Daily Expert: The Pros and Cons of Baking With Flour That Isn't Wheat

Chris Mohr, PhD, RD is a member of the Men’s Health advisory board.

Not too long ago, “all-purpose flour” and “whole-wheat flour” were your only two major options in the baking section of the grocery store.

Now peruse the aisles and a veritable field of flours stand before you. There’s almond flour, coconut flour, cassava flour, green banana four, and even coffee flour.

But are any of these fancy flours worth trying? What do they taste like? And do they come with any nutrition benefits? I talked with Dana White, R.D., a cookbook author who has experimented with these products. “It’s fun experimenting with all the new alternative flours, each offering specialized healthy attributes,” she says.

But, first, a decoder.

Coffee Flour

Actually, it doesn’t taste like coffee. That’s because it’s made from the materials leftover after coffee manufacturers process the beans. Those leftover materials, however, are rich in potassium, iron, and fiber, of which coffee flour has more than five grams of fiber per tablespoon. That’s a lot of fiber, especially considering that most all-purpose flours have little to none. Use it as you would any other whole-wheat flour. One warning: Coffee flour does contain caffeine—about 1/3 of what’s in brewed coffee, but still.

Cassava Flour

This one’s suited for the Paleo crowd. Cassava flour contains no gluten, no grain, and no nuts. What, exactly, is it then? Cassava flour comes from the root of the cassava plant. Manufacturers pulverize that root into a fine texture that’s a suitable swap-in for whole-wheat flour. “To me, cassava creates the perfect texture,” says Willow Jarosh, R.D. It’s fluffy and slightly chewy, she says.

Almond Flour

You’ve likely seen this one before, but you may not know of its protein content. Like almonds themselves, almond flour offers a few grams of protein (4 grams in 2 tablespoons) giving a nice protein boost to baked goods. The flavor is only slightly nutty, largely because companies often grind skinless, blanched almonds to produce the flour. Try it as a lighter “breading” to chicken or fish.

Coconut Flour

Made from dried coconut meat, this flour is naturally rich in fiber and fat. Like many of the flours on this list, coconut flour doesn’t contain gluten and grain, if those factors are important to you. In terms of taste, know that it’s a bit drier than other flours. And unlike other, more neutral-tasting flours, coconut flour has a (you guessed it) coconut flavor. It works really well as a complement to foods with a chocolate flavor.

Green Banana Flour

Made from unripe, green bananas, this too is naturally gluten free. “Green banana flour has a pleasant, very mild banana flavor, plus it contains resistant starch,” adds White. Why care about resistant starch? This type of starch digests in the small intestine, so it doesn’t raise your glucose level like traditional starch does. It is also considered a prebiotic fiber, which is particularly important for gut health.

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