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The Cooking Power of Alternative Flour

In the Pantry

Discussions of alternative flours are often centered around wheat allergies, celiac disease, and gluten-free cooking, but there are many other reasons to venture beyond the all-purpose (AP) realm and experiment with other varieties of flour. Even if your diet is free of restrictions, different grain and plant flours can contribute delectable flavor and textural elements to savory recipes and baked goods. So whether you're a home or professional chef, gluten-free or gluten-glutton, peruse the information below to discover new flours.

Flour Varieties and Substitutes

Arrowroot Flour: A starch derived from the arrowroot plant, this flour best replaces wheat flour and cornstarch as a thickening agent in soups, sauces, and stews. While often more expensive and obscure than the other two common thickeners, arrowroot imparts a better surface sheen, has a more neutral flavor, and adapts the best to freezing.

Wheat and Gluten-free: yes

Buckwheat Flour: Although "wheat" appears in the name, buckwheat is a cousin of the rhubarb plant, and has no relation to the cereal. While it's safe for gluten-free diets in its pure form, cooks often mix it with other flours (both wheat and alternative) because of its powerful taste. Nutty and hearty, its flavor works well for savory crepes or rustic pancakes with butter and blackberries.

Wheat and Gluten-free: yes

Doppio Zero (aka "00") Flour: This high-gluten wheat flour isn't suitable for all diets, but it's commonly used in the restaurant industry to create excellent house-made pastas and supple dough for pizza. Low protein and highly refined, this Italian standby may have health nuts griping, but these qualities result in wonderful flavors and textures, giving "license to kill" your seven-grain-loving conscience.

Wheat and Gluten-free: no

Brown Rice Flour: Heavier, higher in fiber, and containing bran, this flour is more nutritious, but equally as delicious as white rice flour. It's less universally applicable, but gives extra flavor and texture to muffins, breads, and cookies.

Wheat and Gluten-free: yes

Corn Semolina: While regular semolina flour is a wheat flour made from grinding the endosperm of durum wheat, corn semolina uses a similar process, but with corn instead of wheat grains. Coarsely ground, it's the basis for American grits, but more refined corn semolina can be used to make pasta dough, similar to regular semolina flour. Delicious for light, summer pastas that showcase the season's vegetables.

Wheat and Gluten-free: no

Potato Flour: Different from potato starch flour--a fantastic, AP alternative flour for wheat and gluten-free cooks--potato flour is relatively heavy and distinctly reminiscent of the starchy vegetable. It's excellent for thickening soups that incorporate potatoes, like potato-leek or creamy New England clam chowder, as well as making potato breads.

Wheat and Gluten-free: yes

Tapioca Flour: Derived from the cassava roots native to the Amazon, this delicate, white flour was largely popular in South American cuisine before making its way to the States. Today, amateur and pro chefs worldwide use it as a thickening agent in sauces or in baking to impart a nice texture to breads and sweets.

Wheat and Gluten-free: yes

White Rice Flour: Often used in Asian cuisine, this flour milled from polished white rice has a multitude of uses. Not particularly flavorful or textured, it's a good substitute for AP flour in gluten- or wheat-free cooking. Cooks of all varieties find that it crisps particularly well when used in breading, batter, or coating for foods to be fried. A staple in tempura, imagine that crackling outer texture and try it on your next batch of fried chicken.

Wheat and Gluten-free: yes

Purchasing and Storing Your Flour

You can find most alternative flours for gluten and wheat-free recipes in health food stores, and most specialty flours like corn semolina and doppio zero online or in gourmet food stores. Flour is a pretty resilient ingredient, but it's always best to store it in an airtight container for a longer shelf-life. Because alternative flours are often less processed than wheat flour, store them in your refrigerator to maintain freshness.

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