There are lots of reasons people look to alternatives for wheat flour. Maybe they have celiac disease and can’t tolerate gluten. Others may be looking to lower their carb intake and increase their fiber. Or maybe they’re looking for a different flavour or texture than wheat flour can provide.
Whatever the reason, experimenting with new flours is trending. You don’t have to be on a special diet to try some healthy substitutions in your baking. The results can surprise you! Like these awesome paleo muffins.
I can’t bake a loaf of bread to save my life so I have no business talking about rye. I am well versed in cookies, muffins and cake. So here are 8 flour alternatives suitable for baking! First let's do a quick overview of the tried-and-true, wheat flour.
White All-Purpose Flour
Unlike whole wheat flour the germ and bran are removed. This makes the baked products softer. Unfortunately, it also removes almost all of the beneficial fiber. It may be unremarkable from a nutritional standpoint, but it definitely produces the fluffiest texture of any flour. If stored properly all-purpose flour will last a year.
Gluten is formed when white or whole wheat flour are added to water. Gluten is a protein that provides an elastic ‘chewy’ texture. It also traps gas which helps baked goods rise into something fluffy. Finally, it helps retain moisture. The absence of gluten can make the use of these substitutes challenging, but there are ways to work around that.
Whole WheatThis flour still contains the germ and bran, giving it a higher fiber and protein content. It also interferes with the flour’s gluten-making ability. This produces tougher, denser baked goods. It’s best to substitute only half the all-purpose flour in a recipe with whole wheat for this reason. Whole wheat flour is only good for 3 months at room temperature. Keep it in the freezer if storing for longer.
Grain-Based Flours – WITH gluten
Good for diabetes, cholesterol, appetite control
Spelt is an ancient grain with a mild nutty flavour. It has slightly more fiber and protein than whole wheat flour. You generally want to use 50% of your flour as spelt or the product will be dry and crumbly. An exception is pancakes, which I personally think are amazing with 100% spelt flour.
Oats are gluten-free but contain a similar molecule called avenin. Some people with celiac disease still react to this. Avenin helps keep baked products moist compared to other gluten-free grains. However, the product won’t rise as much and may need extra baking powder to help.
Oats contain soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol. They are also high in iron, magnesium, and other vitamins and minerals. You can make your own at home by putting oats in a blender or food processor.
Grain based Flours – WITHOUT gluten
Safe for celiac but not paleo or keto friendly
This gluten-free flour has a very strong nutty flavour, so it isn’t used in cake recipes. You can pull off cookies or muffins but it’s best suited for pancakes. It is usually mixed with other flours to offset its strong taste. Buckwheat absorbs a lot of liquid so cutting it with other flours prevents a dry, sandy texture. Nutritionally speaking it’s quite similar to whole wheat flour.
Amaranth FlourAmaranth is a gluten-free grain with a strong earthy taste. It makes a dense product and can’t be used as a substitute for other flours. Instead, look for recipes made specifically with amaranth. It contains more fat than most flours and makes for a filling meal or snack.
Corn FlourCorn flour is usually mixed with other flours in baked goods. It is gluten-free but otherwise very similar to wheat flour. It has no particular health benefits compared to all-purpose flour.
This flour has a hard time absorbing liquid as it’s coarse and gluten-free. Letting batter or dough sit for a while to absorb liquid is best before baking. Both white and brown rice flour need to be mixed with other flours to get an appealing product. Unless you need to avoid gluten there is no health benefit over wheat flour. White rice flour never goes bad while brown should be kept in the fridge.
Non-Grain Based Flours
Safe for celiac and okay for paleo and keto in small amounts
Almond flour is made by grinding almonds without their skins. Its fine texture makes it great for gluten-free cakes and muffins. It can replace an equal volume of white flour, but may need more egg to help with binding. Almond meal is made with the skins, giving a coarser texture more appropriate for cookies and denser desserts. You can make your own in a blender.
Almond flour is high protein and incredibly high in healthy fats. Anything made with almond vs. wheat flour will be much more filling. It has to be stored in the fridge.
Coconut FlourThis flour is incredibly absorbent, making products dense and possibly dry. When baking with coconut flour you only need about ¼ cup to replace a full cup of wheat flour. Extra eggs are needed to help bind everything together. It’s best to look up recipes calling for coconut flour vs. precarious experiments. Recipes including fruit purees like apple sauce can help retain moisture. Coconut is high in protein and seriously high in fiber. It’s expensive but luckily a little goes a long way.
There you have it! These are far from all your options. Chickpea, cassava, teff, and kamut are some other 'exotic' flours used in cooking and baking. As you've seen none of them act exactly like wheat flour. Look up recipes that were made for the specific flour you want to use, unless you want to spend time experimenting. Have fun!