Gluten-free smackdown: a taste test of 6 flours in muffins
Using a classic muffin recipe, we test six widely available gluten-free flours to see which one provides the best taste, texture and value.
McClatchy News Service
A decade ago, gluten-free all-purpose flours for baking were difficult to find in supermarkets. That meant some home bakers who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance spent a lot of time fiddling with starches and alternative flours to create a worthy substitute.
Things have changed.
Gluten-free all-purpose flours have joined an array of gluten-free baking products. They offer home bakers a chance to prepare some favorite recipes free of gluten, a stretchy protein that captures gas bubbles made by leavening agents used to increase a baked good’s volume.
There are about two dozen gluten-free all-purpose flours these days, both well-known brands and smaller independents. They rely on a variety of flours (from grains, legumes, beans) and starches (corn, potato, tapioca, arrowroot) to create a flour’s powdery element. To give baked goods the structure and texture usually provided by gluten, most use xanthan gum or guar gum, both commonly used food additives.
We decided to test a half dozen of these flours to see how they perform in a standard baked good. We chose a basic plain muffin recipe, preparing a control batch with standard all-purpose flour, then baked batches with the gluten-free flours. (The flours we tested can be used cup-for-cup in recipes.) We did not add any nuts or fruit, so we wouldn’t be distracted from the taste and texture of the muffins. To those with no gum element (Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur), we added xanthan gum.
Bob’s Red Mill, Cup4Cup and Namaste produced a moist, somewhat typical muffin batter. The others created almost sticky, pastelike batters. Yet each made the recipe’s dozen muffins, with all but Betty Crocker and Glutino rising to a height of 2 inches plus.
Our tasters (all bakers, some with gluten issues) enjoyed the good flavor and decent texture of each. Rated on a scale of 1-9, they all fell in the average range — with a few quibbles noted in the chart.
Which gluten-free all-purpose flour you choose, from those tested here as well as others on the market, will depend on several factors: your budget (prices for the ones tested ranged from 21 to 35 cents per ounce), shopping criteria (no GMO ingredients, kosher), personal preferences (you like the nutty flavor of brown rice) and dietary considerations (you want the extra protein in Bob’s Red Mill; you can’t have dairy or soy or those gums, xanthan and guar).
When shopping, do not confuse these all-purpose flours with, say, bread mixes (which may have added yeast) or baking mixes (which may have added baking powder or baking soda). Most of these are available nationally, have a store locater on their website or can be purchased online.
Betty Crocker Gluten Free All-Purpose Rice Flour Blend (generalmills.com)
Price: $3.75 for a 16-ounce box; 23 cents per ounce
Ingredients: Rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, guar gum, salt
Comments: Cakelike texture with a tight crumb. A bit gummy but decent flavor. Very white and rather bland.
Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour (bobsredmill.com)
Price: $4.59 for a 22-ounce bag; 21 cents per ounce
Ingredients: Garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, white sorghum flour, fava bean flour
Comments: Airy crumb and beautifully browned. Crumbly and dry, with a cornlike aftertaste. Good texture but a bit grainy with off flavors.
Cup4Cup Gluten Free Flour (cup4cup.com)
Price: $16.99 for a 48-ounce bag; 35 cents per ounce
Ingredients: Cornstarch, white rice flour, brown rice flour, milk powder, tapioca flour, potato starch, xanthan gum
Comments: Crusty top and good texture. Chewy and really bland. Pretty attractive with nice, crispy outside and some fluffiness. Tastes like a muffin!
Glutino Gluten Free Pantry All Purpose Flour (glutino.com)
Price: $4.69 for a 16-ounce box; 29 cents per ounce
Ingredients: White rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, guar gum, salt
Comments: Good-looking pebbly surface with an even grain, good taste. Chewy, dense; leaves an aftertaste.
King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour (kingarthurflour.com)
Price: $7.95 for a 24-ounce box; 33 cents per ounce
Ingredients: Specialty flour blend (rice flour, tapioca starch), potato starch, whole grain brown rice flour, calcium carbonate, niacinamide (a B vitamin), reduced iron, thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2)
Comments: Tight crumb with a bit of a grainy texture. Lovely rise and not much flavor, but bland isn’t always bad. Floury taste.
Namaste Foods Gluten Free Perfect Flour Blend (namastefoods.com)
Price: $11.69 for a 48-ounce bag; 24 cents per ounce
Ingredients: Sweet brown rice flour, tapioca flour, arrowroot powder, sorghum flour, xanthan gum
Comments: Good browning with a slight earthy aroma. Interior doesn’t look done. Gummy with a strange grain taste.
NOTE: Prices are suggested retail. Rated on a scale of 1-9.