In the Western World when we hear the word flour we probably think of wheat flour. There are so many more types of flours though, both traditional and innovative and I’m going to take you through some of them here and the reasons you will want to try them.
Health reasons and curiosity tend to be the main reasons that people test out food with new flours. I can’t say that it is plain sailing all the way, if you’re cooking with new flours then I would follow the manufacturer recipes to start with or use a reliable source off the internet. These flours tend not to have gluten, or they have different amounts of protein, fats and carbohydrates compared to traditional white self raising or plain flour. They aren’t going to act in the same way, they might need more liquid in the recipes for example.
You can make some tasty pancakes from buckwheat, yellow pea, green pea and gram flours. Falafels are made from gram flour, and you can make lower carbohydrate cakes from almond and coconut flours.
Health reasons for using different flours:
Autoimmune Disease: People with coeliac disease must completely avoid gluten, and also people with autoimmune disease often report reduced symptoms by reducing or removing gluten from their diet. This means that this group of people avoids wheat (and any other forms of wheat such as spelt), rye and barley. It also means choosing gluten free baking powder in those recipes. Gluten free flour has really progressed in recent years and tends to be a mixture of a few flours such as potato and tapioca. It lacks the gluten found in normal flour which contributes to the rising of the bread and cakes, so bread or cakes made out of non-gluten flour won’t rise and might be a bit crumbly. They can taste as good though!
Digestive Issues: When people have dysbiosis which means an imbalance of gut bacteria and more of the unfriendly ones, or perhaps too many yeasts then they often get on better with less refined carbohydrates and starch in their diet. Rather than eating white bread, white pasta and white potatoes for example I would encourage more vegetable fibre and other grains such as quinoa or brown rice. There are times though when nothing more will do than a piece of cake, bread or biscuit. In these instances I suggest coconut, almond and sometimes buckwheat flours.
Low Carbohydrate Diets: Some people choose to follow a low carbohydrate diet. Perhaps they are trying this out for sport performance, although that is another topic and it’s not necessarily the answer. They might be following a low carbohydrate diet because it helps with blood sugar balancing. It may reduce afternoon sugar dips, low mood, and also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Carbohydrate is found in grains and flours are traditionally made from grain. It is also in legumes such as peas and lentils, on this type of diet you also need to keep in mind with the amout of carbohydrate in those foods.
Compare a typical white flour with coconut flour, the white flour has 72g carbohydrate and the coconut flour has 22g carbohydrate per 100g. By using flour such as coconut flour and almond flour you can still have your cake and eat it!
Diversity Our gut bacteria like variety, so that is a good reason to cook with different flours and to eat different foods. We have trillions of bacteria and the scientists are telling us that more variety of bacteria is a good thing for our wellbeing. To feed these bacteria and create a large diversity we need to eat a wide range of plant foods which provide fibre, which provides fuel. Obviously there will be more fibre in a whole chickpea than the flour, but it is about moving away from just eating food made from wheat flour which is important. As well as eating a wide range of fruit and vegetables.
By using alternative flours we can also embrace cooking from other cultures and make use of new flavours and spices.
My Top Tips For Using Alternative Flours:
Always start with a recipe from the manufacturer or from a reliable source to give yourself some motivation. Then you can start experimenting!
Don’t expect everything to taste the same as when it is made from white flour. Embrace the difference and remember the reasons you are eating it, along with the additional benefits that grain, seed or legume brings.
Keep trying, if you have ever made bread or sponge cakes then you know they don’t always work out well the first time you try them.
If you are coeliac or following a gluten free diet then you can’t rely on the flour being gluten free if it doesn’t say so. For example the pack of gram flour I have says ‘may contain traces of wheat/gluten. Also you need to remember to use gluten free baking powders.
You will need different amounts of liquid, follow the recipe.
Flours You Can Try
Chickpea/Gram (Try buying from Asian stores)
Oat flour (grind up oats in the blender, into a powder)
Gluten free flour.
If you eat pasta then you might see red lentil, pea, corn and teff pasta which are all made from flours. Take a look at the nutrition panel and check how much protein there is compared to carbohydrate, then compare this with white pasta. That is one way you can decide if it is healthier or not. What other added ingredients are there. Corn pasta for example is gluten free but has a fast 'sugar' effect on the body, given the choice I would choose wholegrain rice instead. However if it is the night before a long run and I'm worried about my digestion then the gluten free corn pasta with some protein may well do the job - does that make sense?
Recipes To Try
Socca pancake – made from gram flour. The pan needs to be really hot or you'll get a blob on your pan.
Buckwheat pancakes. Delicious for breakfast with yoghurt and berries.
Coconut flour cup cakes.
Biscotti - made from almond flour.
I hope that you enjoy discovering new flours!
If you want to find out more about me then have a look around the website, like my Health and Hart Facebook page, or if you're sporty then join the FREE The Ravenous Athlete facebook group. Joanne Hart