Healthier Alternatives to Conventional Flour

Following a wheat-free diet has never been easier. With an alarming list of health conditions being attributed to gluten consumption, it is no wonder that so many of us are opting to ditch the wheat.  Although a wealth of healthy choices are now readily available to us, selecting appropriate alternatives can become overwhelming. While swapping grains for healthy carbohydrates is a relatively easy switch, baking without the use of conventional flours can be a minefield.

With a few handy tips and a little know-how, you can confidently brave the wheat-free world of baking. The key things to look for when substituting conventional flour for healthy alternatives is the liquid content, binding agents and texture you are trying to achieve. Once you have this in the bag, you’ll become an unstoppable gluten-free home cook.

So, where to begin? The following wheat flour alternatives section will give you some key hints and tips to introduce you to the world of healthy baking using alternatives that are easily accessible.

Coconut Flour

Phenomenally popular within paleo circles, coconut flour is a great starting point for your wheat-free adventures. Packed with fiber, coconut flour is incredibly absorbent and will take on a lot of liquid, thickening almost instantly on standing. Coconut flour works well when used in conjunction with other healthy flours to create the desired consistency, or on its own as a one to one replacement in smaller recipes like cookies and muffins.

  • Good for: Cakes, bread, muffins, cookies and pancakes
  • Tips: Utilize in conjunction with other flours, such as almond for a lighter consistency in your baked goods; the absorbency of this flour means that it can hold a good amount of liquid and works well with eggs and other wet ingredients
  • Ratios: Coconut flour works best replacing up to half the required quantity of regular flour in a recipe, although it will work well in isolation in smaller bakes which have more liquid

Nut and Seed Flours

Packed with healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, nut and seed flours are an incredibly versatile wheat free alternative. From the classic almond or flax meal to pumpkin seed and walnut powders, there is very little they cannot do. A particularly popular choice is almond flour or meal which not only serves to make dense, moist cake but can also create a perfectly crisp pastry.

  • Good for: Cakes, granola bars, muffins, cookies, bread and pastry
  • Tips: For a light, fluffy texture opt for a finely ground powder and reserve the coarser meal for crisp pie and tart pastries; if you cannot buy nut or seed flours it is incredibly easy to make your own,  soak the nuts overnight then grind to a fine crumb in a food processor
  • Ratios: Almond flour does very well standing on its own as a 1-to-1 in place of wheat flour and works well in many traditional cake recipes using the typical quantities of liquid; however, you could also use it as three-fourths of the total flour quantity in conjunction with another flour

Tiger Nut Flour

Rapidly gaining increasing popularity, tiger nuts are a fantastic grain-free and nut-free baking alternative. The tiny little tubers are packed with protein, fiber and an impressive nutritional profile. They are a force to be reckoned with in the world of healthy baking. Being naturally sweet in flavor, tiger nuts lend themselves well to treats and desserts. In some instances, you are even able to omit the use of additional sweeteners.

  • Good for: Cookies, biscuits, pastry, cakes and muffins
  • Tips: You can prepare your own tiger nut flour from soaked and ground tiger nuts or purchase it as a finely ground powder, which is far superior for baking as it removes much or the grittiness that can result from grinding the tubers yourself; even so, it is still advisable to sift your powder before cooking to make sure its extra fine
  • Ratios: Tiger nuts work well to replace three-fourths of the flour in a recipe; they combine well with nut flours and arrowroot; they also hold well with alternative binders like coconut oil, nut butters and gelatin and are ideal for grain-free, egg-free baking

Gluten-free Flour Mixes

Gluten-free flours can be a mixed bag but are also the closest you will get to a genuine flour consistency. Often made from a blend of extra-finely ground grains, it will give you a consistent bake and a light, fluffy texture.

  • Good for: Cakes, muffins, biscuits, cookies, brownies, bread, pancakes and breading
  • Tips: You will find that you can use a gluten-free flour mix quite easily to create old favorites with very little need for variation to the recipe; use caution, however, if you are particularly sensitive to other grains
  • Ratios: Use as a 1-to-1 replacement for regular flour

Read more about gluten’s effects on the body in our article, The Truth About Gluten.

Arrowroot Powder

Not so much a flour but a finely ground powder, arrowroot is alternative flours best friend. Great for adding lightness and binding, arrowroot works in conjunction with most gluten-free flours that aren’t being used solely as a 1-to-1 replacement. Arrowroot also works well as a replacement for cornstarch in most recipes.

  • Good for: Cookies, biscuits, cakes, bread and thickening sauces
  • Tips: Arrowroot works incredibly well with coarser flours such as almond and tiger nut to form a pastry
  • Ratios: Use to make up one-quarter to one-third of a recipe’s flour requirements

Nut Butters

Perhaps a surprising addition to the list, nut butters bake incredibly well with granulated sweeteners and eggs to create perfectly soft and chewy cookies without a grain of flour in sight. They also work exceptionally well as a binder in recipes and make a great gooey addition to brownies.

  • Good for: No-bake bars, brownies, cakes and cookies
  • Ratios: Use solely as a base for cookies without any flours required, and 1 cup of almond butter works well to replace 1 cup of flour

Final Thoughts

A great starting point for your experiments with alternative baking is pastry. What can be complex when working with conventional wheat is incredibly easy with alternative flours.

As a general rule of thumb, opt for a three-quarters flour mix and one-quarter arrowroot. You can then bind this with your chosen fat and a little ice-cold water.

For example, 1 1/2 cups of tiger nut powder, 1/2 cup of arrowroot, 1/2 cup of coconut oil and 2 tablespoons of cold water. Bring these ingredients together to form a dough, rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, and then use as the base for a healthy fruit pie. Voila! It’s as easy as that! Almond meal will work just as well in this recipe.

Why not try adding a little cinnamon to the dough for a sweet, tart case or a little dried rosemary for a savory pie.

Happy healthy baking!

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