Thursday, January 29, 2015

Alternative Flours Explained

*Editor's Note: I originally published this list in 2008 when I was learning how to use all these flours myself. I have made some updates since then.

There are a lot of flours on the grocery store shelves now besides the standard AP and whole wheat but most people do not know what to do with them. Over the last few years with the explosion of gluten free baking and new gf cook books, these alternative flours are much more common in the average store, and not just available in health food stores.

Reading the label of a gluten free bread or cookie can also be a little confusing when you see ingredients like sorghum and xathan gum. Just what are they? Below is a list of flours and baking ingredients with descriptions of what they are made from and how they can be used.

** Special Note: gluten free flours have gotten WAY better in the last few years. Rice flour used to be grainy, now the brown rice flour from Bob's Red Mill is silky soft resulting in better baked products. And common brands like King Arthur and Betty Crocker now offer a gluten free all purpose flour blend, with the goal of making your baking easier. Be careful with these, they might contain more ingredients than you need like baking powder or xanthan gum.
Alternative Flours:

Almond Flour - 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.

Brown Rice Flour - made from stone ground brown rice. Used in gluten free baked goods as a replacement for wheat. Can also be used to thicken soups and stews. I prefer to use this instead of white rice as it contains more fiber and therefore has a higher nutritional value. The higher fiber content will contribute to a heavier product than recipes made with white rice flour. Can also produce a gritty product when used alone and is best when combined with other flours like sorghum, potato flour and tapioca starch.

Tapioca Starch/Flour - made from the cassava root. Once ground it takes the form of a light, soft, fine white flour. It is starchy, slightly sweet and adds chewiness to baking and is a good thickener. Use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup per recipe to lighten and sweeten breads made with heavier flours like brown rice and millet.

Potato Starch - made from dehydrated potatoes. 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.

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.

Coconut Flour - 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.

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. Can be a little gritty and contains no gluten, so is best to substitute around a 1/4 millet flour for other flours when baking.

Quinoa Flour - made by grinding quinoa (keen-wah) to a powder. Highly nutritious, containing more protein, calcium and iron than other grains. It has a light nutty flavor. Not recommended to use alone as it does not contain any gluten and has a strong flavor. Best when substituting 1/4 cup for another flour.


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.

What blends I use

**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 work best when there are eggs in the recipe and do not work as well with egg replacers.
Overall, there is no good one flour replacement for regular wheat flour. In general, the best result comes from using a blend of flours. A great source for how to use these flours if you are new to the gf cooking world is "How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook" by America's Test Kitchen

For ideas of what to do with Coconut and Almond Flours, check out
Elana's Pantry. She uses them exclusively because of their higher protein content. The recipes that I have tried from her blog so far have been delicious!

Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods produces all of the flours above in a plant dedicated gluten free and is by far my favorite source.


Elana said...

Dear Chef Andrea- Great round up on GF flours. Thanks for mentioning my use of high protein flours and glad you have enjoyed my recipes!

Denise said...

Chef Andrea,

this is very informative, this is a lot of work putting this information together, thanks and happy baking. This is the best part of cooking :)

Elyse said...

Thank you!! I'm going to have a play around with these!

Stacey Bright said...

I am new to the "alternative" way of cooking and I made strawberry banana bread with brown rice flour last night. It was good but it was a little more dry than I'd like it to be. I decided to google wheat flour alternatives and came across your blog. It has the best descriptions of these flours so much so that it's almost as if we are taste testing while you explain them which is so helpful. Thank you so much for taking the time to go into great detail about these flours and how to use them to get the most out of them!!!

Patty Ortiz said...

Dear Chef Andrea, thanks so much for your article on alternative flours it has been of great use to me. Having said that I was wondering if you had a recipe with all exact measurements to bake fairy cakes with rye, oat and rice flours, using eggs.

Andrea said...

Hi Patty. No, I have not worked with rye flour before as it contains gluten. I bet if you search for fairy cake recipes with rice flour, it might be easy to substitute the flours you want to use into those recipes.