When it comes to baking, the go-to ingredient for generations of Americans has been all-purpose flour, which is made from wheat. But if you’re looking for some variety in taste, an extra boost of nutrition and even some gluten-free options, other flours should be on your radar. Most grocery stores now stock these “alternative” flours, but if yours doesn’t, check your local health-food store or shop online. My four favorites…
• Rye flour. Rye is a very healthy whole grain that’s popular in Scandinavia, where their dense, fiber-filled black bread is made of 100% pure rye flour. Here in the US, rye bread is made from a mixture of rye flour and wheat flour. Rye grains are highly nutritious, filled with soluble fiber, vitamin E, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. The high levels of magnesium and potassium help lower blood pressure, and the soluble fiber lowers cholesterol. Rye also has been shown to promote weight loss and elimination and to help prevent type 2 diabetes. Rye, which tastes sweet and malty, is sometimes used in baked goods such as piecrusts or crackers. Note: Rye does contain gluten, albeit less than what’s found in all-purpose flour. To bake with rye flour, mix with all-purpose flour—use up to 40% of light rye or about 20% of dark rye/pumpernickel flour.
• Chickpea flour. Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are a legume—not a grain—so this flour is gluten-free. Packed with plant protein, iron, fiber, vitamins and minerals (especially the blood pressure–lowering mineral potassium), chickpea flour is highly nutritious. With a subtle flavor, chickpea flour is a versatile ingredient for use in the kitchen. Chickpea flour, which adds a nutty taste and gives a nice protein boost over wheat, can be used for baked goods such as batter to coat fritters for frying and as a thickener for soups. If you choose to substitute chickpea flour for all-purpose flour, use three-quarters cup of chickpea flour for each cup of all-purpose flour.
• Almond flour. Ground almonds are a wonderful way to get your daily dose of heart-healthy nuts. High in protein, insoluble fiber, vitamins, minerals and monounsaturated fat, almond flour gives baked goods a rich flavor and makes them more tender and moist. If you substitute one-to-one for all-purpose flour, use more egg to offset almond flour’s density.
• Oat flour. One of the healthiest grains on Earth, oats are filled with vital nutrients such as plant protein, vitamins (especially B vitamins) and minerals (especially iron and zinc). Oats also contain two unique disease-fighting substances—a group of antioxidants known as avenanthramides and the powerful cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber called beta-glucan. Unlike all-purpose flour, oat flour is gluten-free. (Just be sure to buy a product labeled as such if you are gluten-free, since contamination can occur during processing.) Oat and wheat flours have a similar taste profile, except that oat flour is sweeter and more dense. Due to the lack of gluten, oat flour will need more yeast for baked goods that rise. Oat flour is best for baking quick breads, pancakes and cookies, which allow for a one-to-one substitution for all-purpose flour.