Baking ingredients laid out on a flat surface.

An Introduction To: Alternative Flours

In our new monthly Introduction series, we focus on one food term that’s created some traction in the news, and break it down for you in easy-to-understand terms, in just a few paragraphs.

You don’t have to be an avid baker or be gluten-intolerant to want to up your alternative flour game. Having a range of flours outside of the usual suspects (refined flours such as all-purpose, cake, etc.) on hand allows you to choose the best one for the job.

Round dish of apple pie on red tea towel on white background.

Flour Power 

Fromsweet treats of cookies, cakes and pie crusts to savoury breads, pasta, and crackers, whether you’re looking to up the health factor, go plant-based, or desire something gluten- and/or nut-free, the options are endless.

So many have become quite mainstream in an extremely short amount of time, so it would be easy to list 20 just to start (Cricket, Kamut, Sorghum, etc). But you’ve got your hands full, and this is meant as just as intro, so here’s a quick look at 10 common alternative flours, in alphabetical order:

1. AMARANTH

Amaranth is a leafy plant, similar to spinach, from the Far East. It produces grains that are then ground into flour. High in protein and naturally gluten-free, this flour is a fabulous choice for baked goods – once you’ve tried Creamy Amaranth “Polenta”, you may never make the traditional one again.

2. ARROWROOT

Looking for a thickening agent? It doesn’t get much better than this gluten-free beaut. Odourless and tasteless, it mixes easily into soups, stews and other liquids without altering the flavour or aroma. Another bonus? It becomes clear when cooked, so no one will ever know the savvy secret to your mouth-watering pie filling…

3. BUCKWHEAT

This vitamin-rich flour packed with protein and fiber often works as a complete swap for regular flour when it comes to cookies, breads and muffins, making healthy baking a breeze. Blinis, Soba Noodles, and Buckwheat Pancakes, coming right up!

4. CASSAVA

From the mighty yucca plant, this grain- and nut-free flour has risen in popularity recently thanks to its prevalence in many paleo recipes. It works both in sweet and savoury cooking – Cassava Tortillas will up you and your kids wrap game like no other. Just sayin’.

5. CHICKPEA

A.K.A gram or garbanzo flour, it’s feather light and crisps up beautifully, so use it instead of breadcrumbs for a thin crunchy coating (Buffalo Cauliflower Bites, anyone?), or do as our own Wife of a Grocer does, and make Bite Sized Gluten-Free Banana Protein Muffins!

6. COCONUT

Boasting a light coconut flavour and scoring low on the glycemic index, coconut flour is favoured by many, including those with Celiac Disease, leaky guy syndrome, diabetes, and following Paleo and gluten-free dieters.

Cool fact: Coconut flour isn’t actually “flour” per se, as it’s not made from grains, nuts or vegetables, but in fact, ground, dried coconut meat. I’s lower in calories and higher in fiber than almond flour, and can be used in savoury recipes as well as sweet. What’s not to love?

Cook presenting tray of freshly baked goods.

7. MILLET

An ancient grain with a corn-like sweetness, this gluten-free ingredient was made for quick breads, muffins, and porridge. Which is all fine and good, but something tells me you’re going to want to start with something more exciting such as Chocolate Rosemary Olive Oil Cake. Oomph.

8. NUT

Almond flour might be one of the most popular, and versatile wheat-alternative flours there is. But there’s way more to this category than just almonds. Did you know that there are Cashew, Hazelnut, and Peanut flours available, to mention just a few? Suddenly your Sunday afternoons just opened up for “recipe development.” Mmm…

9. QUINOA

There are many reasons to get psyched about whole-grain, gluten-free quinoa flour: First, it’s loaded with potassium – helping regulate your blood pressure naturally amongst other things. Second, it’s a complete protein, delivering all essential amino acids. Third, I’ve got two words for you – Banana Bread.

10. TEFF

One of the newest kids on the block in mainstream North America, this ancient grain from Ethiopia and Eritrea has been used for centuries – in traditional Ethiopian bread injera for instance. Full of fiber and iron, this nutritious pantry staple also contains Vitamin C. You can whip up the usual offerings – breads, brownies, pie crusts, etc. – but don’t miss out on making savoury dishes of Fritters, Meatballs, and Hot And Sour Soup. After all, winter is coming.

Baker dusting icing sugar over fresh tray of Madelines. Batter Up!

The list above is just the beginning. There’s so much more to discover. Thanks to the rise of grain-free and wheat-free cooking, the market has expanded with a fascinating array of flours. Other varieties include Coffee, Ein’korn, Emmer, Khorasan, Lucuma,Malthouse, and well, the list goes on and on.

Pro tips:

 

1. Buy organic and non-GMO varieties.

 

2. Store flour in air-tight containers in a cool, dark place.

 

3. You can refrigerate and/or freeze many alternative flours including nut and coconut, thanks to their high oil contents.

 


To learn more about how to cook with alternative flours, I’ve put together a short list of books to help decode all the different varieties and uses:

– Flour: A Comprehensive Guide by Christine McFadden

– The Power of Flour: The deliciously versatile world of flour in baking and cooking Gluten-Free by Rowie Dillon

– Flavour Flours: A New Way to Bake with Teff, Buckwheat, Sorghum, Other Whole & Ancient Grains, Nuts & Non-Wheat Flours by Alice Medrich

– The Chickpea Revolution Cookbook by Heather Lawless and Jen Mulqueen.

Stephanie Dickison

Stephanie Dickison

A journalist with over 20 years experience, specializing in restaurants, chefs, food and drink. In addition to daily articles and features, profiling top chefs and interviewing celebs, as editor and feature writer for Toronto Restaurants, her Open/Closed column is a must-read every Thursday morning for the newest openings, and latest news + events. 

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