There's more than just wheat
Matthew Kadey, MSc, RD
I have always been befuddled by baking. But lately I've been going all Martha Stewart thanks to my new crush on versatile alternative or wheat-free flours.
I must admit that I have always been kind of befuddled by baking. In the past, it’s been common for me to turn a perfectly good cookie recipe into a plate full of hockey pucks.
As a result, in our household I’m traditionally the one who puts dinner on the table while my girlfriend takes care of dessert. But lately I’ve been going all Martha Stewart with the muffin tins and loaf pans, thanks to my new crush on versatile and tasty alternative flours.
With increased prevalence and awareness of gluten and wheat intolerances, it’s easier than ever to find everything from teff to quinoa flour on store shelves. Expanding your gastronomic horizons and incorporating the many guises of grain, bean, and nut flours into your cooking will add a greater variety of flavours, textures, and most importantly, nutrients to your diet.
To reduce frustration when using nonwheat flours for the first time, start with recipes designed specifically for these specialty flours until you get a feel for how they work.
Here are seven flours that are among the best of the blissfully nutritious and delicious bunch.
One of the tonier flours that is produced from skinless blanched almonds ground into a fine powder. The consistency is closer to that of corn meal than wheat flour.
Great for: Tea cakes, pie crusts, sweet breads, cookies, crackers, fruit crisps, and fish breading.
Nutrition perk: Almond flour is richer in bone-building calcium, healthy unsaturated fats, vitamin E, magnesium, and dietary fibre than wheat flour.
Need to know: To provide additional structure an extra egg might be required if using only almond flour or meal in a recipe. Avoid using almond flour on its own in recipes requiring kneading. If you can’t find almond flour in stores, try grinding your own in a coffee grinder using blanched almonds.
Brown rice flour
Mildly nutty flour made by finely milling unhulled brown rice kernels. Many people on wheat- or gluten-free diets make regular use of rice flour, as it’s one of the least allergenic options.
Great for: Pies, cookies, muffins, breads, pancakes, sauce thickening, and pastries.
Nutrition perk: Like trail mix, brown rice flour is full of goodies, including laudable amounts of B vitamins, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Need to know: Brown rice flour on its own can have a sandy texture, so it’s best to mix it with other flours. For a functional gluten-free baking mix combine 1/2 cup (125 mL) brown rice flour with 1 1/2 cups (350 mL) sorghum flour, 1 1/2 cups (350 mL) potato starch or cornstarch, 1 cup (250 mL) tapioca flour, and 1/2 cup (125 mL) of high-protein flour such as quinoa or almond.
Since rice flour absorbs more moisture than wheat flour, you may need to add extra liquid to your recipe.
Green-tinged flour with a rich nutty flavour that will stoke your taste buds. Hemp flour comes from milling and sifting hempseed cake, which is produced after crushing hempseeds for butter and oil production.
Great for: Cookies, muffins, waffles, pancakes, quick breads, and bars.
Nutrition perk: As one of nature’s rock stars, hearty hemp flour is an excellent source of dietary fibre to curb your appetite while providing heart-chummy omega-3 fats and more protein than other flour varieties.
Need to know: Because of its hearty nature and high protein and oil content, bear in mind that hemp flour should not be used on its own and instead combined with other flours in recipes. Start by replacing 25 percent of the wheat or other flour a recipe calls for with hemp flour and experiment from there.
Kamut flour: Made from milling whole grain kamut, an ancient relative of modern-day durum wheat, it has a rich, buttery, sweet flavour that is less bitter than wheat flour. Since kamut is a hardy plant, it can be grown organically with greater ease than common wheat.
Great for: Breads, homemade pasta, brownies, tortillas, crepes, scones, and pizza crust.
Nutrition perk: Nutritionally speaking, kamut flour is a treasure trove—chock full of zinc, copper, magnesium, selenium, B vitamins, and more protein than humble wheat. It does, however, contain a little less dietary fibre.
Need to know: Kamut flour is high in gluten and, therefore, not recommended for those following a gluten-free lifestyle. However, some people on a wheat-free diet report tolerating kamut since it’s easier to digest. Kamut flour holds its own as a good substitute for all the whole wheat flour in baking, though the final product will tend to be heavier and denser. Because kamut flour is sweeter than its wheat brethren, you might be able to cut back on the amount of sweetener you add to a recipe.
A heavy and slightly sour low-gluten flour that is milled from whole rye berries, a grain with Eastern European origins. As more bran is removed during the milling of rye flour, the lighter in colour, the lower in protein and dietary fibre, and the more subdued the flavour becomes. The upshot is that rye flour is often labeled “dark,” “medium,” or “light.”
Great for: Hearty breads, pancakes, muffins, crackers, and waffles. Nutrition perk Rye flour contains a wealth of nutrients that do good deeds for your body, including iron, magnesium, vitamin B6, phosphorus, soluble fibre, and even some omega-3 fats to boot. Dark rye flour packs a bigger nutrition punch than lighter versions.
Need to know:
Since its gluten is less elastic than wheat’s, and it holds less gas during the leavening process, breads made with only rye flour are denser than wheat breads. Gluten is also part of what helps bread rise, so the lower level of gluten in rye flour can prevent bread from rising well. Ergo, in bread recipes try substituting 20 to 30 percent of the wheat flour with medium or dark rye flour to produce a well-risen loaf. Light rye flour can replace up to half the wheat flour a recipe calls for, without a loss of volume.
This is a slightly sweet whole grain flour produced by milling spelt berries, a cereal grain in the wheat family. The gluten-wary should steer clear of spelt flour.
Great for: Bread, crisps, pizza crust, crepes, crackers, brownies, scones, and pancakes.
Nutrition perk: Spelt flour is packed with a broad array of vital nutrients including selenium, zinc, niacin, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Need to know: It can be used just like whole wheat flour when baking, but spelt flour is more water-soluble so add about 25 percent less liquid than a recipe requesting wheat asks for. Take care not to overmix or overknead spelt flour since the gluten is more sensitive than in wheat. Items baked with spelt flour may not rise as high as those that employ wheat.
Nutty and delicate flour produced from the ancient South American quinoa seed; it was once a staple of the mighty Incan empire.
Great for: Crepes, cookies, muffins, quick breads, flatbreads, and thickening soups and sauces.
Nutrition perk: This particularly salubrious flour is brimming with protein, iron, calcium, folate, and fibre. No wonder the Incas called quinoa the “mother grain.”
Need to know: Because of its somewhat overpowering flavour, start by adding quinoa flour as no more than a quarter of the total flour blend. Quinoa flour is higher in fat (don’t fret, it’s good-for-you fat!) than wheat flours, so it will make your baked goods noticeably more moist.
Fresh is best
Flour can go rancid fairly quickly because of its natural fats. Try keeping small amounts in Mason-style jars stored in a cool, dark pantry for easy access and leave the rest in the freezer to extend the shelf life. It’s recommended that flours be brought back up to room temperature before cooking with them.