Your Commonsense Guide: Flours & Grains A-Z

23 July 2015

Looking for only gluten free options?  See our Gluten Free Flours and Grains A-Z.


Grains are the seeds and fruits of cereal grasses. Some, like wheat, have been grown by humans for over 10,000 years.

Whole grains consist of the outer bran, endosperm and germ. The bran contains fibre, minerals and protein, adds bulk to the digestive system and stabilizes blood sugar. The endosperm contains starch and the germ is a rich source of oil, protein, minerals and vitamins, particularly Vitamin E. Whole grains also contain vegetable lignans, which have antioxidant properties. The most nutritious way to eat grains is as whole grains.

Like any food, the more you break them down, the more you reduce the nutritional value.

Nevertheless, flour is an important food and can be used in ways that whole grains can not. It is useful to apply the same principle of wholeness when deciding which flour to use; wholegrain (or wholemeal) flour is more nutritious than white flour, which has had the bran and the germ removed. The heat of the milling process also reduces the nutritional value of flour. Air milling (zentrofan) generates less heat than stone grinding and the most heat is generated by the commercial roller mills.


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Whole grains can be stored but all food is best eaten as fresh as possible. Bread made with freshly ground flour will rise better and be more nutritious. Flour should be kept in a cool, dark and dry place in an airtight container and is best used within 2-3 months, unless kept in the freezer.

The information contained in this guide is compiled largely from ingredients listed on packaging. If you have an extreme sensitivity to gluten you may need to contact manufacturers to check for possible residual gluten content that may not be listed. Please also be aware that ingredients of a particular product may change without notice. While we take care in producing this guide, Commonsense accepts no liability for any error or omission in the information provided herein and, where a serious health risk exists, the customer should satisfy themselves as to the gluten free status of any product mentioned in this guide.

Almond Flour (gluten fee)

Flavour: Has a nutty flavour, works especially well in sweet baking but is fine in savoury too. 

Uses: Ground almonds can be added to many for nutrition as well as baked goods. Add protein and fibre to cereal, smoothies, juices and yoghurts to boost your nutrient intake.

Baking: Delicious as a partial replacement for wheat flour in chocolate cakes, and there are many recipes available for all-almond flour orange syrup cakes. Try a 1:1 ratio, but not it may require a little more binding agent (often egg), and can burn at higher temperatures so keep the oven at 180c or below.

Amaranth (gluten free)

Flavour: Amaranth has a nutty, sometimes spicy or peppery flavour.

Uses: Amaranth can be popped like corn and this can be used in bread. Cooked amaranth can be used as a cereal, in soups, pancakes and pilafs or as a coating for chicken or fish. Puffed amaranth makes a great breakfast cereal.

Baking: Amaranth flour can be used to replace up to a quarter of the flour in bread recipes.



Flavour: Very slight nutty flavour.

Uses: Use pearl barley in hearty winter soups. Barley flakes can be used as a breakfast cereal base, or to add texture to baking. Mix barley flour with buttermilk or mashed banana/avocado and water to a thin batter it makes lovely pancakes. It browns well so is used to thicken gravies and sauces for a sweet taste. Barley semolina is made from the starch of the grain with the bran and germ removed. It is then ground to a texture coarser than flour and finer than kibbles. Because it has little roughage, it is easily digested, and is low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates. 

Baking: Combine 50/50 barley flour (or as little as 1:5) with higher gluten flour such as wholemeal or dinkel to make bread, scones, biscuits, cakes or pastry. It contains very little gluten so is not suitable on its own for light, risen breads and pastries. Using barley as the sole flour will result in overly moist baked goods. If lightly pan-toasted before adding to a bread recipe, barley flour gives a cake-like texture with malty sweetness. 

Breadfruit Flour (gluten free)

Flavour:  Breadfruit flour is very taste-neutral, making it a good wheat substitute in many recipes. 

Uses: Can be used to thicken soup and batters, and in baking.

Baking: Use as a 1:1 replacement for wheat flour in recipes apart from yeast breads. May require a little more binder (generally egg). Makes rich, moist cakes and muffins.

Buckwheat (gluten free)

Flavour: Buckwheat has a strong nutty, toasted bread flavour. Highly nutritious.

Uses: Buckwheat groats can be used in soups, as a porridge or in place of rice or pasta. They can also be sprouted and used in salads or for juicing. For a unique hearty flavour, dry roast the groats to make kasha – delicious cooked and mixed with sautéed onions and topped with tahini and tamari. Buckwheat semolina is made from the starch of the grain with the bran and germ removed. It is then ground to a texture coarser than flour and finer than kibbles. Because it has little roughage, it is easily digested, and is low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates. It's good for porridge and can also be used as bread crumbs.

Baking: Replace up to 1/4 of wheat with buckwheat flour in cakes and muffins. 

Chestnut Flour (gluten free)

Flavour: Sweet, nutty, earthy flavour - pleasant but noticeable.

Uses: Very fine so good for batters (1:1) as well as baking. 

Baking: Best in recipes that would benefit from its sweet nutty flavour eg banana cakes or date loaves (basically if you'd add walnuts to it chestnut flour will be great). Has higher starch than other nut flours so makes relatively light muffins and cakes, and doesn't require extra binders.

Chickpea Flour (gluten free)

Flavour: Chickpea flour gives a golden colour and sweet, rich flavour to savoury main dishes where it is used as a binder.

Uses: A great binder for savoury loaves, casseroles, croquettes, stuffings etc. It can also be used instead of chickpeas as a shortcut in hummus and falafel.  Try it 1:4 with other flours in batters or on its own as a batter for dosa.

Baking: Not typically used in baked goods, but you can bake a 'vegan quiche' using chickpea flour.

Coconut Flour (gluten free)

Flavour: Has a sweet coconut flavour so best for sweeter baking than savoury. 

Uses: Great for raw treats (eg bliss balls, macaroons), and baking in pancakes, sweet cakes and muffins.

Baking: Soaks up a lot of liquid so compensate with extra in recipes. Also requires extra binders, so compensate with more eggs or vegan egg replacer. 

Corn (gluten free)

Flavour: Slightly sweet corn flavour which can lend it self to sweet or savoury cooking depending on if you add sweeteners or salt.

Uses: Coarsely ground corn (known as polenta, or the finer cornmeal) are cooked as a savoury porridge and can be eaten like that or then be baked or grilled. Corn flour is great in gluten free baking and also a useful thickener for custards, soups and sauces – make a paste with cold water first. Puffed corn is a great breakfast cereal.

Baking: Corn flour produces a light, moist bread with a golden yellow colour. It is especially good for light cakes and sponges. Use alone or combine with other flours to make crackers, biscuits, pie crusts, custard and pasta.  Small amounts of cornmeal can be added to baking to add texture.



Flavour: Same as wheat. Spelt contains gluten, but the proteins are in a different form from those in wheat so it may be tolerated by people on a wheat-free diet.

Uses: Spelt flakes can be used a muesli base. Spelt flour is used exactly the same way as wheat (bread, muffins, cakes, thickening, batters).

Baking: Bread dough may require a little less liquid and take longer to rise. 


Millet (gluten free)

Flavour: Little flavour - slight sweetness and nuttiness.

Uses: Hulled millet can be cooked as a rice replacement in hot dishes or salad. Ground millet is used as a hot cereal (like a smooth porridge). Puffed millet is a great breakfast cereal. 

Baking: Millet flour can be used to make puddings, breads, cakes and biscuits. It can be used up to 50% with wheat flour when baking leavened bread and used alone for flat breads.


Flavour: Oats have a sweet, slightly creamy flavour.

Uses: Rolled oats are used in desserts (puddings, crusts, toppings and biscuits) breads and pancakes, raw or cooked as breakfast porridge, as a key ingredient in muesli and a binder in casseroles and savoury loaves. Fine rolled oats moisten more easily than whole grain rolled oats to make a more delicate muesli or creamier porridge. Steel cut oats are less processed than rolled oats and make delicious chewy porridge with lots of fibre.  Hulled oats can be sprouted.

Baking: Use oat flour for biscuits and pancakes, or replace up to 50% of wheat flour in recipes for cakes. Hulled Oat bran can be added it to bread, muffins, waffles, pancakes, cereals, muesli as well as main-course casseroles and loaves. 

Are oats gluten free?  Find out in our blog post.


Flours Grains 3

Potato Flour (gluten free)

Flavour: Slight potato flavour, but as it's only used in small amounts this doesn't come through.

Uses: Potato Flour (aka Potato Starch) is made of the entire cooked, dried and ground potato. It can be used as a binder for meat and vegetable patties, and is an ideal thickener for soups, sauces and gravies as it cooks quickly and smoothly and leaves no raw taste. To use as a thickener, substitute 1 tbsp all purpose flour with ½ tbsp potato flour.

Baking: Often included in gluten free flour mixes.

Quinoa (gluten free)

Flavour: Pleasant nutty taste.  Note: rinse the seeds before cooking to remove any bitter saponin residues.

Uses: Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen wa’) is gluten free, easy to digest and a high energy food. It is high in protein, a good source of iron and has more calcium than milk. Use as an alternative to rice or couscous, hot or in salads.

Baking: Quinoa flour can be used for pancakes, muffins, dumplings, crackers and biscuits. As it is gluten-free use about 25% in breads and 50% in cakes with other flours.


Rice Flour (gluten free)

Flavour: No noticeable flavour.

Uses: Can be used to crust meats and vegetables for pan-frying, and in baking. 

Baking: Rice flour is usually the main ingredient in gluten free breads (see our gluten free flour mix recipe). It can also be added (up to 50%) with wheat flours to yield a sweeter, smoother, higher-rising and lighter bread. If a larger proportion is used the bread will tend to crumble. Rice flour pie crusts and biscuits are excellent. Prevent dryness with cakes and breads using rice flour by replacing 25% of the flour requirement with ground nuts, fresh or soaked dried fruit or grated carrots.


Flavour: Has a hearty, beer/sourdough-like flavour.

Uses: Rye contains less gluten than wheat flour and has a high nutritional value. Rye flakes can be cooked as a savoury porridge or added to muesli and bread mixes. Whole grain rye kernels can be sprouted or cooked and used as a porridge or in casseroles and other grain dishes.

Baking: Rye is a very hard grain ideally suited to sourdough leavening (so it has time to ferment and break down before baking). Produces a dense bread bread loaf - if you prefer a lighter bread use part rice or wholemeal flour. 


Soy Flour (gluten free)

Flavour: Reminiscent of the bean, quite savoury. The flavour doesn't come through so long as you use it as a minor ingredient as suggested below.

Uses: Can be stirred into savoury sauces and gravies to add bulk and nutrients, but because it is low in starch it cannot be used as a thickener. Soymilk powder has a finer texture and a more pleasant flavour than soy flour and can be used to boost the protein content of bread, other baked goods, pancakes, porridge and casseroles – mix it with other dry ingredients first. It can be stirred into soup and hot beverages to make it creamy – it is best to add a small amount of liquid first to make a paste. To make plain soy milk use 1 part soymilk powder to 3-4 parts water; make a paste first then add remaining water and stir well.

Baking: Soy flour can be added to other flour for breads and pastries both to increase nutrition and to give a smoother, moister texture to the dough – try 8 parts wheat flour to 1 part soy flour.  

Flours Grains 2


Tapioca (gluten free)

Flavour: Sweet and starchy. Tapioca is a root starch derived from the cassava, or yucca plant.

Uses: Whole tapioca balls can be cooked as a pudding.  Tapioca flour can thicken soups and sweeten the flavour of baked goods.

Baking: Tapioca flour has a light, velvety texture and is a primary ingredient in most gluten free flour mixes (see our gluten free flour mix recipe).



Flavour: Whole wheat has a pleasant earthy, nutty flavour.  Whole wheat flour is stronger in taste than the more refined white flour, with an earthy, slightly tannic taste.  White wheat flour has little taste, making it good for sauces and coatings.

Uses: Whole wheat (aka wheat berries) can be sprouted and used in salads, or cooked and enjoyed as a whole grain dish.  Kibbled wheat can make a porridge, or be added to baking for added texture and fibre.  Wheat flour is great in sauces, batters and coatings, as well as in baking.  White flour makes smoother sauces, though wholemeal flour is higher in nutrients.  Soft wheat semolina can be made as a simple custard-like dessert with milk, sugar and vanilla.  Looking for wheatgerm?  We don't stock it: this part of the grain is very unstable and commercial wheatgerm is stabilized by preservatives, but this is not an option for organic food. 

Baking: Stone-ground wholemeal flour makes use of all of the whole wheat kernel and as such adds nutrients to baked goods. Wholemeal flour is suitable for a wide range of breads, biscuits, cakes, and pastries. Gluten is a protein present in wheat flour more than in any other grain. It is the stretchy stuff that forms in kneaded dough – the more gluten in the flour, the more springy and resilient the dough texture. Otane is a good bread wheat because it has a high gluten content. Arawa wheat, low in gluten, is suitable mainly for biscuits. Zentrofan flour is wheat flour milled in a special air-based process, which produces extra-fine wholegrain wheat flour that can be used to make light breads, sponges, croissants & pastries. Because the process does not involve friction, the nutritional value of the flour is higher.  Durum wheat flour is high in gluten and suitable for bread and pasta.  


This guide has been prepared using information from the “Wholefoods Handbook” published by Earthcare Education Aotearoa. This handbook is available at Commonsense and contains greater detail on the above items and more.


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