Flour doesn’t generally strike us as nutritious (and neither do the baked goods we associate it with). And those in the gluten-free community have their own battles to pick with it, for sure. But the traditional white powder isn’t your only option out there—there’s a whole world of alternative flours worth considering:
“They’re a great way to sneak extra nutrients like fiber and protein into your diet,” says Jessica Cording, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in New York City. “Plus, they can help you experiment with different flavors and textures.” That means swapping out all-purpose flour for the coconut version might just give your favorite cookie recipe the chewiness you’ve been looking for.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the most popular alterna-flours, plus how to use them in some of your favorite meals.
Just like the nuts themselves, almond flour (which is made from almonds that have been blanched and finely ground) is rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fats, says Cording. In fact, it has twice the protein and fiber of regular flour.
On top of that, almond flour has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor many people love and the fine texture makes it pretty versatile (we use it to get a greaseless finish on our Sicilian-Style Chicken Parm and Homestyle Chicken). “It does well when you’re making baked goods or breading something,” notes Cording.
Brown rice flour
If you’ve never tried alternative flours before, this healthy option is a good place to start, notes Cording. “It has a very mild flavor and texture, which makes it good for everything from cookies to a coating for chicken or fish,” she says. It has more fiber than regular flour and is high in B6 (a critical vitamin that performs a variety of functions in the body) and manganese, which helps keep bones healthy.
This is one of Cording’s favorites, especially for baked goods. “If you’re making something more dense, it provides a really rich texture,” she says. Made from dried coconut pulp that’s ground up, it has a natural sweetness and a lower glycemic index than all-purpose flour (so it won’t cause your blood sugar to spike). Plus, it’s high in fiber, which helps keep you fuller longer.
The only downside to coconut flour is that it’s high in saturated fat but Cording notes that in moderation, it shouldn’t be a concern for most people. Just keep it in mind in case a recipe also calls for coconut oil or eggs, which are also high in saturated fat.
Chickpea pasta is having a moment—and it’s safe to say its cousin chickpea flour is, too. The reason: It’s high in protein and fiber: a fourth of a cup has five grams of each. Made from dried, finely ground garbanzo beans, it has an earthy flavor that makes it the perfect binder in savory dishes like meatballs. Cording notes that it’s also ideal for baked goods, like bread and biscuits. “It provides a dense, chewy texture,” she says.
This lesser-known alterna-flour is made from cassava (aka yuca), a root veggie native to South America that’s similar to other starchy vegetables like carrots and parsnips. It’s higher in carbohydrates than other flour substitutes (a fourth of a cup contains 31 grams compared to just 5 grams in almond flour) but it’s a good source of vitamin C and manganese. And, “it’s a great choice if you have a nut allergy,” says Cording.
Because of its creamy color and neutral flavor, it’s the perfect flour substitute for both sweet and savory dishes. At Freshly, we use it to coat our Golden Oven-Fried Chicken & Mash and fan favorite Buffalo Chicken.
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