I figured if I’m starting a feature called “Savvy Substitutions” and it focuses heavily on baked goods, it might be advisable to explain different types of flour and their ratios in baking compared to the ‘other white stuff.’ Of course you know it begins with whole-grains, and organic whenever possible. Wheat is one of the most pesticide laden crops in America, so it truly pays to buy the purest product available. This way you can go right to your pantry when a recipe calls for spelt (a cousin of wheat) or another alternative and know how it might affect the taste and texture of your creation.
What whole grain flours offer that white flour omits are multiple nutrients. White flour has been stripped of vitamins and fiber. In the refining process, the bran and germ have been removed and only the starch – or simple carbohydrate – remains. This is what spikes the blood sugar and depletes other vital nutrients in our body as well. Specifically, B vitamins, which are essential for digestion and keeping stress at bay. When you eat white flour or sugar, the body uses up the B vitamins merely in trying to assimilate them into our system.
So let’s take a look at our whole-grain friends, which are also high in antioxidants and vitamin E. They help prevent obesity, diabetes, and heart disease…all on the rise in the U.S.
> I will also note if the grain is gluten-free (GF.)
Almond: there’s almond meal and there’s blanched almond flour. They are very different, according to Elana’s Pantry. I bought some almond flour (hard to find) and used it in a Nutty Bread recipe from the same site. Fabulous. GF
Barley: user friendly, slightly heavy. Can be used in cakes, cookies and pie crusts.
Brown rice: great for breads, muffins and sometimes cookies, as it can be somewhat grainy. One of the most digestible grains and high in nutrient value. GF
Buckwheat: a cousin of rhubarb and no relation to wheat Acts like gluten with its binding characteristics but can be tolerated by gluten sensitive people. Somewhat nutty flavor and a heavier texture. Best in pancakes. GF
Oat: mild. slightly sweet and moist. Esp. good combined with brown rice or barley flours. OK for most gluten sensitive people.
Spelt: the most versatile and white flour-like of all, next to whole wheat, yet easier to digest. Great in most desserts, cookies, breads, muffins and the one I use most often when substituting for white flour. High in protein, amino acids and minerals. Hartke’s shares details about it, and Heidi offers some great recipes.
Teff: an ancient grain, dense and moist; especially good with chocolate, as in brownies. High in iron and calcium. GF
>> A few more notes:
- Many of the whole-grain flours have different gluten levels (elasticity), if any at all. Therefore, they can be tricky in baking. You can start out by mixing 25% in with your white flour to experience the taste and texture of each type. Eventually, try to use whole-grains either by themselves or one for one to maximize the nutritive values in the recipes. Gluten-free flours have different requirements.
- Increase baking powder by 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per cup of flour.
- Whole-grain flours are more perishable, so for optimum storage and freshness, keep them in the refrigerator or freezer even if package is unopened. I store mine in different bags and jars – just make sure to label and date the container, and try to use within a few months.
- Cooking times will vary based on ‘new’ ingredients. Keep a thermometer handy.
- There are other additives like xanthan gum, guar gum, tapioca starch and potato starch which act as leaveners and binding agents when gluten is absent. This is where it becomes a bit complicated, so start slowly and practice patience.
Have you tried other flours? What have your experiences been? Are there any favorite recipes you’d like to share?