Whole wheat flours are evidently better than white or any kind of refined grain-type flours, but it got me thinking about what kind of flours are beneficial to our health. I’ve attempted to find this out by researching, testing and now writing about some of these flours and their various benefits.
This list is by no means comprehensive in terms of finding out all the different healthy alternatives to plain white/all-purpose wheat flour, but should hopefully be useful for coeliacs or those who are simply searching for a healthier alternatives in baking!
It certainly helps that these flours are just as delicious – or even more so – than normal plain white flour. They add flavour and offer a point of different from the usual white bread. I think that refined white breads should be banned from supermarkets. I mean, they’re nothing but carbs with little nutritional value! Their affordability though makes them popular still.
High in protein & made from amaranth seed. It’s not common to use amaranth flour in baking as I’ve never heard it used much, but you can substitute some of plain flour with amaranth flour, but not more than 30% in a normal cake recipe. Amaranth has a high fibre content at 15% and high protein at 14%. It also contains high lysine, an amino acid found in few foods and has higher calcium than most other grains. It’s great for maintaining consistent blood sugar levels and especially for people who are diabetic or have celiac because of its low glycemic index value and lack of gluten. Take note though that you may need more water when using amaranth flour because it absorbs more liquid than regular flour.
This magical nut is packed with the nutritional goodness of almonds and like almonds, has a slightly sweet, nutty taste. Almond is a seed from the almond tree fruit and is packed with proteins. It is also a good source of vitamin E and is filled with monosaturated fats that can help prevent heart diseases and diabetes. People say it helps you to lose weight because it keeps you full. I tend to eat alot of almonds at once which is probably not recommended. I sometimes buy my whole almonds from Waitrose and grind them into flour, or just get the Waitrose ready ground one. It gives cakes a light, crumbly texture that is divine.
A herbal plant seed that is related to rhubarb and sorrel. Buckwheat actually is a fruit seed and is a good source of magnesium and has many health benefits. It is closely linked to the lowering of diabetes and cholesterol because of its many phytonutrients. I will be experimenting with buckwheat soon so watch this space! This one can definitely be classed as a ‘superfood’.
Chickpea, or garbanzo beans, are widely used in Indian cooking, it is great to coat vegetables for pakoras with or to make flatbreads. It is pale yellow and powdery and has an earthy flavour best suited to savoury dishes. Gram flour contains no gluten. I use ground chickpeas for baking brownies. They were quite dense and definitely dryer in texture, which was fine because they tasted amazing! That I had used Organic Green & Black’s dark cooking chocolate definitely helped. I bought Waitrose chickpeas, soaked them overnight and simmered them the next morning for 45 minutes, then blitzed them in my chopper.
High in fiber, low carb and a good source of protein. Recipes will likely need more liquid when using coconut flour but will require less sugar (or other sweetener) because coconut has a natural sweetness to it. For advice on baking with coconut flour, visit the Nourished Kitchen. Coconut flour tends to give a denser texture and weight, making cakes or other baked goods more crumbly. Definitely not suitable for lighter cakes like chiffon but makes a great butter cake when mixed in equal or less portions that All Purpose Flour.
A cereal grain that looks darker than most other types of flour, rye has a slightly nutty taste as well, but because of its low gluten content. It creates baked goods that are dense. I’ve made rye bread several times and have to say that rye keeps me satiated. It is richly endowed with non-cellulose polysaccharides, which have exceptionally high water-binding capacity so it quickly gives a feeling a fullness and satiety – great for anyone who’s trying to lose weight while not wanting to feel totally miserable. I use Dove’s Organic Rye Flour. Rye bread is delicious with homemade nut spread – I’ve made pumpkin seed and peanut spreads before – and bananas. You can also add chia seeds into the mix to give it extra superfood punch. For a more savory taste, try the bread with avocado and poached eggs, or smoked salmon.
Spelt flour contains gluten and has a lower calorie content than wheat. Spelt is a cereal grain is a different species of wheat, but from the same family of grain. It is also easier to digest and is higher in protein, but lower in fibre. It also has a slightly sweet, nutty taste which I love. You can begin using spelt flour by substituting your regular flour with 25% spelt and then seeing how it goes. You can generally replace regular white flour with it. Be careful not to overwork the flour as it can break down because it has a lower gluten content and different gluten structure. I’ve made pizzas and flat breads using spelt flour and it’s good. See this BBC recipe by Honestly Healthy blogger and chef Natasha Corrett. (FYI, spelt flour is in high demand in the United Kingdom and there is currently short supply because of the poor harvest this year. Spelt flour is be considerably more expensive than in previous years.) I use Waitrose’s yummy spelt flour.