It has become commonplace for breads, crackers, pancakes, waffles, cookies and muffins to no longer contain wheat flour as their primary ingredient.
Due to the popularity of Paleo, keto, and gluten-free diets that prohibit using wheat flour, alternative flours are now widely available. The Paleo diet excludes all grains, and some of the more popular non-grain, Paleo substitutes for wheat flour include:
- Almond flour and almond meal are made from ground up almonds. Almond flour has a finer texture than meal because the almond skins are removed before grinding, while almond meal has a coarser texture because the skins are included. Almond flour has a mild, nutty flavor. Because almonds are a good source of protein and fat, almond flour adds tenderness to pancakes and muffins. Keep almond flour in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent it from becoming rancid.
- Coconut flour has a much higher fiber content than wheat flour or other alternative flours, which increases the amount of fluid it absorbs. It’s generally recommended to replace 1 cup of wheat flour with 1/4 to 1/3 cup coconut flour and to add more liquid to the recipe. Recipes made with coconut flour will have a coconut flavor.
- Cassava flour is made from the root of the cassava plant, a major crop in South America and some parts of Asia and Africa. Tapioca is also made from the cassava root but uses a different process that removes most of the fiber. 1 cup of cassava flour can be substituted for 1 of cup wheat flour, however you may need to adjust the amount of flour and liquid based on the recipe you’re using.
- Plantain flour is made from dehydrated green plantains that are then ground into a flour-like consistency. It has been a long-term staple of Caribbean cooking. It has a denser texture than wheat flour and works well in pancakes and muffins.
Gluten-free and grain-free flour combinations from companies such as Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur Flour make paleo-friendly baking easier because they’ve tested the types and proportions of grain-free flours to use for the best results.
Our Take: For the best results, use a recipe that’s designed for grain-free flours. King Arthur Flour and Bob’s Red Mill are two good resources.
While baked goods made with grain-free flours can taste delicious, they will have a different taste and texture than baked goods made with wheat flours.
I doubt that our ancestors 10,000 years ago were making cookies, cakes, or muffins with grain-free Paleo flours. Yet today we very much want to enjoy favorite baked goods and tell ourselves that as long as we’re not using wheat flour, these treats are healthier. Baked treats made with grain-free flours still contain added sugar and fat and may even contain more calories than their traditional counterparts made with wheat flour. So remember to enjoy them in moderation!
By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CHWC
- Challa HJ, Uppaluri KR. Paleolithic Diet. [Updated 2019 Jan 19]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482457/
- United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. USDA Food Composition Databases. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/ accessed 4-8-19
- America’s Test Kitchen. The Paleo Pantry: Flours and Baking. https://www.americastestkitchen.com/guides/paleo/paleo-baking accessed 4-8-19
- Alternative Gluten Free Flours. J. Levinson. Today’s Dietitian vol 20, No 5, p. 28. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0518p28.shtml accessed 4-9-19
- 40 Aprons. How to Use Cassava Flour. https://40aprons.com/how-to-use-cassava-flour/ accessed 4-8-19
- One Green Planet. Plantain Flour: The Next Big Trend in Grain-Free Baking. https://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/plantain-flour-the-next-big-trend-in-grain-free-baking/ accessed 4-9-19
- King Arthur Flour. https://kingarthurflour.com accessed 4-9-19
- Bob’s Red Mill. Paleo Recipes. https://www.bobsredmill.com/recipes/for/making/paleo accessed 4-9-19
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.