Whether you have a wheat allergy or celiac disease, you’re looking to give your baked goods a nutritional boost, or you’ve simply run out of your go-to flour, know that you have a lot of flour options to choose from. But how do you choose? And do wheat-flour alternatives taste and “behave” the same in your recipes? Read on to find out.
Whole-wheat flour is easy to come by and you’ve likely noticed it sitting pertly on the supermarket shelf next to white flour. How does it differ from white flour? Whole-wheat flour includes the bran, endosperm, and germ of the wheat grain, while white flour has the bran and germ removed. Nutrition-wise, whole-wheat flour has more nutrients than white flour, including B vitamins, iron, calcium, protein, and fiber. It also imparts a nutty flavor and more texture to baked goods.
You can substitute whole-wheat flour for white flour, but understand that whole-wheat flour will contribute a coarser texture. Also, “Whole-wheat flour absorbs more liquid than white flour and produces a stiffer dough,” says King Arthur’s website. If you’re baking bread, that will impact how much your bread rises. King Arthur recommends increasing the liquid in the recipe by 2 teaspoons for every cup of whole-wheat flour substituted. What about for other baked goods? Experiment! For example, swap out one-third of the amount of flour in your recipe for whole wheat and see what happens. If you like what you see (and taste), the next time, try one-half white flour and one-half whole wheat.
Another option? Consider baking with white whole-wheat flour. This flour is still whole wheat, but it’s milled from a lighter variety of wheat. You’ll get a product with more nutrition and the same flavor, color, and texture as if you baked with white flour.
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Don’t be fooled by the name — buckwheat flour contains no wheat and is also gluten-free, since it’s made from a seed and not a grain. It’s great for making pancakes, muffins, and bread. In terms of nutrition, buckwheat flour ranks low to medium on the glycemic index scale, and contains protein, fiber, and resistant starch, so this flour can be a good option if you have diabetes.
Buckwheat flour has a slightly bitter, earthy taste, making it suitable for both savory and sweet treats. If you plan to bake with this flour, King Arthur recommends substituting buckwheat flour for 25% of the wheat flour in a non-yeast recipe and substituting 15% of the wheat flour in a yeast recipe.
Brown rice flour
Brown rice flour, which is basically ground up brown rice, is an option for anyone following a gluten-free or wheat-free diet. This flour has a deep, nutty flavor. Brown rice flour is a dense flour, which means that you may need to add more egg or liquid. Because this flour does not contain gluten, it’s best to use recipes that are specifically tailored to using brown rice. If you don’t need to avoid wheat, you can use a combination of brown rice flour and wheat flour.
Chickpea flour is made from ground chickpeas and is gluten-free. It’s also higher in protein, fiber, and iron than white flour. This flour works great as a thickener and a binder for fritters, tortillas, pancakes, and flatbreads. For baking, however, you should substitute half of the flour in a recipe with chickpea flour.
Coconut flour, which is made from dried coconut meat, has become more popular, thanks to the advent of the Paleo and keto diets. Advantages of using coconut flour are that it’s relatively low in carbohydrate, it’s gluten-free, and it’s high in protein and fiber.
Due to its high fiber content, coconut flour absorbs a lot of liquid during baking, says Bob’s Red Mill’s website. The dough will be much thicker than expected. A rule of thumb is to swap out 1/4 to 1/3 cup of coconut flour for 1 cup of wheat flour, and you may need to increase the number of eggs that you use. While you can bake cakes, cookies, muffins, and even bread with coconut flour, it’s best to rely on using established coconut flour recipes, as this flour can be a bit “finicky” to bake with.
Almond flour is made from ground almonds. It’s gluten-free and is a good source of protein, monounsaturated fat, and vitamin E. When baking with this flour, use 1/4 less almond flour. So, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of wheat flour, use 3/4 cup almond flour. Because it’s gluten-free, you may need to use a binder, such as xanthan gum, guar gum, or psyllium husk to help keep ingredients together in the absence of gluten. Be aware that it contains a lot of moisture, thanks to its high fat content (a 1/4 cup has 14 grams of fat).
Almond flour imparts a nutty flavor and texture to baked goods, and it can also be used in savory dishes such as meatballs and breading for chicken and fish. Store almond flour in the fridge or freeze to maintain freshness.
For a tasty, lower-carb cookie recipe that’s also gluten-free, try this version of chocolate chip cookies made with almond flour.
Amaranth is a high-protein ancient grain that happens to be gluten-free. Amaranth flour has a nutty, earthy taste, and it’s also quite dense. For this reason, substitute it for 25% of a recipe’s wheat flour. King Arthur states that amaranth flour works best in pancakes and quick breads. And, you may need to add 1 to 2 tablespoons of liquid to the batter or dough, as this flour can produce a drier, crumblier texture in baked goods.
When purchasing amaranth flour (or grinding your own amaranth into flour), Beyond Celiac.org recommends making sure to purchase amaranth that is labeled as gluten free. Sometimes amaranth can come into contact with gluten-containing grains during the milling process.
Baking with alternative flours: for best results
- If you decide to try a gluten-free, grain-free flour when baking your goodies, be willing to experiment. You may need to add more liquid, for example, or, if you’re combining a gluten-free flour with a gluten-containing flour, you might need to adjust the ratio of these two flours to get the desired effect.
- Use recipes that are intended for a specific type of flour to save time, money…and frustration!
- For more information on baking with non-wheat grains, check out King Arthur’s guide.
- Remember that gluten-free or ancient grain flours are not necessarily carbohydrate free.