The Kitchen Coach's Gluten Free Flour Guide

This GLUTEN FREE FLOUR/GRAIN GUIDE is intended to provide and overview of the most common options for use in Gluten Free baking and cooking. For successful GF baking and for nutritional reasons, VARIETY IS KEY.

SUBSTITUTIONS can usually be made directly within each category. Example: a GF recipe calls for ½ Cup of Teff flour, you can substitute ½ Cup of Buckwheat flour instead because they are both considered Pseudo grain flours. As with any Gluten Free baking, it is always recommended to mix up flours between categories as they each contribute such different qualities to the resulting dish. 

Grain Flours

These flours provide affordable bulk with basic nutritional value.

Brown Rice Flour

Brown rice is the first edible product when rice is harvested. It has had the inedbile husk removed. Brown rice contains many nutrients and lots of fibre. It is high in Manganese, Selenium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Copper and Vitamin B3 (Niacin).

Brown rice contributes a grainier texture to baking with zero binding capacity (as a gluten flour would) It can be the main replacement volume within a gluten-free flour blend with the addition of starches.

White Rice Flour

White rice is produced with one more step in processing from brown rice whereby the brown outer covering (called the aleurone layer) is removed to reveal the white grain within.  Most of the nutrients are stored within this aleurone layer including fatty acids that can go rancid more easily than the much less nutritious layer underneath. White rice was ‘made’ to extend the shelf life of rice but the unfortunate result is far less nutritive value.

According to the World’s Healthiest Foods, “The complete milling and polishing that converts brown rice into white rice destroys 67% of the vitamin B3, 80% of the vitamin B1, 90% of the vitamin B6, half of the manganese, half of the phosphorus, 60% of the iron, and all of the dietary fiber and essential fatty acids”.  As a flour, white rice flour behaves similarly to brown rice flour but with less nutritive value.

Maize Flour

Maize flour is made from finely ground up maize corn. It is different to corn flour because corn flour is actually the processed and extracted starch from corn that is usually used to thicken sauces. Maize flour is commonly used to make Mexican corn tortillas, and other similar baked goods. It is one step finer than Polenta, which is a coarser grind of corn. Polenta is most commonly used in slices, pizza bases, as a ‘crunchy topping’ on casseroles and a yummy thickened side dish to any meal.  It is very important in today’s world to only get certified organic, non GMO Polenta and Maize flour. 

Millet

A well-loved flour by many to add lightness, sponginess, or crumbly texture to baked goods. It is mild in flavour and quite nutritious. It is high in copper, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium with many other benefits. Millet makes a delicious porridge from it’s whole grain being long-cooked in plenty of water. Millet will firm up quite solidly when cooled therefore it gives structure to baked goods.

Pseudograin Flours

These flours provide high quality nutrition but are stronger in flavour so should be used in lesser quantity.

Amaranth Flour

Amaranth is in the family of swiss chard, spinach, beets, and quinoa. These miniature little ‘grains’ are not technically grains but eaten as such. It has the nutritional benefits of both a grain and a vegetable such as spinach and is considered a complete protein. It contains 4 x as much calcium as wheat and 2 x as much magnesium, iron, and Lysine (an essential amino acid).  It does not cook like a rice or like quinoa but rather has a stickier consistency, making it more suitable for porridge as a stand-alone grain. Otherwise, it combines very well in WITH rice or quinoa when cooking it to give variety of nutrition and texture. It can also be popped (like pop corn) in a hot skillet for a crunchier effect.

As a flour, amaranth brings nutrition and a slightly nutty taste but works best in smaller quantities along with other gluten free flours.

Quinoa Flour

Another complete protein and very high in it too. It can sometimes impart a slightly bitter taste to dishes when used as a flour therefore it is best in savoury baking. It brings much nutrition to a flour blend and can be used in smaller quantities along with other flours. As a grain, it is delicious cooked on it’s own, as one would cook/eat rice. It too can be turned into a porridge if overcooked with extra water or mylk. The whole, cooked grains can be used instead of flour in brownies for a higher protein, grain-free alternative.

Buckwheat Flour

Buckwheat is NOT a wheat and it is gluten free. It is technically a fruit seed and is related to Sorrel and Rhubarb. It can be eaten in many ways. Nutritionally it is high in manganese, copper magnesium, fibre, and phosphorus.  It is delicious when activated (soaked, rinsed and re-dried) as a crunchy sprinkle on salads and breakfasts. It is delicious toasted, cooked as a grain for a side dish to a meal, and can also be eaten sprouted. Ground as a flour it imparts a sticky/slippery/mucilaginous texture making it an excellent base flour for pancakes.

Teff Flour

The most commonly eaten ‘grain’ in Ethiopia. It is very high in protein, iron, calcium, B vitamins,  and is 20-30% resistant starch making it great for weight control, blood sugar control and gastrointestinal health (Banana flour is 17.5% resistant starch). The Teff ‘grain’ is the smallest known grain, even smaller than poppy seeds. They are brown in colour and impart a molasses-like flavour to dishes, some say chocolatey.  It is slightly mucilaginous like buckwheat and amaranth, giving cakes, sweet breads and muffins a light and soft texture.

Ragi Flour

Also known as finger millet. It is a red ‘grain’ commonly grown in Ethiopia and India. It is so nutritious that is often fed to infants over the age of 6 months as a porridge due to its high levels of iron, calcium, and B-vitamins.  This flour would be used in smaller quantities along with other flours as it has a slightly stronger flavour and texture than others. 

Starches

These provide texture and lightness to baked goods or are used as thickeners.

Potato Starch

Is not to be confused with Potato FLOUR (explained below). Potato starch is the extracted starch from a dried potato and is powdery and very white. It is used in fairly high volumes commonly in gluten-free flour mixes due to its ability to lighten up baking. It is virtually devoid of nutrients. This is why it is important to add the smaller quantities of more nutritious flours into baking mixes.

Tapioca flour or starch

Is made from the Cassava/Yucca plant root and is different to Arrowroot although commonly used interchangeably in Australia.  tapioca flour is also a very common ingredient in gluten-free flour blends to bring that “white bread” texture most seek out. It is powdery and very white like most starches and is mostly devoid of nutrients. It is commonly used to thicken sauces and gravies but it imparts a glossy sheen that can sometimes look unnatural in sauces. It is a great choice for anything that will be frozen as it does not break down when frozen (whereas corn starch will turn the dish mushy once thawed). Tapioca flour will thicken at a lower temperature which makes it good for finishing a sauce immediate prior to serving. It can however, break down and return to liquid if heated for too long at higher temperatures.  All starches used to thicken sauces should be first dissolved into a room temperature-or-colder liquid first and then slowly poured into a hot sauce while constantly stirring for two reasons: 1.) to make sure to not over-thicken by adding too much and 2.) so no lumps form by letting it sit.

Arrowroot Starch

Made from the Arrowroot plant. This would only need to be kept in stock for the use of thickening acidic sauces, otherwise Tapioca works just fine and very similarly. Do not use arrowroot to thicken sauces containing dairy as it will go slimy.  Arrowroot will withstand freezing well though.

Sweet Rice (Mochiko)

Sometimes called ‘glutinous rice flour’ but it does not contain gluten. Sweet rice flour is finely ground and powdery. It is made from the starchy short grain “sticky” rice and is not at all sweet in flavour like it’s name suggests. This rice, as a flour, is good for thickening sauces and giving a light texture to baked goods.

Corn Starch

Corn starch (called cornflour in Australia) has less desirable qualities than tapioca and arrowroot and does not withstand freezing. Its origins are also not required to be labelled and therefore can be from GMO Corn which is more likely than not in today’s world. 

Bean/Pea Flours

These flours provide bulk with medium nutritional value.

Besan (chickpea) Flour

Besan flour is commonly used to make Indian chapatis, flatbreads, or crepe-like pancakes. It is versatile but best when used either particularly for its flavour or in savoury dishes. It does give a nice moisture and texture to baked dishes but the flavour can be noticeable in sweet dishes. It is nutritionally dense and high in protein.

Black Bean Flour

Not very common but yummy to thicken up chili, Mexican sauces, or soups and stews. It contributes Fibre, protein and iron to a dish and can usually be used up to 25% in a flour substitution. It will however darken the colour of the resulting dish slightly.

Nut/Seed/Fruit Meals

These meals provide high nutritional value and delicious flavour differences.

Almond Meal

Almond meal is very common now and is also very easy to make on your own from whole raw (or activated) almonds in a food processor. Actually, making it fresh yourself is the preferred way to maintain freshness. Ground almond meal can go rancid much more quickly than whole almonds and should therefore be kept in the fridge once turned into meal, unless you will be using it within about a month.   Almond meal has become even more popular of late due to the Paleo movement which allow almond meal as a replacement for other flours in baking. It is nutritious and very versatile and forms a staple in my kitchen. The only caution (as with anything) is that it is not overused. It is generally accepted that we only need small quantities of nuts each day and that more is not necessarily better for our systems. Almonds are also a highly sprayed crop and therefore it is best to seek out at least insecticide-free almonds or else organic ones. Developing a habit of activating the whole bag as soon as you buy it and then re-drying it will save you much time and make for happier tummies.

Linseed/Flaxseed*** Meal

If there is only ONE addition you make to any recipe it ‘should’ be a Tablespoon or two of flaxmeal (linseed meal). This innocent little seed is the highest in Omega-3 essential fatty acids that our bodies need. In today’s world most of our diets are out of balance between Omega-6 and Omega-3 EFAs.  30 years ago our diet was closer to 1:2 Omega-6: Omega-3, now it is closer to between 1:20 and 1:45. Flaxmeal also acts as a broom in our intestine to helps clean away that which normally gets stuck to the walls. It tastes delcious even on its own mixed in water and allowed to sit and form a paste. Recipes will usually call for no more than 1/3Cup of flaxmeal. It can also replace eggs in most recipes too because it forms a similar texture when mixed with water and holds a binding capacity through the cooking like eggs do.

Sunflower Seed Meal

Not necessarily used as a flour substitute but still used very often in my kitchen. Sunflower seeds have a mild flavour, wonderful texture, and contribute a host of benefits as well. It can be used like cashews to make dips, even a ‘mock-chicken-salad’, or in breakfasts, muffins, cakes, and breads. This is also best if you grind it yourself and it is not as important to activate sunflower seeds as it is almonds for example.

Hazelnut Meal

Think Nutella. Hazelnut meal is most commonly used in GF baking to make pie/tart bases with that characteristic Hazelnut taste. It can substitute for almond meal in almost any dish and goes well in muffins, cakes, and breads. It comes at a higher price than almond meal and usually is found in the fridge section.

Brazil Nut Meal

Can’t say I have done this one much but still very much a possibility. Brazil nuts and almonds are most easily digested when activated first. Brazil nuts are high in Selenium and are therefore very good for the structure of your cells, all of them; the cardiovascular system, varicose veins etc. It is so high in Selenium though that it is recommended not to exceed more than 3 nuts per day on a regular basis.

Coconut*** Flour

Coconut flour is very common, very affordable, smells uniquely delicious and happens to also be “Paleo-friendly” if you are choosing a grain-free diet. This flour will absorb more liquid in a dish than most other flours so you need to use less of it when substituting. Like most GF flours, it is best when used in combination with other GF flours to balance out all of their properties. Although much of the nutrition has been extracted into the coconut milk and oil there are still beneficial bits remaining. Use coconut flour as a grain-free substitute and to add bulk to a baked good.

Banana Flour

New to the market, Banana flour is made from green bananas and is on the borderline of classification between a ‘flour’ and a ‘starch’. The bragging rights banana flour claims is that it is high in resistant-starch which is said to be good for keeping blood sugar levels and therefore appetite in check. It is touted as a ‘weight-loss’ flour and comes with the price tag as well. If choosing to use this flour, it would be best used as your nutritional addition to another GF flour blend of up to 25% of the mix. As we learned above, Teff flour is actually much higher in resistant starch so if this is your reason for using it then you have options.

Gums

Provide binding capacity to mimic the effects of gluten-flours.

Guar gum

Gums behave similarly to starches but are much more concentrated in their ability to bind. In GF baking they are, dare I say, a necessity to prevent crumbly mess. Guar gum is my preferred option in terms of its origin being the guar gum bean, which is a legume, commonly grown in India. It is fantastic at emulsifying and stabilising but does not have the exact same gelling/gluten-mimicking properties as Xanthan gum. It is sometimes recommended to use a little bit of both Guar and Xanthan to achieve the ‘perfect’ GF counterpart - if this is what you’re after.

Guar gum is also a bit less expensive than Xanthan gum. Only 1-2 tsp is needed in most baking.

Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is derived from corn. In today’s world, this could only be assumed to be GMO corn. It is hard to imagine that such a tiny little amount of such a highly extracted product could still carry the harm of a GMO food but none of us are to know (yet?). Wherever possible I try to use guar gum instead of Xanthan but if I needed to make ‘the perfect GF sandwich bread’ then this would be a must for its gluten-mimicking ability.

Potato Flour

The reason for putting Potato flour in with the gums is because it is used in similar quantities (slightly more) and for similar effect. Potato flour is heavy, off-white in colour, and made from the ground up fully-dried potatoes. I would hazard a guess that they would not be using A-grade organic potatoes to make it from...? I do not have many uses for potato flour personally but could be used if required as a substitute for Guar or Xanthan in double the quantity. ­­

*** Note: These flours/meals cannot be directly substituted as they have too different of qualities to the other flours in their category.

 

The power of the dining table!

The psychology of eating is something that interests me deeply, why do we eat the food we eat? Why do we eat the way we eat? What forms these habits? Does all of this impact how we grow up and the life we lead? Some interesting reading for me during the week led me to discover some very interesting facts via the awesome magazine NewPhilospher, where there was discussion around the ritual that occurs every single day for the majority of humanity. The ritual was eating dinner, and the impact this single event can have on so many components of our life.

The article was brief, but was full of gems, I've taken the liberty to expand on the key points in the article. Each point could form an article of their own, yet are incredibly interlinked. Read on to discover the power of your dining table.

Families are more likely to dine sequentially, in different rooms or in front of the TV.

With our busy lives, dinner has become a brief moment for many of us, sustenance to close out the day and lead into an evening of rest (and TV!). The past 3 decades has seen the frequency of family dinners plummet a massive 30%, which means that in Australia only 38% of families regularly sit down for dinner each night. This number is interesting, and alarming particularly when you look at the importance of dining together for you and your children! I would love you to join me on the DINING TOGETHER mission, you will absolutely want to participate once you find out the benefits.

My tip: If you are one of the families described above, start with one non-negotiable "family dinner" date each week and make them fun (and 100% screen free). Soon your kids will look forward to the social experience, and this will bring your family together. Strong families dine together OK?

Dining together helps you eat better, keep weight down, limits depression and improve self-esteem.

This is a huge discussion point, probably worth discussing tonight over dinner tonight. The act of eating with others causes a few things to occur - 1. you eat more slowly (whilst talking), and 2. you talk about your day (the highs AND the lows). A study by Kim Seok-Young found a correlation between family dinners and lower depressive symptoms in children. Eating slower has also been linked to better digestion and ensuring you eat less

My tip: take some time to chew slowly, and if you live by yourself, arrange dinner parties with your friends (I have a regular schedule with friends to ensure I get my dose).

Teenagers are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol, take drugs AND they IMPROVE their grades!

This is something that helps me understand why there are so many "kids playing up these days"! Teens that regularly sit down for dinner with others have been found to be less likely to take up smoking, drink alcohol or partake in drugs and will also improve their school results.

One particular study identified that family dinners resulted in a 40% lift in a group of teenagers receiving higher grades! I wonder if the simple act of conversation and engagement with your children over dinner is the secret to ensuring you have less adolescent breakdowns and a child that is happier with school? What do you think?

My tip: brain food combined with the social contact of eating dinner together is a great way to super-boost your kids and their brains!

Younger children will boost their vocabulary AND eat more fruit and vegetables!

This is the kicker! Have your children become picky gremlins who won't eat vegetables? One study from Harvard Medical School found the following:

"Eating family dinner was associated with healthful dietary intake patterns, including more fruits and vegetables, less fried food and soda, less saturated and trans fat, lower glycemic load, more fibre and micronutrients from food, and no material differences in red meat or snack foods."

Mealtimes are also crucial for vocabulary development for children, giving you an opportunity converse with them (and your family), which will most definitely help them learn more than just the words! Catherine Snow discussed this in her article discussing literacy development during mealtime.

My tip: make dinner time your chance to partake in a special process that I learn from the famous Bruce Campbell, WIFLE (What I Feel Like Expressing). Allow everyone to talk about what is on their mind (without interrupting) and decompress from their days.

Dear Dad, thank you for connecting me to my food source...

After Mother's Day this year, I was reflecting on Father's Day (the Australian one, in Canada, Father's Day is in June!). With the Aussie Father's Day upon us, both hubby and I have taken some time to reflect on the roles our Dad's had in forming our world of food!

Ashley's Dad

Spring and Summer in my childhood was all about fresh food. Living in Canada, there was 6-8 months where you could grow food easily without fear of frost and snow damaging the food. My Mom was the foodie, who LOVED preparing food from scratch (and doing it well!), you can read more on my Mom and how her love for food shaped me here.

My Dad, he was the gardener, being the son of a farmer, he knew how important it was to have a garden in the yard, after all he grew up on big farm growing enough food to feed their family of 16 (and their community)! As soon as there was a hint of Spring in the air, he would be getting seedlings ready to plant in the garden, timing planting was super important as sometimes there would be a late frost that would damage the sensitive seedlings. My memory of this massive garden each year is so fond, where a large portion of our fresh veggies each Spring/Summer/Fall were sourced straight from our patch. From eating fresh from the bush Raspberries in our breakfast each morning, and pickling the bean harvest for eating later in the year - the warmer months were all about planting, harvesting and storing! It was a family affair, we were foodies before the word foodies was #hashtagged.

The experience of watching my Dad go through this process every year (and even watching him get super excited about heading home to plant his garden in Canada after visiting me this year!), preparing the beds, the seedlings and caring for them every day, taught me the importance of the food we ate every day. His effort and labour was enjoyed after every harvest, each bite tasted so much better knowing it came from OUR garden! It's the same giddy excitement I get today when I harvest from my garden - I can make a delicious salad that is literally MINUTES old from harvest!

I want to thank my Dad (and my Grand-père and Grand-mère) for dedicating his time, energy and love into our garden, I'm not sure he realised at the time what effect it would have on me. Both Mom and Dad are with me every day I share my knowledge and passion around good food and good health.

Matt's Dad

My Dad was the son of a horseman, someone who worked with horses and cattle through his youth, his world was all about food, whether it was delivering packages to customers or learning to prepare meals. A baby-boomer and a son of a POW, Dad was raised in a world of growing your own food, and knowing where your food comes from. Big supermarkets hadn't taken hold in towns, and you shopped at the local grocer, local butcher and local buttery. Being raised in this world must have planted a seed for Dad, for when he returned to his home region to become a school teacher, he started growing grain and running cattle. Dad, the teacher/farmer continued his journey of teaching during the week and farming on the weekend, raising his family on a farm, and sharing the love of the land with his kids. It was his escape, his passion project, I knew that after seeing him persevere through droughts and ensuring we understood what farming was all about.

My first memory of living on a farm is watching Dad plant and harvest corn (he used to supply Kelloggs for their corn flakes!) - this tradition continued for decades every Christmas. Sitting on a corn planter was our rite of passage - Christmas Eve (and sometimes Christmas morning) had us planting the summer corn, ready for harvest come Autumn the next year. We ran cattle on our farm too, learning to be around farm animals is something that sticks with me too, such beautiful animals who personified the struggle of farming (particularly at this time of year, where it is COLD and DRY).

Our connection to food was ever present, it was our jobs as kids, we didn't get part time jobs, each weekend was full of working on the farm. Whether it was the food raising bit, or fixing fences or harvesting grain - it was a huge shock to move to the big city and meet people who had never even seen a COW in real life! Each university holidays had me back at home, working away, Dad always saved up the big projects for this time, reminding me of my "city boy" hands when I got blisters whilst building fences...

My Dad probably didn't realise at the time, but living on a farm was an experience that formed his children in many ways. Whether it was the connection to the land, or just being willing to put in a massive day of sweat to complete a farm project, it has meant that we all developed a respect for what goes into farming. It even gave me the confidence to help start a farm in Northern NSW several years ago. Once a farm boy always a farm boy! Thank you Dad :)

Organic Vs Conventional Farming - What's the difference?

There has been a focus in the past twenty years plus on the food we eat and how it is grown. Many people are asking questions about the inputs that are applied to their foods, and the impact that it could be having on the earth as well as their bodies.

This has led to the common question, "organic vs conventional farming - what's the difference?"

To answer this question, first we need to go through a little history, without history we won't be able to understand the difference and why the world relies so HEAVILY on the conventional agriculture approach.

Then onto the comparison of the two forms of agriculture, to help you make an educated decision about which one is the best for the Earth and our bodies. *Note: It is important to understand that this review is a general view of the two forms of agriculture, there are many shades of grey here, with some conventional farms shunning artificial inputs and some organic farms being more monoculture than others.

History of agriculture

Agriculture has been one of the biggest innovations in human history, with the first domestication of food crops occurring over 10,000 years ago. This domestication of food allowed for communities to base themselves in one area, growing, tending and harvesting foods to sustain larger populations. Simple, manual agriculture dominated for the first 8,000 years - focusing on the sowing and harvesting of grain crops, husbandry of animals and planting orchards of nut and fruit trees. The next 2,000 years brought massive technology changes that moved from mostly manual labour (both human and animal labour) to the manufacture of farming implements that allowed larger areas to be farmed with less labour. Coupled with the sharing of food crops around the world, this again boosted the ability of humans to farm and feed larger populations with agriculture. What started as the simple understanding of plant biology (that is the planting of a seed to grow a replicate), grew into the most important and largest industry in the world, as well as the fuel for massive population growth. Foods were grown with what was naturally available, and if modern standards were applied to ancient agriculture, it would most definitely be ORGANIC!

The 1900s brought massive change that not only modified how humans produced food, but also how MUCH food humans could produce.

Mechanisation, The First Artificial Fertiliser & The Green Revolution

In the space of less than 150 years, humans discovered how to artificially create fertiliser, as well as build machines that could do the work of many humans. This was revolutionary, as it allowed for significant yield increases from farming, with significant decreases in labour. Interestingly, one could easily correlate this change with the acceleration of human population, suddenly humans were able to produce more with less, allowing massive growth in population (from 1.5 Billion in 1900, to more than 7 Billion today).

The 1940s brought what has been called "The Green Revolution", which is the loose description given to the discovery of:

  • More artificial fertilisers (and their distribution);
  • Creation of chemical herbicides and pesticides; and
  • Genetic modification of plants and animals.

This shifted food production into mass production that continues today. Driven by the artificial boosting of soil nutrients and application of poisons that reduced the impact of pests. Genetic modification of plants has led to plants producing more yield than they would naturally produce and insertion of other animal and plant genomes to modify the properties of the plant. Again, the boom of food production in this time could be linked with the increase in human population.

(Re)emergence of Organic Agriculture

The Green Revolution brought more food to the world, and with it brought huge volumes of artificial inputs to agriculture. In Australia alone, there is approximately 1.7 Million tonnes of artificial fertilisers applied to farming every year (which has increased from 0.7 Million tonnes in 1983). Pesticide use in Australia has also grown rapidly, with over 15,000 tonnes of herbicides, 5,000 tonnes of insecticides and 3,000 tonnes of fungicides sprayed every year (and growing rapidly).

This awareness (and the toxicity of many of these inputs) has led to the (re)emergence of organic agriculture, which combines modern agriculture methods with natural inputs and pest management. 1987 saw the emergence of Biological Farmers of Australia, a group of farmers who advocated and championed the natural farming approach that worked WITH nature rather than against. They championed and adopted farming techniques that now form organic certification, a process that is incredibly stringent and bound by Consumer Law (i.e. it can only be called certified organic if it IS certified organic).

To show the difference in approach to the two styles of farming, see below for the key differences in these two food production methods, and use this to identify which method suits you best.

The Difference between Organic and Conventional Farming

The difference between conventional farming and organic farming is quite simple. One (conventional) uses artificially created inputs, whilst the other (organic) uses natural inputs to create the same end goal of food production. The table comparison below looks at inputs to each agriculture system, but does not compare the quality of nutrition that comes from the two systems. Many of the inputs to conventional agriculture are toxic (they need to be to kill pests!) and have been linked to many health issues that are prevalent in our community.

Coupled with this table, the Rodale Institute in the USA has undertaken a 30 year study into the yields and quality of produce from organic and conventional agriculture, this is summarised below.

Agricultural Management Systems Conventional Agriculture Approach Organic Agriculture Approach
Insect & Plant Pest Management Insect pest management in conventional agriculture overwhelmingly has a preference to use insecticides to manage bugs that eat or damage food crops. Many of these insecticides are organophosphates (parathion methyl, chloroyriphos, dimethoate, profenfos, and diazinon), acetyl choline esterase inhibitors (metham sodium is the most used), GABA-gated chloride channel antagonists (endosulfan), pyrethroids and pyrethrins.

Plant pest management in conventional agriculture has been a big focus in recent years, with Europe and some parts of the world restricting use of some chemical plant pest management systems. The most commonly used plant pest management in conventional agriculture (coupled with some mechanical plant removal) include:

- Glyphosate;
- Atrazine;
- Simazine.

*See (1) below for further links to these chemicals.
Insect and plant pest management in organic agriculture has a preference to natural measures to prevent and manage outbreaks. Organic agriculture focuses on using biological and physical control agents to manage plant pests:

- Biological control agents and the protection of predator habitats;
- Rotational and livestock grazing programs, companion planting, trap cropping;
- Biodynamic measures;
- Soil solarisation – where a proper rotation cannot take place;
- Mechanical controls such as traps, barriers, light and sound;
- Moderate mechanical cultivation;
- Mulching and slashing;- Flame and steam weeding;
- Mineral and biological balance within the soil.
Fertiliser Inputs The majority of conventional agriculture that requires growth of plants (for both grazing and food harvest) use fertilisers. Many of these fertilisers are manufactured through chemical processes, whilst some are by super-refining mined phosphate. The most common chemical fertilisers used in Australia on conventional farms include:
- Urea;
- Sulphate of Ammonia;
- Anhydrous Ammonia;
- Urea Ammonium Nitrate;
- Diammonium Phospate;
- Monoammoniumphosphate;
- Triple Super Phosphate;
- Single Super;
- Muriate of Potash.

Many of these fertilisers focus on the macro nutrients Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium - with no addition of crucial micronutrients. *See (2) for further links to these fertilisers and their manufacturing processes.
Organic certification requirements in Australia allow for the following fertiliser inputs (not comprehensive):
- Beneficial organisms;
- Calcium carbonate;
- Calcium;
- Clay;
- Compost;
- Compost tea;
- Mined dolomite;
- Granite dust;
- Kelp meal;
- Lime sources;
- Magnesium carbonate;
- Composted manures;
- Seaweed;
- Rock dusts;
- Neem meal.

It becomes clear that the only inputs that certified organic agriculture allows is natural (i.e. hasn't been through a refining process) and focuses on both macro and micro nutrients. Rock dusts and seaweeds introduce a range of micronutrients to soil that conventional fertilisers lack.
Soil Ecology Management In conventional agriculture there is less of a focus on soil ecology, and managing the impacts of compaction, erosion and rehabilitation. The use of fungicides is on the increase in agriculture to manage soil fungus that can impact some crops, similar to the use of antibiotics, the impact on soil ecology is not completely understood.

In recent years there has been a move towards a better understanding of soil ecology in the conventional world, resulting in many farms moving towards less harmful approaches.
In organic agriculture, there is an absolute focus on improving and maintaining a soil ecology that retains nutrients and biodiversity. Not only does this include a diversity of fungi, bacteria and larger soil invertebrates, it also includes boosting AND retaining nutrients in the soil.

This approach is very different from the input-driven conventional approach, the organic methods seek to help the soil develop a self-sufficient ecology that ensures crops that absorb a range of macro and micro nutrients whilst also developing a soil ecology that results in less pest outbreaks.
Plant Diversity In many conventional agriculture farms the tendency is to focus on single crop, or mono-cropping approaches. This results in significant areas of the same plant or tree, which impacts not only the soil, but also the surrounding biodiversity of the region. Large monoculture farms generally lack other animal life, including pollinators that are crucial to many flowering crops (many of these farms import bee hives to increase pollination results).

The other component of this monoculture approach is the risk increase for plagues of pests, which descend on the farm when the crop is ripening or about to ripen (many of us have seen mice plagues and locusts devouring whole regions of crops on the news). Coupled with the increase in pest plagues, there is also the impact on soil ecology that monoculture has (another topic that hasn't been extensively research), the impact associated with plants draining key elements (and trace elements) as well denying the soil the diversity of root depth that comes with a biodiverse cropping approach.
As conventional farming was born from the "original", organic agriculture, many of the cropping approaches seen in conventional farming exist in organic agriculture. To cater for the demand, many large organic farms use a monoculture approach to all for efficiencies associated with planting, pest management and harvesting.

On the flipside, there are many smaller scale organic farms that multi-crop and encourage natural biodiversity on their properties.

The Rodale Institute Study

The Rodale Institute reviewed yield, revenue, expenses and profit of conventional versus organic farming techniques, the results are best seen via the graphs below, showing that yields were comparable between the two and profitability was far higher for organic. 

Source: Rodale Institute - http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/farming-systems-trial/

Source: Rodale Institute - http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/farming-systems-trial/

Further comparison was undertaken to compare the soil organic matter between farming methods, and the results speak for themselves, organic techniques outperformed conventional % significantly.

Source: Rodale Institute - http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/farming-systems-trial/

Source: Rodale Institute - http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/farming-systems-trial/

*(1) - For more details on how these pesticides are manufactured and their impacts to the human body, click through to discover more.

  • Organophosphates (parathion methyl (classified as SEVERELY HAZARDOUS to human health, now phased out in Australia), chloroyriphos (under review for use in Australia, TOXIC), dimethoate (disables central nervous system function, partially banned in Australia**), profenfos, and diazinon);
  • Acetyl choline esterase inhibitors (metham sodium is the most used);
  • GABA-gated chloride channel antagonists (endosulfan, which is now banned in Australia);
  • Pyrethroids (toxic to humans and many beneficial insects);
  • pyrethrins
  • Glyphosate (toxic and beginning to be banned worldwide);
  • Atrazine
  • Simazine - banned in the EU and remains in the soil for up to 7 months after application.

** Dimethoate still used on artichoke (globe), asparagus, beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage (drumhead varieties only),capsicums, carrot, cauliflower, celery, chilli, peas, potatoes and sweet potatoes, onion, parsnips, radish, rhubarb, sweetcorn, tomatoes for processing, tomatoes (large field grown for fresh consumption, prior to commencement of flowering), turnip and zucchini.

*(2) - For more details on how these fertilisers are manufactured and their impacts to the human body, click through to discover more.