Flours from Nuts, Beans, and Plants

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According to a blog post from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, there are three basic types of “alternative flours”: 1) grain-based, containing gluten; 2) grain-based without any gluten; and 3) nut, seed, root, vegetable-based without gluten. These alternatives can add whole grain, fiber and nutrients to diets. There are gluten-free choices, too, for those who must avoid it. 

Over the past two weeks in this column, I’ve been talking the first two—grain flours and gluten-free flours. This week let’s talk about flours made from nuts, seeds, roots, vegetables and fruits. These plant-based flours can provide interesting tastes and textures to recipes while being gluten-free. They can be used alone or combined with other flours. They are often added to other gluten-free flours to help provide the texture, structure or keeping qualities that are usually provided by the gluten.

Each of these flours contains different cooking and baking properties as well as nutrition. When selecting these alternate flours, you’ll need to take into consideration cost, availability and suitability for variety of recipes. All of these flours are wheat and gluten-free.

Almond flour—made from blanched almonds. It is low in carbohydrates and a good source of protein and healthy fats. It’s usually combined with other flours for texture and flavor. Almond flour works well in cakes, cookies and sweet breads. Other nut flours such as pecan, walnut, hazelnut, filbert and chestnut are similar.

Banana flour –made from green, unripe bananas but doesn’t taste like bananas. This flour easily absorbs liquids so baked products made with banana flour tend to be heavier.

Cassava flour—made from the root of the cassava or yucca plant. It is high in carbohydrates and Vitamin C. Cassava flour is the most similar to wheat flour of all the gluten-free flours. It should not be eaten raw.

Chickpea flour—also known as garbanzo bean flour. It is made from raw or roasted chickpeas. It’s a good source of protein and fiber. It’s usually is used in combination with other flours for texture and flavor. Works well in dense cakes, biscuits, brownies and quick unleavened breads. Flours can also made from lentils, mung beans, fava beans and peas.

Coconut flour—is dried coconut meat. This flour is rich in manganese, protein, fiber and fat. It’s highly absorbent and gives baked goods a rich texture and has a naturally sweet coconut flavor.

Potato flour – made from steamed potatoes that have been dried and ground and has a definite potato flavor. Attracts and holds water so it helps to make moist yeast breads and rolls. Usually used in combination with other flours and works best with wheat flour.

Soy or Soya flour —made from soybeans. Soy flour is from ground raw beans and soya flour from slightly toasted beans. Both are usually high in fat. It has a slightly sweet and musty flavor. It adds improved shelf life to baked goods.

Tapioca flour—this is the starch extract from the cassava root. It has a slightly sweet flavor and is often used as a thickener for pies.

All of these flours should be kept in the refrigerator or freezer in airtight containers so they retain their good qualities. Bring them to room temperature before using.

Using these flours takes some practice and trial and error. When trying a new flour for the first time, it’s best to search for a tested recipe and follow it closely. With some experience you can begin to substitute and have success on your own.

Sources:  “Beyond the Standard Flour”, Michigan State University Extension; “Meet the Flours”, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; and “Types of Flour Used in Baking”, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension.