All-purpose flour is a pantry-staple, useful for making cakes, bread, and pasta. But there is no reason you have to stay confined to only one kind of flour. More and more people are now looking for interesting alternatives, from quinoa to coconut flour. There are usually two main reasons for incorporating new flours, allergies, or the quest for healthier food.
But you do have to remember that all flours are not the same. While some may be great for making cakes and cookies (coconut, oat), some for thickening soaps (chickpeas, lentil), others may be best used by themselves (banana). So, it’s important to understand how each flour works before substituting it in place of regular flour.
New Flour Alternatives
The new flour alternatives trending today are a mix of the less known and forgotten. Many of these were rediscovered in our quest for gluten-free, paleo-friendly, or just healthy alternatives. Some come from different corners of the world where they are a staple food. Here are some of the flours that we think will make their place known in the coming year:
Coconut flour ticks a lot of boxes: gluten-free, nut-free, and grain-free. This makes it popular for those with gluten or nut allergies or anyone following a paleo diet. It is also suitable for people with diabetes. As per a study published in The British Journal of Nutrition, food supplemented with coconut flour has a low GI index and has high fiber content. However, you do have to be careful of the fat content, especially when using it frequently.
When using coconut flour, it is important to remember that it is not a grain. It is made by drying and processing the white inner flesh. It is softer than refined flour and absorbs more liquid. When used in baking, it should be added carefully. Use 1/3 coconut flour for every 1 cup. It is commonly used for gravies and sauces. When used in sauces and frying, the proportion is the same as other flours. The nutty flavor of coconut flour is perfect for making cookies and cakes.
Where to buy: Several companies sell coconut brand. You can get it at most convenience stores or Asian grocers. If all else fails, just order it online.
Using oat flour is both healthy and convenient. Unlike some of the other flours on the list, you can make it easily by just pulsing oats in your food processor till you get the consistency you want. However, you won’t get it as fine as refined flour. It is usually coarser. On the positive side, it is whole-grain and gluten-free. Oat flour has a silky texture with a nutty flavor, which is quite delicious.
When using oat flour, keep in mind that it is gluten-free. So, you have to combine it with some other flour if you want the perfect crumb. However, the nutty flour is delicious and can be used by itself. You may have to increase the amount of raising agent. You can use it for making pancakes, cookies, waffles, and muffins. The thicker texture and high fiber content mean that it will absorb more liquid. So, when substituting for a cup of all-purpose flour, use about 1/4 to 1/3 cup oat flour.
Where to buy: Oat flour is super easy to make and all you need is any kind of oat, whether it is old fashioned rolled oats, steel-cut oats, or oat groats. Although you can also use instant oats, it’s better to pick raw oats because the former is processed. Alternatively, you can just buy oat flour from your nearest convenience store.
While it may have just made its presence known in the Western world, in much of Africa and the Caribbean, it is a staple part of their diet. Apart from its gluten-free properties, banana flour is also a great source for resistant starch. These are starches that are not fully digested by the body and hence, reduce appetite, lower blood sugar levels, and improve insulin sensitivity. In other words, it is ideal for people with diabetes. It has a host of other benefits. A review of various studies, published in the journal Molecules, found that banana flour improved digestive problems like diarrhea and constipation, improved lipid profile, inflammatory problems, and reducing weight.
Banana flour is made from green banana. It is peeled, dried, and then ground into the flour. It should not be confused with banana powder which is made from the waste of ripe bananas and does not contain any of the fiber or resistant starch of banana flour. For maximum health benefits, it is best taken raw. It has a mild banana flavor which is great in smoothies. Cooking seems to remove the banana flavor. When using it in place of wheat flour in baking, take about 3/4 cup of banana flour for a single cup of wheat flour.
Where to buy: Banana flour should be available at your nearest health food store. You can also source it online.
Native to Ethiopia, teff flour is both gluten-free and high in protein. The popularity of teff flour mirrors the growing interest in African cuisine in America. Teff itself is a nutritious grain, used much like quinoa. Teff flours can be used for making bread, cakes, or muffins. The Ethiopian flatbread injera is made from teff flour. When substituting for flour, use in place of 25% of the total flour content. When you want a gluten-free option, teff flour offers the advantage of a binding agent. You can mix it with other gluten-free flours to ensure that the baked food has a soft-crumb like texture. You can use it in cakes, pancakes, or as a thickener for gravies.
Where to buy: You can get it at any well-stocked natural food store. You can also order it online.
Red Lentil Flour
This little-known flour is again a great gluten-free option. Made by roasting and then grinding red lentils, the flour can be used in sweet and savory dishes. You can make red lentil flour at home by dry roasting the lentils and then giving them a whiz in the food processor till you get a powdered form. Red lentil flour is the perfect option for thickening gravies or sauces. When added to soups, the flour gives it a denseness with a higher nutritional profile.
Where to buy: You may have trouble getting the flour since it is not as widely used. Making the flour at home from raw red lentils is probably easier. Alternatively, you can get it easily online.
This isn’t a new flour, but one that is becoming ever popular in the West. Chickpea flour is used widely in Southeast-Asian cuisine. Made from chickpeas, the flour is very useful for people on a gluten-free diet because of its denser texture and binding properties. Unlike many gluten-free flours, chickpea flour is very effective when used as a binding agent. You can use it for batters in fried food recipes, such as fritters or tempura fries. Interestingly, despite the denser texture, chickpea flour makes a light batter for frying.
The binding properties along with its light cooked texture make it popular among vegans as well because it can be used in place of eggs in certain recipes. Just add a little water, seasoning, and some veggies for a chickpea omelet. When used in fritters, chickpea flour adds the lightness of eggs along with the binding of a starch. It is used in many other ways, such as steamed and fried like the French panisse or the Italian panelle. Chickpea flatbread is also perfect as wraps. When baking, substitute 3/4 cup of chickpea flour for 1 cup of all-purpose flour.
Where to buy: Look for chickpea flour at a well-packed convenience store. It is also sold as garbanzo bean flour. Another handy option is online where you can easily get it from websites like Amazon.
Also known as farina dolce or sweet flour, chestnut flour has a unique earthy flavor. Made from dried roasted chestnut, it has a very mild sweet flavor. Chestnut flour is used in many traditional Italian recipes, such as necci, a crepe that is served with honey and ricotta. Baked foods include cakes like castagnaccio or types of bread like marocca. It has a nutty, earthy flavor that is best used in recipes like zucchini bread, carrot cake, or a pumpkin muffin.
There are other reasons why chestnut flour is a great addition to your pantry, particularly if you are on a paleo diet. It has more starch than most nut flours and hence, you get fluffier when baked. It does not need as much moisture or raising agent as coconut flour. So, you don’t need to compensate with more eggs. The texture of the flour is also similar to all-purpose flour and hence, it is easier to substitute. The slightly sweet taste of the flour makes it suitable for bread, cakes, muffins, pancakes, or cookies.
Where to buy: Chestnut flour is now available at many specialists or well-stock grocers. You can also order it online.
Among the flours gaining popularity are ancient grains making a comeback. One of these grains is spelt. It belongs to the same family as wheat and hence, not gluten-free. On the plus side, it is a whole grain that is high in fiber and protein. It is also delicious with a slightly sweet, nutty taste. Because of its gluten content, it is easy to work with. However, the gluten of spelt is slightly different and will break down more easily. So, avoid any vigorous kneading. It also requires less water, use 25 percent less water in the recipe.
In terms of usage, you can use spelt in any recipe with whole wheat, such as pies, cakes, cookies, or pancakes. Start with substituting it by 25 percent of the flour content and then see how the results go. When used in baking, spelt will need a little help in the raising department. Increase the amount of baking powder or yeast as required.
Where to buy: You can get spelt in most health food stores. It is also easily available online.
The benefits of quinoa are well known by now. We have been adding it to salads or substituting it in place of other grains for its many benefits. According to the USDA, it has a high amount of protein, iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium along with a low-glycemic value, omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids. While it is now widely used as a grain, quinoa flour is only now slowly picking up. With many of the advantages that make the grain superfood, the flour is also a great alternative for anyone looking for a nutritious, gluten-free flour substitute.
One of the problems with quinoa flour is that some people find it slightly bitter. This can be easily addressed by lightly dry roasting the flour. You can use it in place of regular flour in waffles, pancakes or fritters. When used in baking, start with substituting 1/2 the flour with quinoa flour to see if you like it. In many recipes, it can be replaced completely. Since it is gluten-free, you may want to add a little extra baking powder or yeast.
Where to buy: Quinoa flour can be harder to source than the grain. You can get it at some health food stores. It is also available online.
If there is one flour that you must try for its taste and wow factor, then its pea flour. Although its all the rage now, pea flour or peasemeal dates back to the Roman period. It was widely used in Scotland where it was the preferred protein source for the poor who could not afford meat. We now know that peasemeal is more nutritious than refined flour, higher in starch and protein content. Peasemeal was made from ground yellow peas. The peas are roasted first, which caramelizes the sugar in the peas. This also gives it a more intense color and adds to its nutritive value. The peas are then grounded into a brown-yellow powder.
The texture of peas flour can range from fine to gritty. Today pea flour is also made from green sweet peas and may hence, have its delicious sweet flavor. It was traditionally used in brose, a porridge. There are also accounts of scones and loaves of bread made with peasemeal. However, it is not an easy flour to bake with. Try substituting 25 percent of any strong bread flour with pea flour to check its workability. The baked product is likely to be dense and crumbly. Peas flour is delicious when used for makes pancakes, thickening soups, or even as a batter for fried fish.
Where to buy: You can get pea flour at some whole food store. It is perhaps more convenient to order it online.
These are just some of the flour alternatives you should try in the coming year. You can start small, substituting partially for regular flour in a recipe. Move to higher proportions once you are confident. You can also find some recipes online. So, happy experimenting.