There is a great demand for recipes that mimic our gluten-filled old favorite foods but use only paleolithic ingredients. My family is no exception. We thrive on paleo muffins, paleo cookies and paleo granola bars. As you peruse through my recipes and those on the many other wonderful paleo recipe blogs, you will notice a few common ingredients. I thought you might like a little primer on why we choose which flour substitutes for which recipes.
Blanched Almond Flour: Blanched almond flour is made from super finely ground blanched almonds (I recommend Honeyville Farms or JK Gourmet brands). Almond flour is quite high protein, rich in vitamin E, many B-vitamins, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium, while also being lower in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats per gram than many other nuts (but it does still contain about 12g omega-6 fatty acids per 100g whole almonds). When baking with almond flour, you can use similar quantities to regular flour in your recipe, but know that because almond flour does not contain gluten (yay for our intestines!), it doesn’t yield the elasticity or hold together the way wheat flour does. This doesn’t matter for some recipes (muffins or a crumbly cake recipe), but can really feel missed in other recipes. Often recipes that use almond flour require a little more egg or other binder to be added.
Coconut Flour: Coconut flour is made from grinding coconut pulp after it has been squeezed for coconut milk (I recommend Let’s Do Organic or Tropical Traditions brand). It is predominantly the fiber from the coconut and so it absorbs huge quantities of liquid. A good rule of thumb is to use one quarter of the amount of what you would have used if you were using wheat flour. I find myself playing more and more with recipes that use just coconut flour because of nut allergies in my extended family and because of the omega-6 and phytate content in almonds. The biggest challenge with coconut flour is texture: recipes can be very sensitive to the exact quantity of coconut flour. One teaspoon too much, and the result is grainy and heavy. One teaspoon too little, and it doesn’t hold together. Generally, I find that recipes that use coconut flour require more iterations to get exactly right.
Arrowroot Powder and Tapioca Starch: Arrowroot Starch/Powder is wonderful for giving a light, airy texture to paleo baking and works very well to thicken sauces without changing the taste (coconut flour can be used to thicken too, but it’s a bit of a strange flavor in a gravy for example). Tapioca Starch/Flour — 20 oz is similar to arrowroot powder but also gives a little elasticity (something that is often missed when baking without gluten). I find myself using arrowroot powder more frequently than tapioca starch, but that mainly reflects my comfort level with arrowroot as I get to know both of these flour substitutes better. Both of these flour substitutes are from ground starchy tubers, so they add carbohydrates to whatever you’re making. I consider these second-choice flours and generally use them only when almond flour or coconut flour are not working on their own.
Grain-free baking typically requires a lot of experimentation. But creating the perfect recipe definitely makes it worth while!