Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Great Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Blend Nutritional Comparison

The Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
UPDATE - 4/28/11: The following blog post originally compared 9 all-purpose gluten-free flour blends. It has now been updated with 3 additional blends, totaling 12 all-purpose GF flour blends, plus both whole grain wheat flour and white bleached enriched all-purpose wheat flour, for sake of comparison. All tables, data and "rankings" have been adjusted accordingly since the original post.

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.

Simply Gluten-Free4280100004
Tom Sawyer4400104804
Better Batter396092444
Gluten-Free Pantry4800139505
Namaste Foods4501.5102606
Arrowhead Mills5602128408
Artisan GF Blend53431207.509.5
King Arthur58701280011
Bob's Red Mill40048812412
Gluten-Free Bistro40048812012
Wheat Flour (white, bleached, enriched, all-purpose)4551953013
Wheat Flour (whole grain)40728715016

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!

- Pete


Allison said...

Hi Peter and Kelli, I am a gluten free newbie who is still in that "What am I going to do now" phase. In less than two weeks of gluten free, I can already see a big difference in my energy level and my dermititis is starting to improve. I bought your book Artisanal GF Cooking and had just started to get into it when I discovered your blog. What a wonderful resource you have here. I am currently living out of the country and finding the gf supplies is not as easy as it would be in the States, but I am enjoying the hunt. Thanks to both of you for a great blog and a great book. I look forward to spending a lot more time in both.

gfbrooke said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this nutritional breakdown! I really appreciate it!

Laura Schmitt said...

And your blend tastes great! I have bean making my own whole grain gluten free flours for years and I was skeptical to try your blend at first because it had more starch than what I was used to, but my family was very happy with the end result! We love your cookbook. I have recommended it to many clients and will continue to do so. Glad to see the fiber / protein comparisons there. Bob Red Mill's does a good job, too! Looks great.

Janelle said...

Thank you for this information. It's a great visual comparison.

I would like to link my blog to this posting as I think this is valuable information to share. Let me know if you are OK with that.

Rachel R. said...

It might be useful, for comparison purposes, to list the same information for pure white (wheat) flour and pure whole wheat flour. I know we GF bakers don't bake with the wheat flour, but it might help newbies to know where these mixes fit into the big picture. (Or, if you don't want to go with the wheat flours, then white and brown rice flour numbers might offer a useful comparison.)

Heidi said...

This is amazing! I just stumbled across your blog. I have been cooking for my recently gluten, soy, and dairy free husband. I finally have some good dinners down and decided to look into some baking and have definitely been disappointed in the lack of whole grain baking mixes available. I made pancakes and instead of the whole wheaty, hearty blend we were used to, they were white. Your nutritional comparison is just what I needed! Thank you!

peterbronski said...

Hi Allison... So glad to hear you're already feeling better on a GF diet. Welcome to NGNP! Hope you enjoy the cookbook!

Hi GFBrooke... You're very welcome!

Hi Laura... We love the taste of our blend, too! Many thanks for your compliments. We're big fans of Bob's Red Mill.

Hi Janelle... Glad the info was insightful! Yes, please feel free to link to the info on your blog.

Hi Rachel... Good suggestion. One I contemplated. I'll be adding some more GF blends to the mix, and might add wheat in there as well. In a separate post I'm planning to look at a broad spectrum of individual GF flours.

Hi Heidi... Glad the post is helpful to you!

Cheers, Pete

glutenfreeforgood said...

This is excellent! I'm heading over to Facebook to share it with the world (at least with my little corner of the GF world).
P.S. I'll send you a grain chart I created ages ago for comparisons.

Lady Susan said...

This is a great post. Since I bake with your blend a lot, I had actually calculated the various nutritional components on my own. I, like Rachael, wanted to know how it compared to wheat flour. Prior to going gluten-free (within the last year), I switched to baking mostly with whole grains in the form of wheat, rye, barley, oat, and other flours. I didn't want to loose the nutritional benefit now that I was gluten-free.

I often use your blend as a base and then add another whole grain/nut flour--up to 30% by weight. So far, it has worked really well.


Andrea said...

Thank you, this is great info! I'm going to link it to my blog partly so I can access it again when I need. Just the type of information I've been looking for, and I would really love to see the side by side of wheat flour I've always been really curious about that.


Rachele said...

What a great review! I'm a fairly new GF cook and still have so much to learn!! What a different world this is. My baking skills all have to be relearned. Over the past year, I have tried a dozen different blends and lots of recipes just to find a lot of disappointment... and then there's your book!!! I checked it out from the library two weeks ago and am ready to turn it in. Of course, a new one was just ordered from Amazon! Your blend is the best!!! Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Flora said...

Thank you for breaking that down for us. It gets so confusing when baking gluten free. Yes, I would like it to be healthy, but it still needs to taste good. Love your cookbook, can't wait for the new one.

Quinoa Nutrition Facts said...

This is indeed a great post about all of the information about baking the gluten free way. There are a lot of people who are a bit confused about using gluten free all purpose flour and I'm sure that with this post, you'll be able to share great knowledge about important stuff on gluten free all purpose flour. Thank you so much for sharing!

Anonymous said...

My favorite gluten-free flour blend is from Karen Robertson's cookbook, Cooking Gluten-Free. The blend is known as Wendy Wark's Gluten-Free Flour Mix. Authentic Foods sells the blend as Multi-Blend Flour. I would love to see the mix on your chart. Thanks.

Linda said...

Are Namaste Foods Flour and Baking available where you are? I just tried their Bread Mix for a loaf of bread and their Perfect Flour Blend for a batch of chocolate chip cookies and am very pleased with the results I got while I'm still finding my way in this new kind of baking. They base their blends on brown rice flour.

Amanda on Maui said...

Another one you might add to the list is The Pure Pantry's. Well, actually she has two ap blends. One of them is a basic and the other has a buckwheat base. They are in Whole Foods here and are sold on QVC occasionally. The inventor is Elizabeth Kaplan, a very sweet woman I had the pleasure of meeting last year.

Tressa said...

I love this! I really avoid the refined flour and starch blends and this comparison has such great info! Thank you for doing the hard work and research. :)

Sophia said...

Thanks for sharing this information. While I don't generally use pre-made flour blends, I am learning to work with individual flours and making substitutions as needed. Using your example, I am formulating my own list to compare the nutritional properties of these individual flours to allow for substitutions. Thanks again.

jenskitchen said...

This was interesting... As a die-hard Better Batter fan, I've often wondered how it compares nutritionally... My only problem with your info is that I only bake by weight, not volume... 1 cup of flour does not weigh the same as another cup of flour. I'd be curious to see how the nutrition info compares based on weight.

Carla @ Gluten Free Recipe Box\ said...

This is an awesome list! Thank you so much for your hard work. Off to share it with thousands of my FB friends and fans!

RetiredWithNoRegrets said...

Very good info for those who purchase pre-mixed flours.

At first, I bought Gluten Free Pantry mixes.

Now, I just mix my own mixes including cake mixes.

My 'all purpose' mix includes brown rice,millet,sorghum, chickpea, plus starches

Nutrition Facts
486 calories, 3.6g total fat, 378.9mg potassium, 101.6g carbohydrates, 9.3g fiber, 92.3g net carbohydrates, 1.3g starch, 13.3g protein

I use it for biscuits,scones, coffee cakes and some cookies/bars

The only mix that I buy and really like is Pamela's Products Wheat-Free & Gluten-Free, Amazing Bread Mix. Hodgson Mill and Arrowhead have a whole-grain mix that goes on sale real cheap sometimes. I buy it when it is on sale.

~J~ said...

I am looking to calculate a nutritional profile for the blend I use. Is there a website I can plug ingredients/measurements into to calculate that? I'd like to see how my mix compares with the others. Thanks!!!

RetiredWithNoRegrets said...

I bought Cookbook software to save my recipes, which also calculates nutrients. If you want to just calculate a recipe at a time; try sparks people:

yoyo said...

I'm new to the Gluten Free lifestyle the doctors think I have Celiacs although I have not officially been diagnosed and am trying to be proactive about making the change. My main concern is how well a flour performes compared to wheat flour. Is any mix better for certain types of baking? What is the easiest way to "convert" my old tried and true recipies? any advice you can offer is greatly appreciated.

peterbronski said...

Hi Yoyo... There are a number of all-purpose GF flour blends that work very well across a variety of recipes. My personal preference is for blends that have some starches, but also whole grain flours, which boost protein content and other nutrition. Brown rice, sorghum, coconut, and almond flours are good ones to look for in a blend. Again, as a matter of personal preference, I tend to stay away from tapioca and the bean flours, for reasons of taste and texture. (Others I'm sure will recommend these flours, also as a matter of preference.)

With a good all-purpose GF flour blend at your disposal, start with 1:1 substitutions in your old gluten-ous recipes, and go from there. Sometimes you may need to tweak a little bit to achieve the best results.

Cheers, Pete

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the wonderful information. As the mother of a Gluten Free son, I am just beginning to read the labels and get up to speed. Your book and blog are so very helpful. Thank you

Ms. Pris said...

The Pamela's mix in your list isn't an all-purpose flour, it's a baking mix. Like Bisquick. Why include it at all? And why not, since they have an AP flour now, evaluate that?