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Flour Power – Healthy Alternatives to the “White Stuff”

Posted Mar 18 2013 10:20am

flour I figured this would be an interesting topic for the week for two reasons – one based on recent chats with Katie about ingredients for future awesome MySuperFoods products and the other based on my recent trips to Whole Foods and the local grocery store to find a sea of available “flour” products. Choosing flour alternatives in cooking and baking has its benefits for many reasons (I’ll get into that soon), and something I started doing several years ago when I embarked on my food revolution. However, it seems as if each time I enter the “flour” aisle, more and more white flour substitutes are lining the shelves. There are flours made from everything, it seems – garbanzo bean flour, amaranth flour, rice flour, coconut flour…and the list goes on. I am leery sometimes to see what will appear next…..but most of all, what the heck do you make out of these finely ground concoctions?
I recall a few times when I would get daring and buy a few flour alternatives that seemed interesting to try. Many times, I would make recipes up and then quickly wished I hadn’t when it looked like the Apocalypse was happening in my oven, no or less even what my experiments tasted like. Baking is funny like that. It’s an extremely unforgiving art – one I am not so much a master at. (After doing my research on , here is an excerpt regarding that…hah) Wheat flour contains gluten which is the protein that strengthens and binds dough in baking. Because of this, when baking with wheat free flours, you may need to source alternative binding agents.
Wheat free recipes using flour substitutes usually have been carefully formulated to get the best possible result taking into account the problems associated with lack of wheat gluten, therefore substitution can be a risky experiment. If you try substitution, then be aware that you may get a failure, so don’t do it for the first time if cooking for an important occasion.
It is important to be aware that there is no exact substitute for wheat flour, and recipes made with wheat free alternative flours will be different from those containing wheat.
It’s always best to store flours in airtight containers, in a dark cool place to avoid them turning rancid. The wheat-free.org kitchen actually stores its wheat/gluten free flours in bags in the freezer to maintain their freshness.

Nonetheless, the whole challenge didn’t/doesn’t deter me from trying new things. If anything, I am pleased to find recipes where some other genius found a way to replace these flour alternatives in many of my favorite baked goods, etc. What I have discovered is the new versions taste better, are healthier, and something I would not think twice to serve my 1 year-old. With the rise of gluten intolerance and sensitivity amongst many individuals today (not to mention carbohydrate overloading and childhood & adult obesity), finding alternatives to good ‘ol processed flour makes sense. Besides, you can have fun standing in the flour aisle staring at the plethora of choices looking like you’re about to get sucked into the unknown. Thanks to sources like: and , here is a little compilation of t different flour alternative choices out there, their health benefits, and some recipe links so you can knock yourself out trying some new things (you know, because I am sure you have a ton of free time on your hands to do that).

• Almond flour (one of my favorites!) – is made by grinding blanched almonds into a fine powder (skins removed). The consistency is more like corn meal than wheat flour. You can find extra fine Italian Almond Flour which has more flavor, but can be very pricey. Baking with almond flour requires using more eggs to provide more structure. Use it in cakes, cookies, and other sweet baked goods. You can make it yourself by placing blanched almonds in a Vitamix or high power blender.

• Amaranth flour – Amaranth flour is made from the seed of the Amaranth plant, which is a leafy vegetable. Amaranth seeds are very high in protein, which makes a nutritious flour for baking. Alternative names: African spinach, Chinese spinach, Indian spinach, elephants ear.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Arrowroot flour – Arrowroot flour is ground from the root of the plant, and is very useful for thickening recipes. It is tasteless, and the fine powder becomes clear when it is cooked, which makes it ideal for thickening clear sauces.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Barley flour – Barley only contains a small amount of gluten, so is rarely used to make bread, with the exception of unleavened bread. It has a slightly nutty flavor, and can be used to thicken or flavor soups or stews. Blended with other alternative flours it is also fairly versatile for cakes, biscuits, pastry, dumplings etc.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Brown rice flour – Brown rice flour is heavier than its relative, white rice flour. It is milled from unpolished brown rice so it has a higher nutritional value than white, and as it contains the bran of the brown rice it has a higher fiber content. This also means that it has a noticeable texture, a bit grainy.
It does have a slight nutty taste, which will sometimes come out in recipes depending on the other ingredients, and the texture will also contribute to a heavier product than recipes made with white rice flour. It is not often used completely on its own because of its heavier nature. It can also be used to thicken soups and stews. The higher fiber content will contribute to a heavier product than recipes made with white rice flour. Due to the grittiness of the flour, it is best when combined with other flours like sorghum, potato flour and tapioca starch. Bulk buying is not recommended as it is better used when fresh, store in an airtight container.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Buckwheat flour – Buckwheat flour is not, despite its name a form of wheat, buckwheat is actually related to rhubarb. The small seeds of the plant are ground to make flour. It has a strong nutty taste, so is not generally used on its own in a recipe, as the taste of the finished product can be very overpowering, and a little bitter. Alternative names: beech wheat, kasha, saracen corn.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Chia flour – Made from ground chia seeds. Highly nutritious, chia seeds have been labeled a “superfood” containing Omega 3, fiber, calcium and protein, all packed into tiny seeds. Also known as “nature’s rocket fuel” as many sportspeople and super athletes such as the Tarahumara use it for enhanced energy levels during events. If chia flour isn’t readily available, then put chia seeds in a processor and whizz up some. If used in baking, liquid levels and baking time may need to be increased slightly.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Chick pea flour (also known as gram or garbanzo flour) – This is ground from chick peas and has a strong slightly nutty taste. It is not generally used on its own.
Wheat free Gluten free

• Coconut flour (one of my personal favorites!) – This flour made from the ground meat of the coconut is ideal for both types of dieting. It contains no gluten and is nearly carbohydrate free. It’s a delicious alternative to wheat and other grain flours. It is very high in fiber, low in digestible carbohydrates and a good source of protein. It gives baked goods a rich, springy texture but needs a lot more liquid than other flours. Replace up to 20% of the flour called for in a recipe with Coconut Flour, adding an equivalent amount of additional liquid to the recipe. You will not need as much sugar when using this flour as the coconut has a natural sweetness.

• Corn flour – Corn flour is milled from corn into a fine, white powder, and is used for thickening recipes and sauces. It has a bland taste, and therefore is used in conjunction with other ingredients that will impart flavor to the recipe. It also works very well when mixed with other flours, for example when making fine batters for tempura. Some types of corn flour are milled from wheat but are labeled wheaten corn flour. Alternative name: cornstarch.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Cornmeal – Ground from corn. Heavier than corn flour, not generally interchangeable in recipes.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Hemp flour – Made from ground hemp seeds it has a mild, nutty flavor. Hemp flour needs to be refrigerated after opening.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Maize flour – Ground from corn. Heavier than corn flour, and not generally interchangeable in recipes.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Millet flour – Comes from the grass family, and is used as a cereal in many African and Asian countries. Millet flour adds a subtle flavor, creamy color, and more vitamins and minerals than other grains. Substitute 1/4 cup millet flour for an equal amount of unbleached white flour in any baked good. This flour can be a little gritty, like rice flour and contains no gluten, so is best to substitute around a 1/4 millet flour for other flours when baking. It can be used to thicken soups and make flat breads and griddle cakes. Because it lacks any form of gluten, it’s not suited to many types of baking.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Oat flour – Ground from oats this flour is not gluten free. Care also needs to be taken to ensure that it is sourced from a non-wheat contaminating process. Absorbs liquids more than many flours, so may need to increase the liquid content of any recipe it is added to. Oat flour readily substitutes into many cake and cookie recipes. Oat flour goes rancid very quickly, so either buy small amounts and use it quickly, store it in the fridge/freezer, or make your own using a food processor.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Potato flour – is made from dehydrated potatoes. It’s used in bread, pancake and waffle recipes and as a thickener for sauces, gravies and soups. It adds smoothness and moisture in gluten free baking. It is high in carbohydrates and lacks fiber which makes it necessary to use it along with other flours as a mixture. This flour should not be confused with potato starch flour. Potato flour has a strong potato flavor and is a heavy flour, so a little goes a long way. Bulk buying is not recommended unless you are using it on a very regular basis for a variety of recipes as it does not have a very long shelf life.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Potato starch flour – This is a fine white flour made from potatoes, and has a light potato flavor which is undetectable when used in recipes. It’s one of the few alternative flours that keeps very well provided it is stored in an airtight jar, and somewhere cool and dark.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Quinoa flour (pronounced ‘keen wa’) – Quinoa is related to the plant family of spinach and beets. It has been used for over 5,000 years as a cereal, and the Incas called it the mother seed. Quinoa provides a good source of vegetable protein and it is the seeds of the quinoa plant that are ground to make flour. It’s regarded as one of the more highly nutritious flours, containing more protein, calcium and iron than other grains. It has a light nutty flavor, but is not recommended to use alone as it does not contain any gluten. Best when substituting 1/4 cup for another type of flour.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Rye flour – Rye flour is a strongly-flavored flour, dark in color. Breads made with rye flour are denser than those made with wheat (for example, pumpernickel – which is virtually black). Rye flour has a low gluten content, but it can also be used for recipes such as pancakes and muffins.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Sorghum flour – is an annual grass originating in Africa and a popular cereal crop worldwide. It has a higher protein content than corn and about equal to wheat. It is neutral in flavor which allows it to absorb other flavors well. It’s created by grinding sorghum grain, which is similar to millet. The flour is used to make porridge or flat unleavened breads. It is an important staple in Africa and India. This flour stores well under normal temperatures.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Soya flour – Soya flour is a high protein flour with a nutty taste. It is not generally used on its own in recipes, but when combined with other flours, is very successful as an alternative flour. It can be used to thicken recipes or added as a flavor enhancer. It needs to be carefully stored as it is a high fat flour and can go rancid if not stored properly. A cool, dark environment is recommended and can even be stored in the refrigerator.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Tapioca flour – Tapioca flour is made from the root of the cassava plant. Once it is ground, it takes the form of a light, soft, fine white flour. Tapioca flour adds a sweetness and chewiness to baking and is a good thickener. Tapioca flour is an excellent addition to any wheat free kitchen. It’s a fairly resilient flour, so storing at room temperature is no problem. Use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup per recipe to lighten and sweeten breads made with heavier flours like brown rice and millet.
Wheat free Gluten free
• Teff flour – Teff comes from the grass family, and is a tiny cereal grain native to northern Africa. It is ground into flour and used to prepare injera, which is a spongy, slightly sour flat bread. It is now finding a niche in the health food market because it is very nutritious.
Wheat free Gluten free
• White rice flour – This flour is milled from polished white rice, so it is very bland in taste, and not particularly nutritious. White rice flour is ideal for recipes that require a light texture. It can be used on its own for a variety of recipes and has a reasonable shelf life, as long as it is stored in an airtight container to avoid it absorbing moisture from the air.
Wheat free Gluten free

• Xanthan Gum – is a natural, complex carbohydrate made from a tiny microorganism called Xanthomonas campestris. Using about 1/4 tsp in bread and other gluten-free baked goods adds volume and viscosity which usually comes from the gluten in wheat. It is also used as a thickener and emulsifier in dairy products, salad dressings, and other foods.

According to theholisticchef.blogspot.com **My favorite blend for gluten free baking is 1 cup rice flour, 1/2 cup tapioca flour, 1/2 cup potato flour, 3/4 cup sorghum flour. Mix flours and keep in an airtight container and replace for an equal amount of flour in your recipe of choice. Sometimes I add a little quinoa or millet flour as well. These flours come out best when there are eggs in the recipe and do not come out as good with egg replacers.

For ideas of what to do with Coconut and Almond Flours, check out Elana’s Pantry at . She uses them exclusively because of their higher protein content.
Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods (www.bobsredmill.com) produces all of the flours above in a plant dedicated gluten free.

Now go throw some flour on your face and look like you’ve been busy in the kitchen. I hope this helps clear up some of the confusion over all of the flour alternatives out there (or if you’re reading this thinking you were never confused in the first place and really could care less about flour alternatives, maybe I’ve piqued your interest a little?!?). If anything, realize there are healthier alternatives out there than the standard refined white flour. You can make all kinds of goodies for your family and not feel like you’re pumping them full of processed mayhem.
Other recipe ideas can be found here (be sure to sift through them all and be sure to use your healthy-goggles to scan out the ones that may not be so “healthy” despite being made with alternative flour):


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