Gluten-free baking. Even the sound of it sounds daunting. First of all, what is gluten anyway, and where can it be found? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. If a food item contains unbleached, wheat, or refined flour, it most likely contains gluten. However, many companies, chefs, and bakers are working towards perfecting their products not just for normal diets, but for gluten-free diets too. 

Gluten-free flours are readily available at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods (their blog is filled with gluten-free recipes, too!), Harris Teeter, Food Lion, and even Walmart. As more and more distributors hop on to the "gluten-free" bandwagon, flours that are safe for gluten sensitive, gluten intolerant, and Celiac individuals will be as easy to find as your regular varieties.

Here are seven of the best gluten-free flours I've found for making anything from cake to banana bread to cookies. Even those who aren't gluten-free won't be able to tell the difference!

Almond Meal/Almond Flour

Olivia Chadwick

Almond meal is produced by grinding sweet almonds into a coarse powder. The mixture is sometimes made using blanched almonds, or almonds without any skin on the outside. Almond flour is very similar, and has a finer texture using solely blanched almonds. This up and coming flour/meal mix is gaining popularity due to the rise in almond products, including almond milk. Almond meal/flour is also higher in fiber, while fairly low in carbohydrates. It makes an excellent flour for diabetics, and anyone avoiding a high carbohydrate diet.

sweet, salt, wheat, cereal, flour
Olivia Chadwick

Almond meal is a little more coarse than regular flour, and has a slight nuttier flavor. Almond meal can be used in denser baked goods, such as quick breads or cookies. The finer almond flour can be used for light, airy macarons or a delicate, fluffy cake. Almond meal/almond flour can be found in local grocery stores/chains and online for $6-$13, depending on the company and quantity.

Coconut Flour

Olivia Chadwick

Coconut products are all the rage, and soon coconut flour will be, too. To make it, the coconut's outer husk is removed, and the inside meat of the coconut is dried and ground into flour. The flour is high in protein and healthy fat, while having little carbohydrates and a low glycemic index. Coconut flour is a perfect fit for individuals with a wheat allergy, nut allergy, diabetes, or anyone eating a higher fat diet.

bread, salt, plain flour, dough, wheat, cereal, flour
Olivia Chadwick

Coconut flour has a finer texture, and a stronger scent of coconut. The sweetness comes from the whole coconut, without any added sugar. When compared to almond flour, coconut flour creates a denser texture and absorbs more water, thus creating a softer end product. However, the coconut flavor is unmistakable, and is hard to cover up if you don't enjoy the taste of coconuts.

There are countless sweets and treats to make using coconut flour, including cinnamon buns, pancakes, waffles, quick breads, macaroons, and brownies. Coconut flour can run from $3.50-$7.00, depending on where you shop.

Oat Flour

Olivia Chadwick

Oat flour is one of the most popular forms of gluten-free flour, but if you have Celiac disease, you need to be careful to ensure there is no gluten in the oats. Oats themselves are gluten-free, but there can be cross contamination when oat flour is blended.

Making your own oat flour is easy; just pulse oats in a food processor until desired texture is achieved. Oats have a very mild taste, as well as a denser texture. Oat flour is popular to due to availability, cost, and nutrition. They help you remain full, provide high fiber and protein, and help decrease the risk of heart diseaseand cholesterol. So go ahead and try what everyone seems to be raving about; oat flour may be the next wheat flour!

bread, dough, salt, wheat, cereal, flour
Olivia Chadwick

A few of my favorite things to bake with oat flour include oatmeal raisin cookies, pound cake, oat pancakes, lemon bars, and yellow birthday cake. I usually combine oat with brown rice flour, which gives a very similar texture to normal white flour. Oat flour is on the cheaper side, ranging from $4-$7 at local grocery stores and chains across the country. Or, purchase gluten-free oat flour online from one of my favorite gluten-free companies, Bob's Red Mill. 

Brown Rice Flour

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Olivia Chadwick

Brown rice flour, white rice flour, sweet rice flour...rice flour is a very popular flour. Actually, it is the most common flour used in gluten-free baking. This is because the texture is extremely light, fine, and slightly gritty. Rice flour has a very mild taste, which allows for other flours to be mixed in to create a perfect gluten-free baked product. It's made from raw rice that's ground into a fine powder, and can then be used for baking cookies and cakes, formed into rice noodles for Asian dishes, and thickening items such as soups and stews.

plain flour, salt, dough, wheat, cereal, flour
Olivia Chadwick

Due to its abundance all over the world, rice flour is extremely common in the diets of Americans, Europeans, South Americans, and Asians. My favorite items to make with rice flour (usually blended with oat flour) include birthday cakes, fudge brownies, banana bread, and rice flour pancakes. I also purchase crackers, pita bread, and donuts that have rice flour as their first ingredient. Rice flour can be found for around $2-$5 in most grocery stores, and is the cheapest form of alternative flour on the market today. 

Sorghum Flour

Olivia Chadwick

Perhaps one of the lesser known alternative flours is sorghum flour. This ancient, gluten-free grain has a higher fiber and protein content than rice flour, making it a great addition to gluten-free flour mixes. White sorghum flour is usually mild, soft textured, and almost sweet in flavor. The cereal grain is usually combined with other flours in gluten free flour blends, and is a plentiful source of antioxidants. Surprisingly, sorghum is the third most prominent cereal grain in the United States, and fifth in the world.

plain flour, wheat, salt, flour, cereal
Olivia Chadwick

White sorghum flour is used in many different gluten-free flour blends, and is known for its success in pizzas, flat breads, porridge, muffins, and even beer. It is rather simple today to find 100% white sorghum flour, and the cost ranges from $3-$6. Simply use it alone or combine it with many other flours to create a gluten-free masterpiece! 

Gluten-Free Baking Mix

Olivia Chadwick

If you simply want an all inclusive, one-stop purchase, this gluten-free baking flour is right for you. I like to use Bob's Red Mill, and their website provides countless recipes that can be made using their "1 to 1 Baking Flour." The mixture includes a combination of grains and flours, in an attempt to mimic regular all-purpose flour. This mix works for any gluten-free recipe, and the 1 for 1 means that each recipe requiring 1 cup of all-purpose flour can be substituted with 1 cup of gluten-free flour mix.

wheat, cereal, salt, flour
Olivia Chadwick

Potato starch and tapioca flour are two up and coming light and airy flours used to lower the density and create a lighter overall flour mix. The color of both flours is extremely white and powdery, and can "poof" into the air if you are not careful. They are excellent additions to higher density flours, such as coconut and oat flour. These mixes can be a little more expensive ($6-$11), but are convenient and fully functional for all forms of gluten-free baking. 

Xanthan Gum

cake, beer
Olivia Chadwick

Many gluten-free flours lack a binding agent, or something to hold the food product together as gluten helps keep the flour mixture together during cooking and baking. When you remove gluten, the mixture tends to fall apart and appear crumbly. this is where xanthan gum comes in. Xanthan gum is made when glucose, sucrose, or lactose is fermented by a certain type of bacteria. 

This bacteria ferments the sugar, creating a complex polysaccharide. It is then precipitated using isopropyl alcohol, and ground into a very fine powder. When added to liquid, it produces a gelling agent and creates a gum. What does this mean for baking? Xanthan gum helps keep the batter of gluten-free baking mixtures together, and prevents the final end product from being crumbly or dry.

rice, flour, cereal, salt
Olivia Chadwick

The general guide for using xanthan gum is 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum per 1 cup of gluten-free flour. Some mixes already have xanthan gum added, so be sure to check the ingredient label. The single ingredient flours usually do not have xanthan gum added. Xanthan gum is relatively expensive, but lasts a long time. The average cost of a container of xanthan gum is around $10-$14.

If you want a substitute for xanthan gum, try using flax seeds or chia seeds, but nothing compares to the fermented powder in gluten-free baked goods. 

So there you have it! There are countless other alternative flours in existence, but these are the best gluten-free flours on the market sold as a single product or combined mix. Hopefully you can now use this knowledge to try to bake a number of delicious gluten-free products.

A large amount of information on gluten-free baking, flours, uses, and recipes can be found on Dr. Axe's website or many famous blogger websites with killer gluten-free recipes that taste just like regular recipes (and sometimes better).