Alternative Flours -- There's Room for More Than Just All-Purpose in Your Kitchen
Up until 18 months ago, the only flour you’d find in my cupboard was the very basics—all-purpose, bread, and cake flours. Even though I did a lot of cooking and baking, I rarely strayed from these three. Since I’ve started blogging, and reading blogs, and doing research in cookbooks and nutritional books, I’ve become an alternative flour devotee. There are literally dozens of flours available made from grains other than wheat, and also from things other than grains. The reasons for using non-wheat flours are many, and in an article of this length I can only touch on the basics. But, I do hope to inspire you to experiment with different flours in your cooking and baking.
Here are just some of the reasons for choosing something other than your basic all-purpose flour:
- health reasons such as gluten intolerance
- superior nutrition
- low-carb cooking
- to replicate ancient and ethnic dishes using traditional grains
- high fiber content
- to move away from overly processed foods
- a good way to incorporate more whole grains into your diet
- plus, many of these flours just taste really good
Here is an abbreviated list of the flours I’ve come across in researching this article:
- amaranth flour (an ancient grain from the Americas)
- barley flour (grown all over the world, has a nutty flavor)
- buckwheat flour (used in soba noodles and pancakes)
- chestnut flour (used commonly in Italy and in France for sweet and savory dishes)
- chickpea flour (used in many Italian and Indian dishes)
- corn flour or corn meal (used to make tortillas, and many Native American and Mexican dishes)
- coconut flour (very high in fiber)
- kamut flour (a strain of wheat that has a rather sweet taste)
- millet flour (has a naturally sweet taste)
- nut flours such as almond or hazelnut (used in many classic desserts)
- plantain flour (used in dough, puddings, and pancakes)
- potato starch or potato flour (works well as a thickener and in gluten-free baked goods)
- quinoa flour (very nutritious and relatively easy to bake with)
- rice flour (used in many Asian dishes)
- rye flour (of course, delicious in breads)
- sorghum flour (gluten free, grown and used mainly in very warm climates)
- soy flour (high in protein)
- spelt flour (an ancient grain, a good substitute for wheat)
- sweet pea flour (traditionally used in English cooking for things like bread)
- tapioca flour (used in Asian sweets and desserts)
- taro flour (easily digested and gluten free)
- teff flour (very nutritious, used widely in Africa)
- triticale flour (a rye-wheat hybrid)
- water chestnut flour (used in Asian cooking mainly as a coating for other foods)
The caveat to using most of these alternative flours in your recipes is that you can’t just swap out wheat flour for one of the above and expect to get similar results. Most bakers recommend replacing 25% of the wheat flour with another grain. If, for example, you want to make gluten free cookies with 100% coconut flour, you’ll need to follow a recipe written just for coconut flour. Fortunately, with the web available to us it’s really easy to find recipes for every flour on my list. There are even whole cookbooks devoted to certain grains. In doing my own flour experimenting, I bought a chestnut cookery book and a coconut flour cookbook.
Whole grains, and really all of the non-wheat flours need to be stored in the freezer, or it that’s not possible, the fridge. These less processed grains have higher oil contents than regular wheat flours, so they will go rancid if not kept cold. Just today I broke down and bought a dorm sized fridge because my flours, grains, seeds, and nuts were taking up so much space in my fridge/freezer that there really was no room for any other food. Alternative grain cooking has become rather an obsession with me.
You can find most of the flours on my list at your local health food store, high-end grocery store, or natural food store. There are also many places to order them on line. Here are some of my favorites:
Bob’s Red Mill –sells almost every grain known to humankind.
Amazon.com –has a wonderful grocery and natural foods selection.
Phipp’s Country Store –this is a local place for me; they have a huge selection of beans as well as unusual flours.
I am really just in the learning and experimenting phase of alternate flour baking, but I’ve included a few recipes that I’ve made recently. You can get all the details by following the links.
*cocoa mochi—a traditional Asian dessert made with rice flour
*fried chickpea polenta—an Italian snack favorite
*the Daring Cooks' dosas—made using spelt
*chestnut flour pancakes—I love chestnuts and find the flour to have a wonderful taste
*coconut cookies—made with 100% coconut flour, gluten free
*pumpkin spice cake—made with chestnut flour
*cornmeal crepes—a heartier alternative to regular crepes
Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions about baking/cooking with alternative flours, specific recipe adaption, resources, etc.