Flour Alternatives

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Previously, we talked about the most common types of flour: all-purpose, pastry, cake, and bread flours. However, there’s a whole world of flours still to be discussed! Non-wheat flours have become much more available in recent years due to increased awareness about Celiac’s Disease and gluten sensitivity, and so have recipes featuring these non-wheat flours.


For many recipes, the gluten is necessary to cohere the bread/cookie/cake together, so these gluten-free flours can’t always be used as direct substitutes. A better bet is to create (or buy) a blend that uses a gluten-free flour and thickeners such as cornstarch or tapioca starch. Here are some of the more available flours and how they’ll work in your recipes:


Photograph of 4 gluten sources. Top: High-glut...

Photograph of 4 gluten sources. Top: High-gluten wheat flour. Right: European spelt. Bottom: Barley. Left: Rolled rye flakes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Almond Flour: Almond flour is great for delicate baked goods that don’t need to rise a lot. It’s slightly nutty, sweet flavor means that you may not need as much sugar as you would using all-purpose. Additionally, it’s moister than wheat flours, which means less liquid is needed. The most famous almond flour dessert is probably the macaron, that delicate French treat. The low heat conductivity of almond flour means that for many baked goods, especially the sturdier ones, high oven temperatures destroy its ability to cohere.


Rice Flour: This flour can be made from brown rice or white rice. Brown rice flour is generally a bit coarser. It’s used in many noodles and is protein-rich. It’s not used for yeast breads, as it doesn’t have the strength to keep together under high heats. For baked goods, you may want to add a thickner such as cornstarch or tapioca starch to prevent crumbly-ness.


Buckwheat Flour: The most famous buckwheat products are soba noodles, used in many Japanese dishes, and buckwheat pancakes. Despite the name, buckwheat flour is in fact gluten-free, as buckwheat is really a fruit. It has a nutty flavor, and can sometimes be overwhelming if it is the only flour in a recipe. It’s generally combined with a gluten flour so to mask any bitterness and ensure the batter has enough elasticity.


Whole Wheat Flour: Whole wheat flour is a gluten flour, but it’s not used nearly as often as its brethren. Whole wheat flour is milled from entire kernel of wheat. However, it has reduced gluten development, which leads denser breads. Most whole wheat recipes intend to have a dense end product, as many people enjoy that texture more. It also requires more liquid than other wheat flours. So, if you’re substituting whole wheat flour for bread flour or all-purpose, add slightly more liquid to compensate. Alternately, use less whole wheat flour than the recipe calls for. You may need to add more leavening agent, if the recipe calls for one in the first place.

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