One of the most common questions I get here on the blog is about using grain free flours. Today I am stopping by to give a quick 101 tutorial on the best grain free flours and how to use them.
So I am going to admit that my journey with grain free baking hasn’t always been easy. There has definitely been a sharp learning curve. Grain free flours just don’t behave like the glutenous flours I learned to bake with as a child.
But after going grain free, I still wanted that feeling of a warm kitchen with sweet fragrant yumminess pouring out of the oven. Growing up in a Scandinavian family, I grew up eating the best breads and pastries you can imagine. If you have never had Finnish Pulla, I seriously feel sorry for you. It’s like heaven with cardamom sprinkled on top.
While I have yet to be able to recreate a grain free version of my grandmother’s pulla (still working on it!), I have learned to create breads, cookies, and muffins from grain free alternatives that are delicious and satisfy my
urge need to bake. I have about zero tolerance for the dry, gritty, and just plain not good gluten and grain free desserts and breads that are out there. I mean, if you are going to indulge, it better be worth it. Am I right?
I do want to preface this post by saying that I am a fan of a real food diet consisting mainly of properly-sourced meats and seasonal vegetables. And even though baked goodies and breads are amazingly delicious, they should be consumed in moderation.
So let’s get right to it. Here is a list of the 4 most common grain free flours that I use in my kitchen and how I use them:
1. Coconut Flour
Coconut flour is made from dried coconut flesh which has been ground into a fine powder. It is a natural byproduct of coconut milk production. I have found that coconut flour requires special techniques before it will yield good results as it does not perform the same as grain-based flours in baking.
- High in protein (one cup = 25 grams of protein)
- Low in carbohydrates which is good for those on a low carb diet and for diabetics.
- Good source of lauric acid which has been shown to support the immune system, support the thyroid, and to promote healthy skin.
- Good source of manganese which has been shown to helps you to better utilize important nutrients including choline and biotin , vitamin C and thiamin. Also supports bone health, nervous system function, thyroid health and helps to maintain optimal blood sugar levels.
- Rich in dietary fiber. (Because of this, may cause digestive upset in some folks if eaten in excess.)
HOW TO USE:
- Coconut flour is extremely absorbent, and very little coconut flour is needed to successfully produce a recipe. You will want to substitute 1/4 to 1/3 cups coconut flour for every cup of regular flour in your baking recipes.
- Because of it’s fibrous nature, coconut flour recipes require lots of eggs and liquid to prevent a dry, dense product. As a rule of thumb, I use about 6 eggs and 1 cup of liquid per cup of coconut flour.
- Coconut flour tends to be clumpy. Be sure to sift, sift, sift.
- When learning to use coconut flour, start with established recipes instead of experimenting so you can get the hang of this unique flour.
MY FAVORITE BRAND:
2. Cassava Flour
Cassava flour is my newest grain free flour crush. If you are looking for a flour most similar to traditional grain-based flours, this is it. It is made from dried and ground cassava (also called yuca), which is a delicious root vegetable. Cassava is a staple crop to millions of inhabitants in South America and parts of Asia and Africa. It is a a starchy, high-carbohydrate tuber – similar to yam, taro, plantains and potato. Cassava is gluten, grain and nut-free, as well as vegan, vegetarian and paleo.
This is not to be confused with tapioca flour, which is a more processed and refined flour made from cassava.
- Cassava flour is a good source of potassium, zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese.
- Cassava flour is high in fiber- about 11.9 grams per 100 grams of flour.
- Cassava four is high in carbohydrates, making it a valuable food source around the world. This can also be seen as a negative if you are diabetic, following a low carb diet, or just following a real food diet based on high quality proteins and vegetables. As with anything, use in moderation.
- Of all gluten and grain free flours, cassava flour is the most similar in texture and performance to wheat flour.
- Cassava flour has a very mild, neutral taste.
HOW TO USE:
- Cassava flour can be used as a 1:1 substitute for regular grain-based flours in most recipes. Use like you would any traditional grain-based flour.
- Cassava flour does not work in a 1:1 ratio for yeast-based breads. These recipes need to be experimented with and developed. I have yet to try a yeast-based bread with cassava flour.
MY FAVORITE BRAND:
I have been using Otto’s Naturals Cassava Flour.
Coming soon! I am recipe testing several at the moment.
3. Almond Flour
Almond flour is made from blanched almonds, meaning almonds that have had their skin removed. It’s easy to use, it’s moist, and it tastes great. Almond flour makes wonderful desserts with great texture.
- Almond flour is loaded with monounsaturated fats, the same type of health-promoting fats as are found in olive oil.
- Almond flour is high in vitamin E, magnesium (a quarter-cup of almonds contains almost 99 mg of magnesium), potassium (a quarter-cup of almonds contains 257 mg of potassium), and calcium (1 ounce is 8% of the RDA)
- Almond flour is fairly low in carbs (6 grams of carb per 1/4 cup)
HOW TO USE:
- For the very best results with regards to texture, volume and taste, I recommend using a truly ‘fine ground’ blanched almond flour. I have seen a few popular brands that say “fine ground” on the label but are not as fine as the almond flour that I use.
- Because of the lack of starch and gluten, almond flour often needs extra “binding” ingredients to give it volume and stability. I use plenty of eggs in my almond flour recipes.
- Also due to it’s lack of starch and gluten, almond flour is most often best suited to quick breads, cookies, and crusts. I have also had good success with muffins and pancakes using almond flour. Yeast-based recipes generally do not perform well with almond flour.
- Be aware that almond flour burns easily. Be sure to watch your bake times.
NOTE: Almond flour is very high in inflammatory PUFA’s (polyunsaturated fatty acids). The fact is that almost all nuts and seeds are very high in omega-6 fatty acids (the exceptions are coconut, macadamia nut, and walnut). Limiting your intake of foods high in omega-6 fatty acids and balancing out your omega-6 consumption with foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids in crucial to maintaining a healthy diet. You can read more about that HERE.
MY FAVORITE BRANDS:
My go-to almond flour for years has been the super fine blanched almond flour from Honeyville. I order in bulk online, and since I do not use it very frequently, I store most of it in freezer until I am ready to use it.
4. Sunflower Seed Flour
Flour can be made out of seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds. I personally have only made flour from sunflower seeds. I have successfully been able to use it interchangeably for almond flour (in some recipes) for a nut-free option. Simply grind raw and unsalted sunflower seeds in a food processor until it resembles a fine meal. I like to soak and dehydrate my sunflower seeds before I make the flour to remove the naturally occurring enzyme-inhibitors.
- Sunflower seed flour is nut free, which is important to folks with allergies.
- Sunflower flour is easy to make and affordable.
- Sunflower seeds are a good source of vitamin E, magnesium, and selenium.
- Sunflower seeds are a good source of phytosterols, which have been shown to reduce blood levels of cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease risk of certain cancers.
HOW TO USE:
- In some recipes, it can be used in place of almond flour at a 1:1 ration. I have had success with cookies and muffins.
- If using sunflower seed flour, your final product may turn green. This is due to the reaction of the baking soda and chlorogenic acid found in the sunflower seeds. I have heard that you can halve the amount of baking soda or baking powder used to balance the acid in the recipe.
I have only made my own from soaked and dehydrated sunflowers. I have seen sunflower flour for sale online.
I hope that was helpful. I do want to say that as I have gotten more comfortable with grain free baking, I have learned to combine my grain free flours to improve the consistency of my products. Other grain free flours you may see in my recipes are tapioca or arrowroot.
I have found that actually combining almond flour and coconut flour (and maybe a titch of tapioca or arrowroot flour), make a better consistency than the 2 flours alone. It’s all about experimenting and being willing to try.
Check out my recipe for Paleo Blueberry Lemon Bread to see how I combine almond flour and coconut flour.
Check out my recipe for Grain Free Focaccia Bread to see how I combine coconut flour and tapioca flour.
Other Gluten and Grain Free Flours that I Use:
Tapioca flour, also known as tapioca starch, is an ingredient often found in gluten and grain free recipes. It is made from the starchy root vegetable known as the yucca or cassava. While not particularly nutrient dense, tapioca flour is a hypoallergenic food that allows people with food allergies or restricted diets to still enjoy “fluffy” baked goods.
When mixed with other gluten free flours, tapioca flour can add that “fluffy” bread goodness that isn’t often present with just coconut or almond flour alone. It is great to be used for occasional treats and desserts.
Arrowroot powder ( or starch) comes from the Maranta arundinacea plant, which is considered an herb. Like tapioca flour, it is not considered nutrient dense in any way. One ounce (28g) of arrowroot flour has 100 calories and 100% of those calories are carbohydrates.
Arrowroot powder can be used in conjunction with almond or coconut flour to make gluten and grain free baked goods light and fluffy. It can replace up to 1/4 of your flour to make your baked goods less dense and add more lightness.
I get a ton of questions about what brands of grain free flours are the best. I created a RESOURCE PAGE to show what brands I like to use.