The demand for alternative flours has never been greater, and food companies are delivering. As I see it, there are several reasons for this including the fact that many people are avoiding gluten, which is the protein in wheat flour. It can cause gastric distress in some individuals with celiac disease and many other people feel their energy level and well-being improve by avoiding gluten.
Whatever the reason consumers are flocking to alternative flours, there are scores of delicious new flours and meals to replace traditional wheat ones. At the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, CA, last month, the FoodTrients team had the opportunity to interview representatives from Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, a company that specializes in a line of over 400 natural, certified organic, and gluten-free milled grain products.
Bob’s Red Mill marketing representative Samantha Wormser suggests that one reason for the explosion in alternative flours has been the result of special diets becoming more common, whether by choice or physician’s prescription. “With food allergies and sensitivities on the rise, many people are choosing to live a vegan or Paleo lifestyle. Also, as many people are eating less meat, protein is in high demand right now. A significant number of alternative flours are better sources of protein than traditional wheat-based flour.”
Adds PR representative Emma Alpaugh, “The success of nut, legume and root meals/flours– such as almond, hazelnut, coconut and white bean– is that they’ve filled a niche for those who want to avoid grains. Plus, we can’t overlook that a lot of the growth of these alternative flours is culinarily driven. Each brings a unique flavor and texture to the items they’re used in. And as people have more interest in preparing ethnic foods themselves, products like chick pea flour for making falafel are essential for those adventurous cooks.”
Here are descriptions of a few of the more popular or unusual ones.
An essential ingredient for gluten free and low carb baked goods as well as for Paleo and other grain free baking recipes. Also perfect for Passover macaroons. Almond flour provides a distinctive, nutty flavor to my Seasonal Fruit Upside-Down Cake from my Age Beautifully Cookbook. See the recipe for Almond Meal Bread from the Bob’s Red Mill website below. It’s great for sandwiches or breakfast toast.
Made from the amaranth plant, which is a leafy vegetable, the seeds are very high in protein. Replace 25% of the flour in baking with amaranth flour for a sweet, nutty taste with higher nutrition than wheat flour.
This flour is from the root of a plant. It has no discernible taste, so it’s useful for thickening sauces and gravies. It’s also an ingredient in some Paleo baking flours such as Bob’s Red Mill and ancient grain baking and pizza flour from Premium Gold. Arrowroot flour is suitable for Passover.
Despite the name, buckwheat flour is not a form of wheat, but is related to rhubarb. The small pyramid-shaped seeds of the plant are ground to make flour. It has a fairly strong, nutty taste so it’s usually used in conjunction with other flours. Add it to pancakes or breads for a dark, hearty product. Buckwheat flour is an excellent source of fiber, protein and calcium. There’s a delicious savory recipe for Buckwheat Crepes in my Age Gracefully Cookbook.
Chick pea (garbanzo bean) flour
Contains good amounts of protein, dietary fiber and iron. Chick pea flour is commonly used in Middle Eastern dishes such as falafel and Indian cuisine. It’s great for baking gluten-free crackers, pizza crusts and breads.
Because it’s high in healthy fats, protein (five grams for just two tablespoons!) and fiber, coconut flour is highly digestible, low in sugar and has a low score on the glycemic index. This Paleo-friendly flour has a mild flavor and can be used in sweet and savory baked goods as well as a coating for chicken or fish in place of bread crumbs. It’s a key ingredient in my Seasonal Fruit Upside-Down Cake recipe. See a unique recipe for Coconut Curry Muffins and for Coconut Almond Cloud Cake, both from Bob’s Red Mill and featured below.
This fine white flour is made from the dried starch of potatoes. Potato flour– made from whole potatoes, peel and all– can make baked goods tough. Potato starch has an undetectable flavor. Baked goods made with it have a light, fluffy texture. It can also be a substitute for cornstarch in sauces and gravies. You’ll see a lot of baked goods that are kosher for Passover made with potato starch.
Similar to millet, sorghum is the third leading cereal crop in the U.S. It’s a staple in African and Indian cuisine where it’s used to make flat breads. It adds protein and a hearty flavor to gluten-free breads. 15-20% sorghum flour added to flour mixes makes delicious cakes, cookies and other baked goods, too. For a festive seasonal dessert, see the recipe below for a gluten-free Italian Easter Pie, also from Bob’s Red Mill (see recipes below).
Tapioca flour is made from the root of the cassava plant. When it’s ground it takes the form of a soft, fine white flour. Tapioca flour makes baked goods pleasantly chewy and has a mildly sweet taste. Each serving is free of carbs, making it a great option for gluten-free, vegan, Paleo diets. Tapioca flour is also a good thickener.
White rice flour
This flour is milled from polished white rice so it has a very neutral taste and is not especially nutritious. However, white rice flour is perfect for recipes requiring a light texture as in my Mini Cheddar-Rice Cupcakes from The Age Beautifully Cookbook. These are sweet and a little savory. Most of my American friends have never tasted anything quite like them, but once they do, they’re hooked!
Remember, most of these flours need to be blended with other flours. Follow the recipes carefully until you get consistent results, then you can experiment.
3/4 cup Coconut Oil, melted and cooled
3 cups Natural Almond Flour
1/3 cup Organic Coconut Flour
1 Tbs. Baking Powder
1-1/2 tsp Salt
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Line an 8×4- or 9×5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper and spray lightly with pan spray.
3. Whip eggs until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sift together Bob’s Red Mill Natural Almond Meal, Coconut Flour, baking powder and salt.
4. While the eggs are still whipping, slowly stream in the melted and cooled coconut oil. Fold in the dry ingredients.
5. Scoop batter into the prepared pan and smooth top.
6. Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 – 45 minutes.
7. Let cool completely before removing from the baking pan.
4 Tbs. Unsalted Butter melted & cooled
1 tsp. Coconut Flavoring (optional)
1/2 cup Evaporated Cane Sugar
1/4 tsp. Sea Salt (2g)
1-1/2 tsp. Curry Powder
1/2 cup Organic Coconut Flour
1/2 tsp. Baking Powder (2g)
1/4 cup Fine Macaroon Coconut or Shredded Coconut
1 Tbs. Organic Coconut Flour sifted
1 Tbs. Evaporated Cane Sugar
1/8 tsp. Sea Salt (1g)
1/8 tsp. Curry Powder *
1/4 cup Shredded Coconut
2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter melted & cooled
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Heavily grease a 12 portion muffin tin or line with paper liners.
3. Whisk together eggs, melted butter and coconut extract.
4. Sift salt, curry powder, coconut flour and baking powder.
5. Add evaporated cane juice.
6. Whisk dry into wet until there are no lumps. Fold in macaroon coconut.
7. Spoon batter into muffin cups and generously add topping.
8. Bake until tops spring back, about 15 minutes.
Yield 12 small muffins
1. For topping, combine coconut flour, evaporated cane juice, sea salt, curry powder and shredded coconut. Mix in melted butter until clumps form. Set aside.
2/3 cup Almond Meal/Flour
2 tsp. Organic Coconut Flour
6 Eggs separated
1 pinch Cream of Tartar
1 pinch Sea Salt
2/3 cup Powdered Sugar
2 tsp. Almond Extract
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1/3 cup Coconut Flakes (approximately)
1/4 cup Slivered Almonds (approximately)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan. Line bottom with parchment paper. Set aside 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar.
Whisk the almond meal, coconut flour and remaining powdered sugar in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. Use a mixer to beat egg whites on medium speed until frothy (about 1 minute), mix in cream of tartar, salt and 1 tablespoon of the sugar, then beat at high speed until the egg whites hold stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. Set aside and proceed immediately to the next step (the whites will fall if left for more than a few minutes).
4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks at medium speed until frothy. Add the almond and vanilla extracts, then beat on high until pale yellow and smooth. Gradually add the flour mixture, a little at a time, folding in the last of it by hand. Fold in 1 cup of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter, then gently fold in the remaining whites.
5. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake 20 minutes, or until the cake is puffy and golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
6. Set pan aside to cool completely. It will deflate somewhat. Sprinkle with coconut flakes and slivered almonds.
Makes one 8-inch round cake, about 16 servings.
1/2 cup Sorghum Grain
1/2 tsp Salt
4 cups Water
1 9-inch Gluten Free Pie Crust Mix prepared and unbaked (plus extra dough for an optional lattice crust)
3/4 cup Granulated Sugar
3 Tbsp Cornstarch
1/2 tsp. ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 lb Ricotta Cheese
1 Tbs. Orange Zest
2 Tbs. minced Candied Orange Peel (optional)
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1/2 tsp. Orange Flower Water or 1/4 tsp. Orange Extract
1. Combine Bob’s Red Mill Sorghum Grain, ½ tsp. salt, and 4 cups of water in a medium pot. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until grains are soft, about 90 minutes. (Soaking overnight in water to cover will shorten the cooking time.) When grains have softened, drain off all cooking liquid and allow to cool while the rest of the filling is assembled.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk granulated sugar and eggs in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes with an electric mixer on medium speed. Meanwhile, combine cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt and mix until evenly combined.
3. In a large bowl, mix together cornstarch mixture, ricotta, orange zest, candied orange peel (if using), vanilla extract, and orange flower water or orange extract. Add to egg mixture and mix until combined, about 2 minutes.
4. Fold in cooked and cooled sorghum grains.
5. Pour filling into prepared pie shell and top with a lattice crust if desired. Bake until filling is puffed, golden, and set, about 90 minutes. Let cool completely before serving. Pie is better when chilled overnight and served at room temperature.
(These recipes were reprinted with permission from Bob’s Red Mill)