortunately for us dieters, GF baked products require starch to help with “lift.” The starches available are:
- Arrowroot starch: 12 WW points or roughly 600 calories per cup
- Cornstarch: 13 WW points or roughly 650 calories per cup
- Potato starch: 16 WW points or roughly 800 calories per cup
- Tapioca starch (sometimes called “flour”): 12 WW points or roughly 600 calories per cup.
The gold standard in GF baking is a mix of tapioca and potato starches. I have yet to try the other starches because I’m only in the experimenting-with-flour stage.
You decide to stick with the gold standard. You choose tapioca as a primary starch: ½ cup for 6 points, and potato as a secondary starch: ¼ cup for 4 points.
Step #6: Add xanthan or guar gum: According to a rule in the GF magazine, “Living Without,” 1 cup of flour requires 1 tsp. xanthan or guar gum.
You add 2 tsp. of xanthan gum to your flour/starch mixture.
The Final Blend
This blend is 22 WW points or roughly 1100 calories, namely, 6 points or roughly 300 calories more than the equivalent of 2 cups of wheat flour. As the basis for a baked product, it
- Has a mild, slightly nutty flavour.
- Has good “lift.”
- Adds between 1.5 to 3.0 points to a serving, depending on whether you have 8, 12, or 16 servings.
I know the process of GF baking is more complicated than non-GF baking, but it’s worthwhile if you want to make your own products. I, for one, am very suspicious of GF baked products from a grocery store or bakery. The bakers’ intentions are good and the products may taste fine, but to get the results they want, the manufacturers rely on starches and fats—dieting enemies.
A Cautionary Tale
I recently stopped into a sandwich shop that advertised GF products. I had a discussion with the owner about the GF bun they were using. She handed it to me and said proudly, “We’ve tried all kinds of different GF breads, but most didn’t have a decent taste. Then we found this bun, and it’s really good.”
I was holding one of these buns, which was wrapped in cellophane. It was very light in weight, and I wondered what flour it contained. So I turned the bun over to look at the ingredient list.
Here was the shocker: The bun didn’t contain any flour, only starches and additives! In other words, it was filled with empty calories and had no nutritional value.
I didn’t want to burst the owner’s bubble so I left without saying anything. But my suspicions were once again confirmed. Yep, I’d rather make my own.
Note: For a comprehensive (as I can make it) list of GF ingredients and point values, check out Point Values of Gluten-Free Flours, Starches, and Ground Meals.