In recent years wheat has become a dietary pariah.
Whether it is due to the increasing prevalence of coeliac disease, wheat intolerance and gluten intolerance or concerns about the use of glyphosate in farming practices, people are turning away from baking with the traditional, refined, white flour.
Alternative flours are becoming more widely used in baking and cooking, and not just among those following therapeutic gluten or wheat-free diets. People are choosing alternative flours, made from grains, seeds, legumes or nuts, as they generally have a higher nutritional value than the refined wheat flour. Some of these alternatives are also suitable for low carbohydrate and ketogenic diets which have recently been gaining popularity.
Here I have compiled a list of 10 alternative flours. Please note that not all of these flours are gluten free and some may be allergenic for some people, so please read carefully and choose your flour accordingly.
1. Spelt is an ancient grain which has a nutty and slightly sweet flavour. It is a good source of carbohydrate, protein, fiber and essential nutrients including niacin (vitamin B3), iron, zinc, magnesium and manganese. Spelt is easier to digest than wheat however it does also contain gluten. The gluten in spelt makes it the most similar to wheat when it comes to consistency and achieving a similar springy, fluffy texture in baking.
2. Brown Rice Flour is milled from whole, unpolished brown rice. This gluten free flour is a rich source of fibre, protein, manganese and B vitamins. As brown rice flour contains the bran, it has a nutty flavour and contributes to a heavier product than white rice flour and is, for this reason, often blended with another flour in baking recipes.
3. Barley has a low gluten content, but is not gluten free. Barley flour is often added to baked goods in order to increase their nutritional value. It is rich in β-glucan, a soluble fibre that helps to regulate blood sugar levels, reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and lower LDL cholesterol. Due to its’ low gluten content, barley flour can be used to replace about half of the wheat flour in most baking recipes.
4. Amaranth flour is ground from the seeds of the amaranth plant. This gluten free flour was widely used by the Aztec and Inca civilizations and is protein-rich with a high content of the essential amino acids lysine and methionine. In addition to being a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, amaranth is also a good source of vitamins A,C, E, K and B vitamins as well as minerals including magnesium, copper, zinc and calcium. Amaranth flour is good to use to thicken soups, sauces and stews.
5. Buckwheat is classified as a pseudo-grain but is, in fact, a seed. It is gluten free and high in protein, magnesium and flavonoids. Buckwheat is an antioxidant, lowers cholesterol levels, protects against heart disease and aids in blood sugar regulation. Whole buckwheat flour has a rich, grassy flavour and adds an earthy colour to breads. It is often used to make pasta and pancakes.
6. Flaxseed Flour. The grinding of flaxseeds (also called linseeds) into flaxseed flour (or coarser textured flaxseed meal) breaks down the indigestible outer coating, making it possible to absorb the omega 3 fatty acids contained within the seed. Flaxseed flour is also gluten free and low carbohydrate making it suitable for a low carb diet. It is high in protein and fibre and a good source of vitamin B1, copper and omega 3. Flaxseed flour absorbs a lot of moisture making it a good binding agent in place of eggs or as a thickener for creamy dishes or sauces. When baking with flaxseed flour it may necessary to add more water in order to compensate for its absorptive nature.
7. Chickpea (Besan) Flour is made from ground, dried chickpeas. The gluten free flour is popular in Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi cultures where it is often used in place of plain white flour. Chickpea flour is rich in protein, making it an excellent inclusion for those who follow a plant-based diet. It is also a good source of folate, niacin, zinc, magnesium, iron and fibre. Chickpea flour is quite dense and is good as a binding and thickening agent as well as for use in pancakes, batters, quick breads and flat breads.
8. Lupin Flour is made from grinding the lupin kernel. Lupins are a legume grown here in Australia. The flour is gluten free, high in protein and fibre but low in starch and carbohydrate. Studies show that consuming flour enriched with 40% lupin flour can significantly lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease and lower blood glucose, decreasing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. In addition, lupin flour provides a good source of omega 3 fats, antioxidants, prebiotic fibre and micronutrients. Wholemeal lupin flour may be blended with other flours in the baking of bread, biscuits, pasta and pastry.
Note: lupins are from the same family as peanuts and may cause an allergic reaction in some people.
9. Almond Flour is a readily available, gluten free, low carbohydrate alternative to grain flour. It is high in calcium, manganese, vitamin E, protein and monounsaturated fats. Almond flour is ground from the blanched, peeled almond kernel, so it has a pale appearance and quite a sweet taste. Almond meal, on the other hand, is most often ground together with the skin, giving it a coarser texture. Baking with almond flour is quite different to grain flours as the high content of fats and protein creates a much more dense texture in baked goods. Therefore, baking with almond flour requires the use of more eggs or else blending with a wheat flour together with arrowroot to lighten and coconut flour to absorb excess moisture. Almond flour is great for baking cookies, brownies, pancakes, flatbread and crusts. Note: as almonds are a nut there is a risk of allergy.
10. Coconut Flour is gluten free, low carb and very high in fibre and protein. It is also a source of calcium, selenium, magnesium, potassium and vitamins C, B6, folate and niacin. It has anti inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and helps to regulate blood glucose levels. Coconut flour is made from the dried, defatted, ground flesh of the coconut. It is a fine flour similar in texture to grain or wheat flours, with a mild, sweet coconut flavour. Coconut flour is very dense and absorbs a lot of moisture so it is necessary to add additional liquid or blend it with another flour for baking.
This list is just a sprinkling of the many wonderful, nutritious flours out there to try. Get exploring and find the ones that work best for you. If you discover something new that you love, I would love to hear about it!