6 of the Healthiest Flours to Use
Once dominated by pantry staple all-purpose flour, a stroll down the baking aisle now reveals an ever-expanding selection of flour alternatives. Made from nuts, cereal grains, root vegetables and even beans, this dynamic collection can contribute a range of new flavors, textures and nutrients to everyday cooking and baking.
While they initially catered to people with food allergies or intolerances, or those who follow special diets, alternative flours increasingly appeal to people simply looking to add more variety to their diet. And from rich, nutty almond flour to sweet, earthy oat flour, they certainly offer tasty incentives to experiment with your favorite recipes.
Related: Almond-Flour Zucchini Bread
It's important to note, though, that not all flour alternatives can be substituted for all-purpose flour in a 1-to-1 ratio (not even whole-wheat flour). Their varying nutrition profiles make some well-suited for baking and others better for thickening, binding or frying. Here, we round up some of the most popular, nutrient-dense offerings, plus show you how to use them to set you up for success.
1. Almond Flour
Pictured recipe: Low-Carb Seeded Quick Bread
Almond flour is made from whole almonds that are blanched to remove the skins and then finely ground. Almond meal, on the other hand, is made from ground almonds with the skins intact, which creates a coarser texture. They can often be used interchangeably, with some exceptions based on the recipe.
Almond flour is rich in heart-healthy fats and has double the protein and triple the fiber compared to all-purpose flour. And with only a fraction of the carbohydrates, it's a great option for the carb-conscious baker, as well as for those avoiding gluten.
Nutty and nuanced, almond flour can add depth of flavor, moisture and tenderness to baked goods. But because of its fine texture and poor binding ability, it shouldn't be used as a 1-to-1 swap for wheat flour. King Arthur Flour suggests adding up to 1/3 cup almond flour per cup of wheat flour in yeast dough recipes, such as bread and rolls. For non-yeast treats like cookies, cakes and muffins, substitute almond flour for up to one-quarter of the flour in the recipe.
This nut-based flour reigns supreme in recipes where moisture and tenderness are key attributes—think pancakes, waffles and cake. Beyond breakfast and baked goods, it can also be used as a gluten-free breading for fish, chicken and beef.
2. Coconut Flour
Produced from dried coconut meat that is finely ground, coconut flour offers rich, nutty flavor with subtle tropical notes. This nut- and grain-free flour stands out nutritionally with a whopping 10 grams of fiber per ¼ cup (compared to a measly 1 g in all-purpose flour). Coconut flour is comparable to almond flour in fat content, however it can't be subbed 1-to-1 for nut or wheat flours. In fact, it works best when paired with other flours as part of a baking blend.
The distinctive characteristic of coconut flour is its capacity for absorbing liquid—much more so than other flours. To compensate, you may need to increase the liquid in a baking recipe, and/or add more eggs for improved structure. Bob's Red Mill suggests swapping about 1/4 to 1/3 cup coconut flour for 1 cup of regular flour for best results.
To leverage coconut flour's absorptive capacity, use it in recipes that spotlight crisp edges, such as pancakes or fritters. It's also a great replacement for breadcrumbs in coconut-crusted shrimp or crispy white fish.
3. Whole-Wheat Flour
Whole-wheat flour is much heartier than all-purpose, and produces denser baked goods with more robust flavor. Milled from wheat berries with the nutritious bran and germ still intact, whole-wheat flour is rich in fiber and essential micronutrients like iron, magnesium and vitamin B6.
Because of the texture and flavor differences of whole-wheat compared to all-purpose flour, it often shouldn't be used as a complete replacement. However, two whole-grain flours that work well as substitutes are white whole-wheat and whole-wheat pastry flours.
White whole-wheat is milled from white, hard wheat, which yields a lighter color and milder flavor, but still has all of the benefits of whole grains. Our Test Kitchen experts say you're safe substituting up to 50% white whole-wheat for all-purpose flour in a recipe.
Whole-wheat pastry flour is milled from soft white wheat, producing a very fine flour with less gluten. While not ideal for all baked goods, these attributes produce feathery light pastries and perfectly tender pie crusts. Try substituting up to 25% whole-wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose flour in the recipe; if you use more you may need to bump up the liquid.
4. Oat Flour
Oat flour is made from ground oats and offers earthy sweetness and chewiness to baked goods. This whole-grain flour also packs a decent punch of protein and fiber, and can replace up to 20% of wheat flour in recipes for added nutrition. Oat flour is also one of the easiest flours to make at home—simply blitz rolled oats in the food processor until they reach a flourlike consistency.
It's a delicious candidate for muffins and other quick breads, or to amplify the whole-grain goodness of oatmeal cookies. We love oat flour in these muffins you can make in a blender.
5. Cassava Flour
Cassava flour comes from the cassava plant, which is a staple crop in South America and parts of Asia and Africa. The plant produces cassava root (also known as yuca)—a starchy tuber similar to plantains and potatoes—which is peeled, dried and ground to make flour. Learn more about cassava and how to use it.
Although higher in carbohydrates than wheat flour, cassava flour is naturally gluten-free and rich in fiber. It also has a very neutral flavor and soft consistency, making it a great candidate for homemade tortillas or grain-free flatbread. Some bakers suggest substituting it 1-to-1 for wheat flour in recipes because of its versatility. Or, if you're steering savory, use it as breading on meat or fish, or as a binder in meatballs and veggie patties.
6. Chickpea Flour
Also known as garbanzo flour, chickpea flour is made by grinding dried chickpeas into powder. Packing quite the nutritional punch compared to wheat flour, chickpea flour boasts nearly double the protein and five times the fiber.
One of chickpea flour's standout traits is its binding ability, which can help provide a sturdy texture to breads and muffins. However, its greatest claim to fame is in the classic Mediterranean dish socca (or farinata), an unleavened pancake.
One thing to note is that chickpea flour does present a bean-forward flavor, which may pose some limitations in sweet treats. Chickpea flour is a great contender for binding foods like patties and fritters, creating savory waffles, or battering anything fried.
Whether whole-wheat or alternative flours act as a replacement or supplement to your standby, they offer a world of flavors and textures worth exploring. And with an expanding selection available at most supermarkets, branching out has never been easier. Go beyond the basics and try out one of these flours to reap nutritional perks like increased fiber, protein and micronutrients.