In this inaugural Wellness Wednesdays blog post, sponsored by Thrive Market, I’m sharing a guide to Paleo and Whole30 Alternative Flours.
Alternative flours are absolutely essential to my day-to-day cooking. I use them to dredge meats, thicken sauces, and make my famous Paleo Pancakes and Banana Bread. They’re ideal for people with gluten allergies or sensitivities and those looking for healthy, low-glycemic options to replace traditional grain flours.
Thrive Market not only carries a fantastic variety of alternative flours, but they also stock their own Private Label ones, which are high-quality and more affordable than most of the competition.
When I first began my health journey back in 2013, it was very difficult to find anything other than almond flour and coconut flour. When I did manage to track a bag down, it was expensive! It’s amazing to see the variety of alternative flours now available throughout North America. In addition to almond and coconut flours, you can find cassava flour, arrowroot starch, and tapioca starch, to name a few. The best part is that with Thrive Market you can conveniently order each of these online and have them shipped to you.
In this article, I outline the alternative flours that I think should be in every home cook’s pantry, particularly those who are looking for healthy alternatives to conventional grain flours. I also answer some frequently asked questions that I hope will help you make the most of each ingredient.
Each alternative flour listed here is gluten-free and has its own unique texture, taste and function. It’s important to know when to use which flour or you run the risk of ruining an entire dish in terms of taste and texture.
I’ve restricted the list to include only Paleo and Whole30 options, since that is the main focus of my recipes and how I eat on a day-to-day basis. However, there are many more flours that can be included in your Food Freedom, such as buckwheat flour, chickpea (AKA garbanzo bean) flour, amaranth flour, banana flour, rice flour, and quinoa flour, to name a few. Although I use it sparingly, Chickpea flour is a personal favourite because I use it to make socca (a wonderful and simple type of grain-free and gluten-free flat bread).
It’s important to note that although each of these flours are technically Whole30 compliant ingredients, when used to make a healthy, paleo version of certain unhealthy treat foods, like my Paleo Pancakes, they fall under the category of SWYPO and are off limits during your round of the program. Nevertheless, they are perfectly suited to other applications, like using arrowroot starch to lightly dredge chicken for my Chicken with Mushroom and Tarragon Cream Sauce.
Perhaps the most popular of all alternative flours, almond flour is made from ground and dried almonds. It has a rich flavour profile and will add a subtle nuttiness to sweet and savoury recipes. Although it is fairly soft and compressible, almond flour is relatively coarse in texture and, therefore, can impart a bit of grittiness depending on how you use it.
Almond flour is not only great for making baked goods, like Biscotti, and paleo pie crusts, but it’s also good for dredging meats and seafood, such as chicken and salmon. It adds colour, flavour and texture, but keep in mind that it is coarse and has a hard time sticking to foods without the addition of a binder, such as an egg wash. Even when using a binder, it can still crumble off during cooking. To prevent this from happening, try mixing 2 parts almond flour with 1 part arrowroot starch. This will help the almond flour to stick to meats and seafood when frying and if any of the flour falls off, the arrowroot starch will be there to get golden brown.
Almond flour is low in carbohydrates, high in healthy fats and relatively high in protein. In a 2 tablespoon serving, there are 2 gr of carbohydrates, are 7 gr of fat, and 3 gr of protein.
Coconut flour has become a more and more common ingredient in recent years. Not least because it is a very affordable alternative flour. Thrive Market Organic Coconut Flour costs a mere $3.49 for a 16-ounce bag! It is made from dehydrated, finely ground organic coconut meat (the white flesh that you see when you crack into one). Like almond flour, it is fairly coarse in texture and can impart some grittiness in certain recipes.
Coconut flour is most commonly used in baking recipes. It is very absorbent so if you plan on substituting it for regular wheat flour, be sure to use less than a 1:1 ratio or you will end up with a very dense finished product.
Another thing to consider is that coconut flour may impart a bit of flavour into whatever it is you’re cooking. Like olives and cilantro, coconut is an acquired taste for some people so keep that in mind before purchasing and using. Almond flour is a more neutral-flavoured alternative. If you are allergic to nuts, try cassava flour instead. But you should be aware that if you are using these substitutes, measurements will vary because they are not as absorbent as coconut flour.
I don’t use it as often as other flours, but coconut flour is a main ingredient in my Paleo Banana Bread.
Coconut flour is relatively high in carbohydrates but rich in fibre, and relatively low in fat and protein. In a 2 tablespoon serving, there are 10 gr of carbohydrates, with 7 gr of dietary fibre, 3.5 gr of fat, and 3 gr of protein.
Cassava flour is my personal favourite alternative flour. It is made from peeled, ground and dried whole cassava root, as opposed to tapioca starch, which is made from the same root but with a different process, as discussed below.
Cassava flour is extremely versatile, neutral in flavour, and can replace wheat flour in most recipes at a 1:1 ratio. It gets super crispy when fried and sticks very well to meat and seafood, making it excellent for dredging. It can be used to make incredible paleo biscuits, grain-free pancakes, and even homemade tortillas. It is a true workhorse in the kitchen and absolutely worth the relatively higher price tag compared to other alternative flours.
If a recipe calls for cassava flour, it is always best to try to use it. In most cases, the finished product will be very different if substituting, so I don’t advise it. If, however, a recipe calls for cassava flour to dredge meat or seafood and you don’t have any, you can try substituting 2 parts almond flour with 1 part arrowroot starch. This would get you by in my recipe for Paleo Popcorn Chicken, for example, but it may not work for others. Cassava flour reacts differently when it comes into contact with water and heat than almond flour. It also gets much crispier than both arrowroot and almond flour.
Cassava flour is high in carbohydrates, fat-free and low in protein. Therefore, I wouldn’t exactly recommend it as a “health food”. But in low quantities it can be a fantastic addition to your pantry. A ¼ cup serving has 28 gr of carbohydrates, 0 gr of fat, and 1 gr of protein.
Also referred to as arrowroot flour or arrowroot starch, this finely ground white substance is neutral-flavoured and plays an essential role in my daily cooking. I use it primarily to thicken sauces (either worked into a roux or a slurry) and to dredge meats and seafood. Because it has a very fine consistency, it sticks to things like glue. It also gets golden brown and slightly crispy when fried.
Word to the wise:
Arrowroot powder is like culinary confetti. It get’s all over the place! If using it to dredge meat or seafood, add it to a deep bowl to prevent it from spilling over.
Arrowroot flour is made from arrowroot, a type of tuber. Similar to tapioca flour, it is extracted from the washed, peeled and pulverized arrowroot. The pulp is squeezed and a wet starch is extracted and then left to dry. The remaining powder is the arrowroot flour or starch.
Arrowroot flour is, in my opinion, a better flour to use for dredging meat and seafood than tapioca flour. A 16-ounce bag of Thrive Market Organic Arrowroot flour is only $4.49, making it very affordable! It doesn’t get as gummy as tapioca flour so it is a bit more forgiving for times when you are cooking larger batches of my Paleo Popcorn Chicken or Chicken Saltimbocca.
Though arrowroot powder and tapioca flour are, for the most part, interchangeable, I like to use them for certain things. For example, I prefer tapioca flour for my Paleo Pancakes because it gets spongier than arrowroot starch. On the other hand, I like arrowroot starch for dredging and thickening sauces, because it doesn’t get as gummy.
If you use arrowroot flour to a make a slurry to thicken sauces, soups or stews, you should mix it with a bit of cold water first. Adding it directly to a hot liquid will cause it to clump. You don’t need a lot of tapioca starch for it to work as a thickening agent and it’s usually best to stick to a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of starch to water. So, for 1 teaspoon of arrowroot starch, mix it with 1 or 2 teaspoons of water.
If on the, other hand, you want to use it to make a roux, feel free to simply toast the arrowroot flour in some cooking fat as you would with traditional wheat flour.
Arrowroot flour is high in carbohydrates, fat-free and has no protein. A ¼ cup serving has 28 gr of carbohydrates, 0 gr of fat and 0 gr of protein.
Tapioca flour, also referred to as tapioca starch, is not to be confused with cassava flour. Though they are both made from the cassava root, they are completely different in texture and function.
Tapioca flour is made from cassava root that has been peeled, washed and pulverized. Once the pulp is squeezed, a starch is extracted and left to dry. The water is then left to evaporate, leaving behind a dried flour or starch.
Tapioca flour is a much, much finer powder and reacts differently than cassava flour when it comes into contact with water and heat. It does not have the same integrity as cassava flour, so it can not be used interchangeably.
When it comes to making my Paleo Pancakes, tapioca flour is the best alternative flour. When worked into a batter and lightly fried, it gets super spongy and fluffy on the inside and ever so crispy on the outside. It is also very affordable! Thrive Market Organic Tapioca Flour costs only $3.49 for an 18-ounce bag!
In certain cases, tapioca flour can be used interchangeably with arrowroot starch. This applies mostly for baking and thickening sauces. The important thing to keep in mind is texture.Tapioca flour gets gummier than arrowroot starch. So, if you’re going to be mixing it with a bit of water to create a slurry and thicken a sauce, you may notice a slightly sticky and tackier finished product. I, therefore, prefer to use tapioca flour for baking and pancakes because you don’t get that same gumminess.
Note: if you use tapioca flour to thicken sauces, soups or stews, you should mix it with a bit of cold water first. Adding it directly to a hot liquid will cause it to clump. You don’t need a lot of tapioca flour for it to work as a thickening agent and it’s usually best to stick to a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of starch to water. So, for 1 teaspoon of tapioca starch, mix it with 1 or 2 teaspoons of water.
If you plan on using tapioca flour to dredge meat for frying, I strongly urge you to do so only at the very last minute. As mentioned, it gets gummy when it comes into contact with liquid so if you dredge, say, a piece of chicken and leave it on the counter for 10 minutes before frying, it will develop a tacky and slightly slimy film. This, in turn, will prevent you from getting a nice golden brown and crispy crust.
Tapioca flour is low in carbohydrates, fat-free and has no protein. A 1 tablespoon serving has 8 gr of carbohydrates, 0 gr of protein.
This post is sponsored by Thrive Market. All thoughts and opinions are the author’s alone. Thank you for supporting the brands that support me.