Gluten free cooking has become very popular in recent years, both for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity and for those simply looking to cut back on gluten in their diets. Two of the most commonly used gluten free flours are gluten free all-purpose flour and almond flour. But what exactly are these flours, and can they be used interchangeably in recipes? Let’s take a closer look.
What is gluten free flour?
Gluten free flour is flour made from grains that do not contain the protein gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten free flours are typically made from grains and starches such as:
Gluten free all-purpose flour is a blend of several different gluten free flours and starches. It is formulated to be a versatile, all-purpose baking mix. The exact blend can vary by brand, but common ingredients include:
- White rice flour
- Sweet rice flour
- Tapioca flour
- Potato starch
Gluten free flour lacks the gluten proteins found in wheat flour that give baked goods structure and stretch. Therefore, binders like xanthan gum or guar gum are often added to gluten free flour to improve the texture.
What is almond flour?
Almond flour is made from ground, blanched almonds. Blanched means that the almond skins have been removed. The almonds are then finely ground into a flour consistency.
Almond flour is naturally gluten free. In fact, nearly all nut flours, including almond flour, are completely free of gluten. Almond flour has a light nutty flavor and aroma that can enhance gluten free baked goods.
However, almond flour lacks the starches that are found in many gluten free flours. It also has a much higher fat content than other flours due to the high oil content of the nuts. This results in a very different texture in baking.
There are some significant nutritional differences between almond flour and gluten free all-purpose flour:
Calories and fat
|Calories per 1/4 cup
|Fat grams per 1/4 cup
|Gluten free all-purpose flour
As you can see, almond flour is significantly higher in calories and fat compared to gluten free all-purpose flour due to its nutty makeup.
Almond flour contains more protein than gluten free flour. Per 1/4 cup:
- Almond flour: 6 grams protein
- Gluten free flour: 3 grams protein
The higher protein content of almond flour can help gluten free baked goods achieve a more sturdy texture.
Gluten free all-purpose flour is higher in carbohydrates than almond flour. Per 1/4 cup:
- Almond flour: 6 grams carbohydrates
- Gluten free flour: 24 grams carbohydrates
Gluten free flours have higher carbohydrate counts due to their starch content. Almond flour’s low carb count makes it popular for low-carb diets.
Almond flour contains more micronutrients than gluten free flour. It is particularly high in vitamin E thanks to the high amount of almonds. Almond flour also contains decent amounts of iron, calcium, riboflavin, magnesium and potassium.
The distinct makeup of almond flour leads to significantly different baking properties compared to gluten free all-purpose flour. Here are some key differences:
Gluten free flour contains gums and starches that can help bind recipes together. Almond flour lacks these binding abilities, which requires some adjustments in baking recipes. Xanthan gum or guar gum is often added to recipes using almond flour.
Almond flour absorbs more moisture than gluten free flour. Extra moisture in the form of eggs or liquid is often needed in recipes with almond flour.
Baked goods made with almond flour will be denser and often crumblier in texture than those made with gluten free flour. Items made with almond flour also tend to be more fragile and prone to crumbling.
Gluten free flours produce lighter, fluffier baked goods than almond flour. Items made with almond flour will not rise as high and the texture will be denser. Additional leaveners like baking powder may improve rise when using almond flour.
Almond flour imparts a pleasant, nutty flavor to baked goods. Gluten free all-purpose flour has a more neutral taste.
Baked goods made with almond flour will be dense and pale in color. Gluten free baked goods often resemble traditional wheat flour items in texture and appearance more closely.
Substituting almond flour and gluten free flour
Almond flour and gluten free flour cannot be substituted equally in recipes. However, here are some tips for converting a recipe between the two flours:
Gluten free flour -> Almond flour
When converting a recipe to almond flour:
- Use 1/4 to 1/3 of the amount of almond flour as the original flour. Almond flour is denser than gluten free flour.
- Add 1 extra egg for every 1 cup of almond flour to increase moisture.
- Increase leaveners like baking powder slightly.
- Add xanthan gum or guar gum to help with binding.
- Expect a denser, heavier texture.
For example, if a recipe calls for 3 cups of gluten free flour, use 1 cup of almond flour instead, add 2 extra eggs, and 1/2 tsp more baking powder.
Almond flour -> Gluten free flour
When converting a recipe to gluten free all-purpose flour:
- Use 3 to 4 times the amount of gluten free flour as the original almond flour amount.
- Reduce moisture slightly by removing some egg, oil or milk.
- Reduce leaveners slightly.
- Omit any gums that were used for binding.
- Expect a lighter texture.
For example, if a recipe calls for 2 cups almond flour, use 6-8 cups of gluten free flour instead and remove 1 egg and 2 Tbsp oil.
Some experimentation may be needed to get the perfect results when converting between almond flour and gluten free flour. It’s best to start with smaller adjustments to avoid over-modification of the recipe. Look for recipes specifically formulated for either almond flour or gluten free flour for best results.
There is a significant cost difference between almond flour and gluten free all-purpose flour. Let’s compare:
|Average price per pound
|Gluten free all-purpose flour
As you can see, almond flour costs on average 3 to 4 times more than gluten free flour. This is because almonds are more expensive than grains and starches. Almond flour is produced by finely grinding whole almonds, while gluten free flour is made from inexpensive starch sources.
For those on a tight budget, gluten free all-purpose flour may be a better choice for everyday baking needs. Almond flour can be reserved for use in special recipes where its distinctive flavor and texture is desirable.
Gluten free all-purpose flour is widely available in most mainstream grocery stores these days. As awareness of gluten free dieting increases, availability of specialty gluten free products continues to grow. Gluten free flour can be found in the specialty diet section in both large bags and smaller packages.
Almond flour has also grown in popularity and can be found in many standard grocery stores. However, the selection is still generally less than gluten free flour options. Almond flour is usually stocked in the baking aisle, sometimes in the natural foods section.
Larger quantities of almond flour are most economical to purchase from online retailers or warehouse stores. This can help lower the cost-per-pound somewhat. Smaller bags are sold in many supermarkets.
Here are some of the most common uses for almond flour vs gluten free flour:
Almond flour works best in:
- Quick breads like muffins
- Pancakes and waffles
Gluten free flour works best in:
- Pizza dough
- Pie crust
- All-purpose baking
In general, almond flour is best used in recipes where a dense and grain-free texture is desirable. Gluten free flour produces better results where a lighter texture is called for. Understanding their distinct qualities will help determine which flour is better for a particular baking need.
Allergies and intolerances
Those avoiding gluten often wonder if almond flour is safe for them. The answer is yes – almond flour is completely free of gluten and safe for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. It can be a great gluten free alternative to regular wheat flour.
However, almond flour is not safe for those with tree nut allergies. Almonds are one of the most common tree nut allergens. Those with an almond allergy must avoid almond flour and opt for other gluten free flours instead.
Gluten free all-purpose flour is generally a better choice for those with multiple food allergies. Since it is made from starches and grains, it avoids common allergens like tree nuts, dairy, and soy. Always check the label for potential cross-contamination if food allergies are a concern.
The bottom line
While both almond flour and gluten free flour provide options for gluten free baking and cooking, they have significant differences that impact their uses in recipes. Key points include:
- Almond flour has higher fat and protein content than gluten free flour.
- Gluten free flour has more carbohydrates and better binding qualities.
- Almond flour results in denser and crumblier baked goods.
- Gluten free flour provides a better rise and fluffier texture.
- Almond flour costs significantly more than gluten free flour.
- Gluten free flour has wider availability and versatility.
- Each flour works best in certain recipes based on the desired texture.
- Those with nut allergies can eat gluten free flour but not almond flour.
While both flours have a place in gluten free cooking, almond and gluten free flour cannot be used interchangeably without adjusting recipes appropriately. Understanding the differences in nutritional composition, baking properties, and cost will help you choose the right flour for your gluten free recipes.