Want to try your hand at gluten-free baking, but puzzled by all the different all purpose flour substitute options out there? We’ve broken down the top 5 alternative flours that are most commonly used to take all the confusion out of it.
These five alternative flours will help you successfully make gluten-free and grain-free recipes every time!
I love writing posts like this, because I usually end up learning things myself that I didn’t know before researching for the post. For example: did you know that California is the largest almond producer in the world, and is the only place in North America that grows almond for commercial purposes? Me either. But we do now!
Did you also know that almonds are not actually nuts, but are something called a drupe? They’re actually more similar to peaches than they are nuts.
Almond Flour vs. Almond Meal
Almond flour is ground up almonds, typically with the skin removed and the nuts blanched. This helps give it the consistent white color to make it more closely resemble traditional flour. Almond meal is ground up almonds with the skin left on. It’s often flecked with pieces of the darker skins, and is usually less finely ground than typical almond flour.
You can purchase almond flour at specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods, Earth Fare, Sprouts, or whatever your local gourmet-ish grocery store is. It often carries a higher price tag when purchased in store, and you can typically find it online for less. I like to use the Blue Diamond brand, which I buy at Costco. I also always get great results with Anthony’s brand products like this one.
How to Substitute Almond Flour
Substituting almond flour in recipes as an all purpose flour substitute can be tough. Almond flour has a higher moisture content than wheat flour, so you have to use a larger quantity of it in order to offset that. Another trick for this can be to combine with with a drier alternative flour like coconut flour to get the right moisture level.
When substituting, a general rule of thumb is a 1:2 ratio of regular flour to almond flour. Be aware that some recipes may require some trial and error before finding the right amounts.
So we know we can combine coconut flour with almond flour, but what else do we know about it?
How Coconut Flour is Made
Coconut flour is actually made from the leftover coconut meat after a coconut milk pressing. It is then dried and ground up into a fine powder, which is the coconut flour you use in your recipes.
Another fun fact: a coconut is actually also a drupe, so it’s more similar to an almond. Neither one is a nut. Hrm.
Also, it’s SUPER dry. It soaks up a ton of moisture, and you need very small amounts of it in recipes. If you add too much coconut flour, the recipe will end up overly dry. With coconut flour, you want to think in terms of tablespoons instead of cups.
How to Substitute Coconut Flour
I’ve found in my kitchen experiments that I like to add coconut flour a little at a time to a recipe, and then let it sit for a few minutes. It takes a little bit for the coconut flour to soak up the moisture, and that will let you see the true consistency of what the finished product will be like. You’ll be tempted to just keep moving through the recipe. Patience, grasshopper. It’s worth it.
While coconut flour does behave differently in recipes, with a little research you can use it to your advantage. Nourished Kitchen has a great article on how to bake with coconut flour.
I prefer the Nutiva Coconut Flour . While it might seem pricey for flour at first, since you only use it in tablespoons, it will last for what seems like forever.
When it comes to grain-free baking and alternative flours, cassava flour steals the show.
Cassava Flour vs. Tapioca Flour
Both cassava flour and tapioca flour are made from the cassava plant. It grows a starchy, high-carb tuber similar to yams, taro, plantains and potato. The cassava plant is a staple crop in South America and parts of Asia and Africa.
As a tuberous root vegetable, cassava is gluten, grain and nut-free, as well as vegan, vegetarian and paleo.
To make tapioca flour, the starch is extracted from the cassava root through a process of washing and pulping. The wet pulp is then squeezed, leaving a starchy liquid behind. Once all the water evaporates, the tapioca flour remains.
Alternatively, cassava flour uses the whole root – peeled, dried and ground. This results in it having more dietary fiber than tapioca flour.
Some people talk about how the cassava root contains naturally occurring cyanide compounds that can be extremely toxic. These compounds are only a risk when the cassava is eaten raw, which is why the traditional cultures who use on cassava for sustenance have the processes of soaking, cooking and fermenting – this removes the toxic compounds. All commercially available cassava and tapioca flours do not contain any harmful levels of cyanide.
Cassava Flour’s Nutrition Profile
Since cassava is a starchy tuber, it’s obvious that it is high in carbohydrates. It’s actually extremely high – per 100 grams, cassava has double the calories and carbohydrates as sweet potato. Woah.
For people who have limited food supplies, this makes it a valuable and relied upon resource. But for us, it can mean we’re consuming more than we need to. As with anything in life – moderation is key.
Why Cassava Flour is the Best Flour Substitute
In addition to being gluten free, grain free, and nut free, cassava flour is very mild and neutral in flavor. It has a soft, powdery texture and can be replaced on a 1:1 basis with wheat flour in many recipes, which makes it the star of the show when it comes to alternative flours.
As with any ingredients, quality matters. Otto’s Cassava Flour is the preferred brand among foodies and bloggers who are experimenting with recipes. I’ve used the Anthony’s Cassava Flour brand and gotten good results with it as well.
Some people who use cassava flour mention that their results were not great. As cassava flour has grown in popularity, so have the number of manufacturers, and the quality does seem to vary from brand to brand. If you have issues with your cassava recipes, I recommend you try one of the two brands above.
Ok, so we already learned how tapioca starch was made, and the difference between it and cassava. But what else do we need to know about it?
How Tapioca Starch is Used
Tapioca flour is a very fine, white powder that works well in gluten free baking. It can replace cornstarch as a thickener for pies and sauces and aids in creating a crisp crust and chewy texture in baking.
If you have a recipe that includes cornstarch, replace with tapioca flour at a 1:2 ratio. If you have a recipe that is using all purpose flour for thickening (think sauces, stews, gravy, etc), replace with tapioca flour at a 1:1 ratio.
Tapioca Flour vs. Tapioca Starch
These are just two different names for the same product. Regardless of how it is labeled, as long as it is “tapioca” and not “cassava,” they are the same!
I always use Bob’s Red Mill Tapioca Starch and get great results.
Arrowroot powder is another starchy food product that’s a popular addition to gluten-free baking.
Arrowroot is typically made from the arrowroot plant, but commercially is sometimes made from several different root plants including cassava or yuca root. It’s high in starch and is low in calories, protein and fat. It is often uses to bind, thicken and moisten recipes just like tapioca.
How To Use Arrowroot Powder
Similar to cornstarch, arrowroot soaks up a lot of water to form a smooth, gel-like consistency. It’s often added to desserts like puddings, cakes or custards, and can also be used in savory recipes like hot sauces, milks and broth.
When using arrowroot to thicken a sauce, soup, etc that is hot, you’ll need to make a slurry with the powder first. Otherwise, when you add the arrowroot to the hot contents, it just turns into a big ball of jelly – no bueno.
To make the slurry, you’ll combine arrowroot to room temperature water at a 2:1 ratio. Once you stir that up, you should get a starchy water. Wait until the end of the recipe to add it , then stir the slurry into the recipe to thicken.
Always make a slurry first. Stir the arrowroot powder with a small amount of cold liquid first (like water) to create a slurry, before adding to your recipe. Add the slurry at the very end of the recipe. You don’t really want to cook with arrowroot as it will break down at higher temperatures, so stir in right before serving. Bonus: arrowroot holds up beautifully when used with acidic ingredients or frozen (not so with cornstarch), so feel free to batch cook and freeze your recipes.
Hopefully that helps reduce any confusion you might have had about the different all purpose flour substitutes that are out there. If you’ve found a great recipe using one of these flour subs, post a link in the comments below!
Have you made a gluten free or grain free recipe with one of these flours? I want to see! Tag me on social media and follow along for more delicious recipes. You can find me on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to see more delicious food and what I’m getting into.