I have to admit I took notice when Nameste started selling their gluten-free “Perfect Flour Blend” flour blend at Costco in five pound bags for around $10 (although it is $11.69 for a 3 pound page on the Nameste website). What a great price for a gluten-free flour – if it really worked they way they said it did. They promoted it as a cup for cup blend on the bag and on their website. Could it really be as perfect as they said it was?
From the Nameste website:
“This flour blend is well, just about perfect! Substitute one cup of our Perfect Flour Blend for one cup of wheat flour in your favorite everyday recipes. Now you can make grandma’s famous banana cake gluten free and no one will know!! (Because no gluten free flour can mimmick wheat flour exactly in every possible recipe, some more sophisticated recipes may yield less than perfect results.)……..”
I hadn’t tested one of their products myself in years, but I started thinking about it. I looked over the recipes using the “Perfect” blend up on their website. There were breads, cakes, pie crusts, muffins, brownies, in short, a whole array of baked goods. Interestingly, one of them was my angel food cake recipe from Gluten-Free Baking Classics, word for word, but without my name on it. Hmmmm……. I let them know. After several months and repeated emails, they corrected it —- and sent me some flour to test. I ended up with a huge sack of the stuff sitting in my pantry and I was determined to take it for a test run. I wanted this flour blend to work- it was inexpensive at Costco and more convenient to buy than Authentic Foods (because it was sold in a lot of grocery stores). But even more important, if people were using it in my recipes, maybe it really did work!
I have tested every all-purpose gluten-free flour blend on the market and all the rice flours available in the New York metro area. I use the exact same recipe whenever I test new flour – I make my vanilla cupcakes from Gluten-Free Baking Classics. It’s simple, basic and it doesn’t have a lot of ingredients. Any problems show up right away because there is nothing to hide behind (it is not a “sophisticated” recipe).
I actually go out of my way to illustrate my flour testing mythology in my basic baking class. I pass out samples of two vanilla cupcakes made with my brown rice flour mix, but each is made with a different brown rice flour: the first with Authentic Foods (my first choice rice flour) and the second with Bob’s Red Mill (my second choice rice flour). The cupcake made with the Bob’s Red Mill has a slightly tighter texture and is slightly smaller than the Authentic Foods one. It doesn’t rise as well, contracts more after baking and is slightly gritty (but far less gritty cupcakes made with other brands).
I also pass around two paper cups filled with plain brown rice flour for the class to feel: one has Authentic Foods (it is powdery like wheat flour) and the other has Bob’s (which has a slightly gritty feel). I often pass around two cups with those same two brown rice flours mixed up into my flour mix to show the class that potato and tapioca starch doesn’t actually cover up the grit, if it’s there.
I employed my standard vanilla cupcake testing method to test Nameste’s Perfect Flour Blend. The mix contains sweet brown rice flour, tapioca starch, arrowroot powder, sorghum flour, xanthan gum. It has no potato, corn, dairy, which for some people, is an added benefit. Just as I did in the “Cup 4 Cup Test” here on this blog in February 2012, I used the original wheat version of my vanilla cupcake recipe (which I had used for more than a decade before being diagnosed with celiac) with the Nameste blend. I used Authentic Foods GF Classic Blend, my Brown Rice Flour Mix already made up in a bag ($11.50 for three pounds), in the converted version of the recipe. The only difference between the two recipes is that the wheat version uses 1 1/8 teaspoon baking powder instead of the 1 1/2 teaspoons used in the gluten-free version. I used the same oven and the same pan both times.
FYI FUN FACT! I now feel even more confident about using my cupcake test because America’s Test Kitchen’s copied it exactly (down to the pictures of cut-in-half cupcakes) in their The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook — which came out in March 2014 (on page 14). They wanted to compare their gluten-free blend to King Arthur’s and Bob’s Red Mill’s.
I opened the bag of the Nameste flour and felt it. It only had a small amount of grittiness. It wasn’t as fine as the Authentic Foods mix, but it certainly wasn’t as bad as most of the flours I’ve tried over the years. I had hope.
The two flours also mixed up in similarly and poured out into the cupcake pan the same way. You might remember that in the Cup 4 Cup test, there was already a huge difference between the two flour blends right in the mixing bowl; the Cup 4 Cup was gooey and glue-like because it had a huge amount of xanthan gum in it.
It wasn’t until the batters were baking that I started to see a more significant difference. The cupcakes made with the Nameste flour didn’t rise nearly as high in the pan, and then as the cooled, they contracted more than I expected. In fact, they looked pretty puny. They also had a fairly flat top instead of having a typical cupcake dome (even the Cup 4 Cup cupcakes had a dome), but were only fractionally lighter in color.
So how did the Nameste cupcakes taste? They actually tasted fine. There were no weird off-flavors and only a hint of grit. The sorghum flour didn’t even stand out as much as it might have because there was relatively less of it than there was of the sweet brown rice flour and the two starches (sorghum was the last ingredient other than the xanthan gum). But they weren’t tender like the Authentic Foods cupcakes; the texture was tighter and tougher. You had to pull them apart more purposefully -although they weren’t rubber-like. They were certainly edible. We could eat them. But they wouldn’t be my first choice. Even Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour makes a nicer looking cupcake when used in my Brown Rice Flour Mix, and it tastes just as good, if not better than the Nameste blend. I’d rather spend a little more money for the Authentic Foods GF Classics Blend (actually the Nameste flour is about the same amount of money if purchased online, and not at Costco) and have the cupcakes turn out as well as possible.
Enthusiastic Test on Shortbread Cookies
Still, I wasn’t quite ready to give up on this flour. I thought to myself – if the flour won’t work really well for a light and tender cake, perhaps it’ll work better for cookies. I made a batch of shortbread cookies from Gluten-Free Baking Classics using the Nameste flour blend. The original wheat version of the recipe was very simple and basic (not “sophisticated”): flour, sugar, butter, vanilla and tiny bit of salt. The only change I had made to my gluten-free version was to add xanthan gum. If there was ever a recipe calling out for a flour blend that made tighter, firmer baked goods, it was a shortbread cookie. But nope. It didn’t work well. Here is where that little bit of grit made a difference. The ratio of butter to flour did not work as well with the Nameste flour as it did the very fine Authentic Foods (the cookies made with the Nameste melted a bit), and you could feel the grit on your tongue when you ate the cookies.
Over-Eager Test on Bread
The huge bag of flour was looming large over my waste-not-want-not ways. One more try. How about bread? The Nameste website contained a sandwich using this blend along with milk and eggs. Their recipe contained an extra 1/2 cup of starch in a total of 4 cups of flour. I wasn’t sure exactly what this meant, but I decided continue with my testing anyway. I didn’t want to use a complicated bread recipe that used a lot of ingredients. So I used my submarine sandwich bread recipe (the one I used in the Psyllium husks powder test here on this blog); it’s a simple, basic recipe that is very close to the original wheat recipe (and this is supposed to be a cup for cup flour). I tried making the recipe with the same amount of water as my converted recipe and produced a loaf that was so dense and gooey and small that I had to throw it out. In fact, it rose during the rising but then tightened and basically collapsed during baking; the baked loaf wasn’t higher than the wet dough was to start with. We couldn’t even eat it. I tried one more time with less water and it was not a lot better, maybe a tad bit higher. That last loaf also ended up in the garbage.
So what do I think after all this?
First, I can’t quite picture exactly what is coming out of the pan for other bakers who claim they are getting good results with this flour. If you are one of them, and you are reading this, please write me! I’d especially like to see a picture of what my angel food cake looks like when made according to the recipe on the Nameste website (with the extra 1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum that the person who posted it left in even though the mix already has it).
Second, I’m not sure I understand why Nameste used sweet brown rice flour, which is the whole grain equivalent of sweet rice flour, as a main ingredient. Sweet rice flour, whether brown or white, is typically added in small amounts to gluten-free baked goods to provide a bit of tenderness. But in large amounts it will create a more compact, and sometimes damper, baked good. It certainly did here.
And why did Nameste use arrowroot powder if they were already using brown sweet rice flour. Arrowroot in any quantity can give certain gluten-free baked goods a kind of dampness. Sometimes people substitute a very small amount of it when they are trying to replace potato starch, but it seems a bit redundant when the first ingredient is sweet rice flour. And yes, I know some gluten-free bakers say you can also replace tapioca starch with arrowroot. You can, but your baked goods will be damper than they would be otherwise. I also thought perhaps they were using arrowroot to compensate for the dryness of the sorghum flour, but there isn’t that much sorghum, so that doesn’t make sense either.
Bottom line: I think Nameste might have something here if they took out some or all of the sweet brown rice flour and replaced it with regular brown rice flour. Once that is done, they could reduce the arrowroot a bit until they came up with a flour that is really a cup for cup replacement for wheat flour. But right now, I don’t think it works the way it is promoted and advertised- as a “perfect” cup for cup replacement for wheat flour.