|The Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend|
Lately I feel as though I've been doing a lot of criticizing of refined white starches in gluten-free baking, and an equal amount of praising of whole grain flours, nutritionally speaking. (Witness my recent reviews of Bisquick's baking mix and 365/Gluten-Free Pantry's pizza crust mix.) Other GF bloggers sometimes do the same thing - we make qualitative statements about gluten-free nutrition, without offering up the quantitative numbers behind the statement. Until now...
I've looked at 12 prominent all-purpose gluten-free flour blends and baking mixes, including our own Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend. Some would fall into the "refined white starches" category. Others would qualify as "whole grain flour" mixes. By popular demand, I've also included two wheat flours for sake of comparison. Most importantly, the numbers don't lie. Here they are, laid bare, so you can draw conclusions for yourself. First, a couple of notes:
1. Because serving sizes varied from 3 tablespoons to 1/3 cup, I scaled every blend's nutritional information to 1 cup dry mix, so we can directly compare apples with apples.
2. I included 6 nutritional components in the comparison: calories, total fat, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars, and protein. (With the exception of calories, all values in the table below are in grams.)
3. No flour blend had trans fat, and all had either little or no saturated fat. From my perspective then, the "total fat" listed is a measure of healthy fats in the blend.
4. These categories tell the nutritional story at the macro, big-picture level. They don't tell the micro-nutrient story, but they still give a good general sense and are a valuable nutritional starting point to evaluate the different flour blends.
5. Also keep in mind that these numbers don't tell the story of taste and texture, and how a given mix performs in gluten-free baking. This is only a look at nutrition, and thus, only part of the story when it comes to baking.
|Artisan GF Blend||534||3||120||7.5||0||9.5|
|Bob's Red Mill||400||4||88||12||4||12|
|Wheat Flour (white, bleached, enriched, all-purpose)||455||1||95||3||0||13|
|Wheat Flour (whole grain)||407||2||87||15||0||16|
You can evaluate the numbers for yourself, but here's my take on the breakdown:
I ordered the blends in the table above from least to most protein content, based on the assumption that protein would be a major distinction between blends based on (or entirely made up of) refined white starches, compared to blends made from whole grains. By this measure, the median falls between Namaste Foods and Arrowhead Mills. The max and min values in the list for protein are 4g and 12g, making the middle point 8g, which corresponds to Arrowhead Mills again. As expected, it also turns out to be the rough dividing line between flour blend types.
I'd qualify the first 5 blends in the list as ones based on refined white starches as their dominant ingredient(s), as evidenced by their content:
Simply Gluten-Free = white rice flour, potato starch, sweet rice flour, tapioca starch, xanthan gum
Tom Sawyer = white rice flour, sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, unflavored gelatin
Better Batter = rice flour, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, potato flour, pectin, xanthan gum
Gluten-Free Pantry = white rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, guar gum, salt
Bisquick = rice flour, sugar, leavening, potato starch, xanthan gum
Namaste Foods = sweet brown rice flour, tapioca flour, arrowroot flour, sorghum flour, xanthan gum
In turn, I'd qualify most of the blends in the second half of the list as ones based on whole grain flours as their dominant ingredient(s), as evidenced by their content:
Arrowhead Mills = whole grain brown rice flour, potato starch, rice starch, whole grain sorghum flour, baking powder, sea salt
Artisan GF Blend = whole grain brown rice flour, whole grain sorghum flour, cornstarch, potato starch, potato flour, xanthan gum
King Arthur = rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, whole grain brown rice flour
Bob's Red Mill = garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, white sorghum flour, fava bean flour
Pamela's = brown rice flour, white rice flour, cultured buttermilk, natural almond meal, tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, potato starch, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, xanthan gum
Gluten-Free Bistro = brown rice flour, sorghum flour, tapioca starch, buckwheat flour, coconut flour, xanthan gum
If we accept these two groups - the refined white starch group and the whole grain flour group - some important nutritional differences (and some similarities) begin to show up when we compare them. For example, per cup of flour blend, the whole grain group had a higher average calorie content than the refined white starch group (493 versus 435). The two groups had approximately equal carbs, as well as comparable fiber and sugars. The real differences came down to fats and protein. The whole grain group had a higher overall healthy fat content. Similarly, the whole grain group had more than twice as much protein as the refined white starch group (10.6 grams versus 4.8 grams).
Within the "refined starch" and "whole grain" groups, there were some interesting exceptions to the rule.
For example, nutritionally Namaste Foods sat on the cusp of the two categories. In some respects it was more like a refined starch blend, but other aspects of its nutrition and its ingredients list seemed to suggest its inclusion in the whole grain group. King Arthur was a similar case. It resembled the refined white starch group (based on its ingredients and its low healthy fat content), but its calorie content (the highest of the 12) and high protein content place it more in line with the whole grain flour blends.
A few additional results of note:
I sorted the results by each category - calories, fat, carbs, etc. - and ranked them, with 1 being the least amount of a given category, 12 being the most.
For protein content, Pamela's, Bob's Red Mill, and the Gluten-Free Bistro ended in a three-way tie for highest protein. The Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend came in 8th out of 12, with the 3rd highest protein content. In general, higher protein = better for you nutritionally.
For total calories, King Arthur had the most, while Better Batter had the least. The AGF blend came in 10th out of 12.
For total carbs, GF Pantry had the most, and Pamela's had the least. The AGF blend came in 9th out of 12.
For total fat, Pamela's had the most, while 5 blends tied for the least, with zero. The AGF blend came in 9th out of 12.
For dietary fiber, Bob's Red Mill and GF Bistro tied for the most, while King Arthur and Simply Gluten-Free had the least. The AGF blend came in 9th out of 12.
Finally, for sugars, 8 blends - including the AGF blend - tied with zero grams simple sugars.
There's more to read between the lines here nutritionally. Keep in mind that all of the nutritional values are for 1 cup of flour. For any given recipe, no matter what blend you use, you'll probably use more or less the same amount of flour - measured either per cup or by weight. That means that if you choose a "whole grain" blend with higher fat and protein content, the resulting baked good will be more nutrient dense, a good thing.
Now let's look at total calories and total carbohydrates. In general, most of the blends got most of their calories from their carbs. Consequently, the blends with the highest total carbs were also the blends with the highest total calories. Again, the same rule applies. For any given recipe, you'll probably use more or less the same amount of flour to make, say, a scone, no matter the blend. If you're concern is losing weight and/or watching your calorie and carb consumption, then you'll want to choose a flour blend that's low in those values. For me, my priority is usually on wanting higher calories and higher carbs, because they fuel my body during training and endurance racing. In that case, I'll choose a blend with higher calorie and carb values, resulting in baked good that are carb-dense. Per bite of scone, I get more carbs to fuel my long runs. In this case, "best nutrition" is a matter of perspective and priority.
For the sake of comparison (by popular request in response to the original post), I've added the values for two forms of wheat flour. What strikes me most is to notice how remarkably similar nutritionally the Bobs' Red Mill and especially the Gluten-Free Bistro blends are to whole grain wheat flour. By calories, carbs, fat, fiber, and protein they're nearly identical. This suggests that if you're interested in adapting gluten recipes that use wheat flour with a 1:1 substitution of a GF flour blend, then the GF Bistro and Bob's are probably good places to start. (I also know through experience that other GF blends, including our Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend, also work very well in gluten recipes, so the nutritional similarity isn't the be all, end all. But it's certainly worth noting the striking similarity.)
Finally, I can't resist doing a small bit of editorializing about our Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend. While it didn't "win" in any one category, I was quite pleased with its across-the-board performance. In some respects, you might consider it a Renaissance Man (or Woman) of gluten-free all-purpose flour blends. There are several great GF flour blends out there nutritionally, and based on the results, I'm proud to count the Artisan GF Flour Blend among them.
Since this is a post about nutrition, I'll refrain from editorializing further about which blends do and don't perform well in baking. That's for another post at another time. But to the point of nutrition, this begins to paint a picture of what we're talking about when we say that whole grain flour blends are "better" than refined white starch blends. At the macro-nutrient level, it largely comes down to protein and healthy fats.
Happy (and healthy) baking!