Ask the ChefsDec/Jan 2013 Issue

In the Kitchen: White Sugar, High-Glycemic Sweeteners, & More!

[Updated May 18, 2015]

Beth Hillson

Beth Hillson

Q: Besides gluten, I have allergies or sensitivities to millet, soy, corn, potato, tapioca and sorghum. I’m having a very difficult time finding flour blends that suit my special diet. Can you help?

A: Let’s start with a list of wonderful ingredients you can eat, such as amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, chickpea flour, quinoa, rice, teff. Here’s an all-purpose blend to use for all your baking needs:

1 cup amaranth, quinoa, teff or chickpea flour
1 cup rice, brown rice or buckwheat flour
2/3 cup arrowroot
2 teaspoons xanthan gum, guar gum or agar powder.

Mix ingredients together until well blended. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator until used.

Q: I’m confused. Should I be using different measuring cups for wet and dry ingredients? Does it matter?

A: Precise measurements are important for recipe success. Dry items like your flour blend should be measured in cups designed for dry ingredients. Spoon flour into the appropriate cup until full and then level it off with a knife. Don’t pack the flour down or you may be using too much.

Measuring cups designed for liquids are usually made of glass or transparent plastic, often with a handle and spout. The proper way to portion liquids is to set the cup at eye level and pour the liquid in until it reaches the right mark.

Q: I use your piecrust recipe for all holiday meals and my family really loves it. It’s as good as any regular wheat flour piecrust. Both my husband and I have Type 2 diabetes and I was wondering if you could give me a healthier version of this recipe (reduced fat and calories). Is it possible or am I dreaming?

A: We hear you about the calories and fat. You can replace 1/3 to the butter or shortening in this recipe with an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce or grated apple—with good results. Apple contains pectin, which helps bind the piecrust together. There are many piecrust recipes at You can use this method to replace some of the fat in any of these.

Q: How can I replace regular white sugar in a cake recipe?

A: You can replace white sugar with an equal amount of brown sugar, maple sugar, date sugar or palm sugar. You can also replace half the sugar with an equal amount of Stevia in the Raw, a no-calorie sweetener alternative.

To replace white sugar with a liquid sweetener, such as honey or agave, follow this basic rule of thumb: Substitute cup honey or agave for every 1 cup sugar; then decrease the liquid in your recipe by cup for each cup of honey or agave used. When substituting honey for white sugar, lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees. Keep an eye on your baked goods while they’re in the oven as substitutions may affect browning and cooking time.

Q: I recently used some coconut flour in a pancake recipe I got from the Internet but it didn’t work out. It was like the batter didn’t have enough liquid in it. Have you heard of this happening with coconut flour?

A: Coconut flour is a low-carb, gluten-free alternative flour that’s full of beneficial nutrients and fiber. Adding a small amount to your flour blend increases the nutritional profile of your baked goods. Since coconut flour absorbs much more liquid than other flours, it’s often used in smaller quantities or with additional liquid. Recipes that feature coconut flour often call for lots of eggs. There’s no single formula for substituting coconut flour for conventional flour in recipes. For a pancake recipe, I suggest using cup coconut flour plus cup brown rice flour for each cup of flour replaced. If your batter seems to thick, thin it by adding more liquid or an additional egg (if tolerated).

Q: Why are the sodium counts so high in recipes (not just yours) for baked goods?

A: Most bakery items contain baking powder, baking soda and salt. Per teaspoon, baking powder has 355 mg sodium, baking soda has 1,231 mg and table salt has 2,325 mg. Sodium levels in other types of salt (kosher, sea, etc.) vary slightly due to their crystal structure.

You can reduce or completely omit the salt in baking and most cooking; it will impact taste but not the baking chemistry. However, you can’t eliminate baking soda or baking powder without affecting the final product. To reduce the sodium counts, use sodium-free baking powder and baking soda, available from Bob’s Red Mill ( and Ener-G Foods (

Our recipes don’t call specifically for low-sodium baking powder, baking soda or broth unless indicated by our chefs. While we’re aware that some readers have sodium issues, most use “regular” sodium-containing products and our nutritional data is calculated accordingly.

Q: Which dairy-free milk contains the most protein?

A: Starting with plant milk with the highest protein content and going down, it’s soy, hemp, almond, coconut, rice and potato.

Q: I wish gluten-free flours didn’t produce such mealy baked goods. I’ve tried hundreds of recipes and various mixes—almost all turn out crumbly or they’re hard and inedible in a day or two. I’m so tired of yucky texture. Any suggestions?

A: Flour blends that are mostly white rice flour and tapioca starch are as devoid of texture as they are of flavor and nutrients. At Living Without's Gluten-Free & More, we’re moving away from these flour combos and using more nutritionally dense flours, like amaranth, sorghum, teff, millet, quinoa and chickpea flour. Not only are they healthier (higher in protein and fiber), they add pleasant texture and taste to gluten-free baking. In addition, their higher protein content delivers increased elasticity to gluten-free baking, resulting in a finer crumb and better texture.

For instructions on how to create delicious all-purpose blends with these flours, go to Flours. My cookbook, Gluten-Free Makeovers, contains simple baking tips and recipes based on these alternative grains. It’s available at

Q: I have clients who must be gluten-free and have health issues that require them to find alternatives to high-glycemic sweeteners. What do you suggest?

A: Recently, I’ve had good luck with stevia products that contain bulking agents so that they’re equal replacements for sugar in baking. Dried date sugar, sucanat and coconut palm sugar are also lower on the glycemic index and can be used as one-for-one substitutes for granulated sugar.

Q: Chickpea flour tastes awful! Why do you use it in your recipes? I can’t be the only person who thinks it’s terrible.

A: Like so many things, chickpea flour is a matter of taste. Here’s why we use it: Chickpea flour is high in protein and fiber and adds important elasticity to gluten-free baking. (We’re always looking for ingredients that add back the protein and elasticity that gluten contributes to baking.) In addition, a small amount of chickpea (less than 20 percent of your flour blend) will not dominate the overall flavor of your recipe. Fortunately, there are many other high-protein flours you can use instead of chickpea flour. Replace it with an equal amount of quinoa flour, teff, millet or sorghum flour. Amaranth flour is also an excellent substitute but it has a strong flavor you might not enjoy.

Food editor Beth Hillson is a chef and cooking instructor. She is founder of Gluten-Free Pantry, one of the first gluten-free companies in the United States, and author of Gluten-Free Makeovers (

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