Beyond Wheat Flour: 3 Healthy Alternatives

January 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Healthy Eating Tips

flour substituteI’ve noticed a common trend of avoiding “unhealthy grains” in recent years, and in their place many have switched over to a gluten free diet as a better alternative.

And, while I’m convinced the proportion of grains in most people’s diets is waaaaay over the top, eliminating one ingredient from your diet, without addressing your eating overall, is not a quick fix to better health.

On top of that, you should never assume that just because a package claims a product to be gluten free, that it’s a better choice.

You see, for the most part, products officially labelled as gluten free are usually pretty heavily processed, which means you need to be cautious with the amount you eat.

Going gluten free should not be a free pass to eat heavily processed foods. That’s just not going to cut the mustard!

If you take a look at the standard gluten free fare, you’ll see there are a lot of baked goods like as breads, snacks, and desserts.

I’m always harping on about eating fresh, whole, nutritious foods. That goes for all of us, whether you eat wheat, or not.

Gluten Intolerance

But, if you’re gluten intolerant, or you just what to avoid gluten in your diet for a while, what foods should you be eating?

The obvious answer is fresh, whole, nutritious foods, most of the time.

But I’ll admit, there are times when you need, and want, to bake something yummy, so a wheat flour substitute can be really important to have at hand.

Thankfully, there are certain alternatives to wheat flour you can use in your cooking, which give pretty good results.

What I should probably emphasize, though, is that substituting gluten free flour into recipes developed for wheat flour, will give you a very different result.

This can be tricky to get right yourself, so I suggest starting out by using recipes specifically developed for gluten free flours, at least until you get a hold on how different it is to bake with these flour substitutes.

Grain Flours

There’s actually quite a lot of choice when trying to find a wheat flour substitute, for example rice, oat, buckwheat, and millet flours. These are roughly comparable to wheat flour, in terms of how you can use them, and their health properties, though.

I stress the need to exercise caution, with flour substitutes.

Remember, a cake made with millet flour, rather than wheat flour, is still a cake. It’s not a health food, just because it is wheat or gluten free.

As with all sweet treats, they should be enjoyed in moderation, not excess.

Nut Flours

I personally prefer the nut flours, because I like the nutty flavor and dense texture they give baked goods.

Flours or “meals” made from nuts and seeds, such as almond, hazelnut, and flaxseeds, are also lower in carbohydrate content than grain flours, and many are higher in fiber, too.

So, whether your diet needs to be gluten free because you are intolerant to gluten, or because you are following a lower carb diet, here are 3 of my favorite alternatives to wheat flour;

1. Almond Flour

Almond flour is a fantastic high protein, gluten free/low-carb alternative, which can be used in place of wheat flour.

Unlike other alternatives to wheat flour, almond flour gives a very moist and delicious result, and many actually think it is far superior to other flours in taste, nutrition and ease-of-use.

I should stress that almond flour is not to be confused with almond meal.

Almond meal contains whole, ground almonds which have their skin on. You will, however, have better results, if you choose a flour where the skins have been removed before milling (blanched).

If this is a little confusing, think about it like this…

If the almond flour/meal you are using has large grains when your recipe calls for finely ground almond flour, it’s a bit like replacing some of the flour with chopped nuts.

You would never do that normally. Rather, you would add chopped nuts as an addition to the other ingredients, you wouldn’t use them to replace the flour.

Basically, if you are using coarsely ground almond flour for a cake intended to be delicate and light, you will end up with a soggy mess.

If your almond meal is too coarse, one solution is to grind it in a food processor or coffee mill. But, do keep an eye on it, or you will end up with almond butter!

Another thing worth pointing out, is that almond flour goes off quite easily, so you should store yours in the fridge, and it will do nicely in there for up to 6 months.

2. Coconut Flour

Coconut flour is basically flour made from the ground meat of the coconut. It is lower in fat than the other nut flours, and also higher in fiber than most.

Coconut flour is a bit lighter in texture than the other nut or seed flours, which means it is perfect for cakes, muffins or breads.

The first time I used coconut flour, I was a bit concerned by the look of my mixture before it went into the oven. It was a huge sloppy mess, and I was convinced it was going to be a baking disaster.

But, coconut flour really does have an uncanny ability to absorb and hold on to moisture, so you end up with lovely, moist delights, and a subtle hint of coconut flavor.

I am already a huge fan of coconut oil, and use it often in my cooking these days, particularly when making sweeter goods like my protein bars, or this amazing homemade chocolate, I’ve been making recently.

But, coconut flour is one I’m pretty new to, so I am still learning new techniques and recipes, so that I can use it more frequently.

In terms of tweaking a wheat flour recipe to add coconut flour instead, Jules from Stone Soup has some good advice,

I’ve found the best starting point is to replace the flour with 1/3 coconut flour and 2/3 water. For example in a recipe that calls for 100g (3oz) regular flour, I’d use 33g (1oz) coconut flour and 66g (2oz) water or other liquid.

3. Flaxseed Meal

Flaxseed meal (or flaxmeal) is another super flour substitute.

It gives baked goods a lovely rich and nutty flavor, and it’s healthy, too, being high in protein, fiber, and omega fatty acids, yet it is also low in carbohydrates in comparison to wheat flour.

To get the most health benefits, it is best to grind your flaxseeds just before you need them, using a food processor or coffee grinder.

But, if you don’t want to be bothered grinding your own meal, you can purchase it pre-packaged.

Flaxseeds do need to be stored carefully to prevent them going “off.” The best way to store the seeds, or meal, is in the fridge or freezer, in a covered container. This will prevent the omega 3 fats from spoiling due to light or heat.

As an aside, another use for flaxseeds is as a replacement for eggs.

So, if you run out some day, you can use flaxseed meal as a replacement for eggs in pancake, muffin or cookie recipes.

One-egg substitute formula:

  • 1 tbsp flaxseed meal
  • 3 tbsp water

Instructions:

  1. Mix the flaxseed meal and water in a small bowl. Let the mixture sit for two to three minutes to thicken.
  2. Then, add to your mixture according to your recipe instructions.

Flaxseed Cracker Recipe

This recipe, from  Gourmande In The Kitchen, is for homemade flax and hemp crackers, and it’s on my must-do baking list for later this week, when I stock up on seeds :)

Ingredients
½ cup/ 60g almond meal
½ cup/52g ground flax meal
2 tbsp/30g shelled hemp seeds
1 tbsp/ 8g coconut flour
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt (plus more to sprinkle on top)
2 tbsp/28g unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg white

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 300° degrees F/ 150° C.
  2. Mix almond meal, flax meal, shelled hemp seed, coconut flour and salt in a large bowl. Pour melted butter and egg white over the dry ingredients and mix well to combine with a fork until dough comes together in a ball (or, use your hands).
  3. Roll the crackers out very thinly (about one-eighth inch) between two sheets of parchment paper. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut into small squares and sprinkle with a pinch of additional sea salt.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes, or until completely dry and crisp.
  5. Cool on cooling rack and store in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about two dozen.

And, for those of you who are crazy about bread (you know who you are!!), but would like a healthier alternative, what about this Paleo bread from Elanas Pantry? Or, for a special treat, her espresso fudge brownies sound ab fab!

So, what’s your favorite flour substitute? Please sure your suggestions in the comments below…

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