Gluten Free Substitutions Part V: Sorting out the Nuts & Bolts

by Jenn on August 10, 2010

in GF Substitutions,Gluten Free,Photography

Thanks for your patience!  We had a bit of a web hosting hiccup this weekend with my domain registration, so Jenn Cuisine was down for a day, but now things are back up and running full swing!  And while my website was down and there was nothing I could do about it at the time, I was off enjoying beautiful views like this:


No, I wasn’t off in a fantasy land in my head, this place really exists, and it’s in Switzerland.  It’s even more gorgeous if you see this scene with your own eyes, standing on top of the world (we were pretty high up in the Alps!).  Probably more important, the clean and sometimes brisk mountain air was perfect for realizing some of the other needs I have in life, like stopping for a moment, letting my mind shut off, and seeking out a little clarity.  I really find admiring the vast beauty of nature to be the perfect method for achieving my “zen place”.  And I’m sure my knees and thighs will forgive me later.

But speaking of seeking out clarity (and my quite awkwardly abrupt transition sentence), now we are back to regularly planned things, like continuing the Gluten Free Substitution Series and elucidating all there is about cooking gluten free!

So, the past few weeks of this series have been all about simple easy substitutions that one can do to convert a dish from glutenicious to gluten-less.  We’ve learned about recognizing those meals that don’t need any changes at all, ones where simple one-ingredient switches are needed, and a bit about employing pre-made flour mixes.  If you only ever do these three things, I promise that with just a little creativity, you can create diverse flavorful meals ranging from easy weeknight dinners to fancy desserts for that romantic evening gazing dreamily like a love-sick teenager into the eyes of someone you love.  I went for a long time cooking only things that would fit into one of these last 3 posts.  Trust me, you can too, and it can be both simple to adapt and delicious.

But let’s say that you are really craving some homemade from scratch apple pie, or pancakes, or ravioli.  Things all of a sudden become a bit more complex, eh?  Now we have all of those alternative flours to choose from, and there’s no manual at the grocery store for buying gluten free ingredients.  Don’t you sometimes wish they had one?  One that said, “Yes, you need this magic flour over here, this will be the secret ingredient for the perfect brownies.”  I wanted this too, especially when I first started baking.


The first daunting task – categorizing all the ingredients.

For now, I’m going to provide my basic overview of gluten free ingredients of the powdery variety.  As I’ve stated before, I generally separate them into three main categories – binding agents, starches, and flours.  These aren’t necessarily hard and fast lines to be drawn, as some starches can work as binding agents, and some things that I would call starches actually have the word “flour” in their name…. but I’m distinguishing them based on how I use them, and I’ll spend one week on each.

For binding agents, I generally think of ingredients such as gums (xanthan, guar), gelatins, etc.  One can’t always be used for another, so it helps to know under what circumstances are most suitable for each one!  They really shine when one is making something that needs to either A) hold together or B) trap air to rise.  Sometimes (and often) you want your stuff to do both!  These are two things that developed gluten is the king of doing, and so I often think of these binding agents as the “gluten replacements”.

For starches, generally these are things that can dissolve easily in a little water to make a clear gelatenous like liquid/paste.  Cornstarch, tapioca, potato, arrowroot, etc.  They are often integral to many gluten free mixes, but rarely awesome on their own.

Then come all the flours.  Let’s keep this topic manageable, shall we?  We have cereals (like sorghum, millet, rice, and the many variations of rice flour).  Pseudo-cereals (like buckwheat and quinoa) that aren’t really grasses at all.  Beans (like chickpeas and soy). And finally nuts (like almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, etc.).  I often use cereal flours for their texture, and the others for their flavors.

Other Categorization Methods:
But this is just how I sort out all of the bags of fluffy gluten-freeness.  Others use different methods.  For example, Amy of Simply Sugar & Gluten Free likes to sort them by density, and then think about how that property is going to be needed in a baked good.  Carrie of Ginger Lemon Girl sorts by glycemic index and whole grains. Natalie of Gluten A Go Go has a great article up on The Daring Kitchen categorizing flours based on their temperaments.  Karine of Gluten Free Goddess categorizes GF ingredients by the weight of the texture, and has quite a lengthy article about using them in recipes.

The question I want to pose to you today, is how do you sort out all of the numerous gluten free ingredients?  Do you have a method?  If so, please share!  We all think and organize our kitchens differently, and it’s useful to see how each one of us makes sense of the myriad of options.  Maybe your methods of categorizing will help someone else sift through what could otherwise be quite an intimidating aisle in their grocery (or online) store!


Rosa August 10, 2010 at 7:54 pm

That shot is splendid!



Jenn August 10, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Thank you! So was the hike!

carrie @ August 10, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Thank you so very much for the link love my friend! It is interesting how each of us categorize our gluten free ingredients differently! I am loving this series of yours!

Jenn August 10, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Your welcome! I loved your post!

GFree_Miel August 10, 2010 at 8:26 pm

I love that photograph! I’ve never been to Switzerland, but it looks amazing.

Thanks for these substituting tips! They’re definitely helpful!

Jenn August 10, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Thank you! You should def. visit Suisse sometime, especially if you like pretty mountains :) And I’m glad this series is helpful to you!

Lauren August 10, 2010 at 8:34 pm

I categorize them pretty much the same as you :). The other one (possibly as a sup-component of flours) is whole grains, such as whole quinoa or cornmeal. Then, when it comes to mixing them, every recipe is different. Always a truly small amount of binder, then starch and flours in varying amounts to hit the right balance. I think that each type of recipe needs different things, so you have to gauge that and then jump in!

Jenn August 10, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Thanks for all the great tips and input Lauren, and good point about the whole ingredients! Maybe they should be a category all of their own…

Deanna August 10, 2010 at 9:53 pm

I’m supposed to have a method? LOL. I have a hodgepodge of stuff and hope I remembered to label all the bags when I got home from the co-op. At least, that’s the physical storage “method.” Intrinsically, I know which ones need to be mixed with which others to approximate something like good ol’ wheat flour.

Jenn August 11, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Ha no you don’t have to have a method. I just like to organize them mentally in my head so that I can think about which ones I might need. My actual storage method is a lot of containers with package labels taped onto them.

gfe--gluten free easily August 11, 2010 at 5:35 am

I think mine get sorted by necessity … storage method, to be exact. So the higher fat, higher protein flours/ingredients have to be refrigerated/frozen and the lower fat, higher glycemic flours do not. More and more I’ve come to use a mix of both to get a product that I like and feel fairly good about as far as nutrition as well as taste. I still like simple though, so I don’t make anything too complicated. I will never have 12 to 15 bags of flours/ingredients to use. And, I love recipes that are flourless or require no binders at all. Just easier and often more tasty than ones that do require all that, IMHO.

The photo blows me away, Jenn! First, it makes me want to hop on a plane to Switzerland. Second, like I’ve said before, I’d love to own one of your photos. And, third, it reminds me that I am so over this summer heat. Those mountains look cool and low in humidity! 😉

Thanks so much for this continuing series!


Jenn August 11, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Hey that works! Interesting about storing the higher protein ingredients in the fridge….I admit I’ve not done that before. Do they keep much longer that way?

Barbara @ VinoLuciStyle August 11, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Well, as a witness of sorts to your hosting issues; can I just clap, jump up and down and say yeah?

And…apartments may be hard to come by Jenn, but oh my…so worth it if you get that type of view. I live near the Rocky Mountains and had an exchange student here once from Switzerland; all we heard was how the Alps were prettier and bigger and more spectacular. She was annoying but looks like she was also right!

Jenn August 11, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Well, this isn’t from my apartment (though I wish it were and I could see this every day!) – it’s from our hike last weekend – but we can go see great views like this pretty much any time we want, which is one of the things i love about Switzerland. The Alps aren’t necessarily really higher, but you start from much lower than on the high plains in CO – so the mountains are actually a bit taller (from base to summit) which I think adds to their spectacularness :)

Kim - Cook It Allergy Free August 13, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Okay, before I begin, I am amazed and in awe of where you live. If I lived near where that photo was taken, I would just want to sit and stare all day. It would be very unproductive. The picture, and the resulting photography, are absolutely stunning!

As for my flours and starches, I keep most of them in my spare refrigerator in our storeroom. I have a shelf devoted entirely to my flours/starches. I usually have them in labelled glass containers. And then I also keep a container with a blend that I like to use as well. I always make sure I bring them back to room temp first, though. And like Shirley, I keep the higher protein ones like the bean flours, quinoa, almond flours, brown rice flours, etc in the fridge. I usually do not keep the lower fat and high glycemic index ones (like the starches) in there.

Once again, another great addition to your series.

Jenn August 13, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Thank you so much! If the weather weren’t going to be icky this weekend I’d seriously think about going back, oh my gosh it was just beautiful!

Do the higher fat/protein flours go bad more quickly if left at room temp? It seems like refrigerating these ingredients is not uncommon, I really should look into it (especially since I will have a bigger fridge soon!)…

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