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I look back fondly on my shopping trips of yore when buying a bag of flour didn’t take any thought whatsoever.
Now, choosing flour for my favorite recipes is akin to standing in my closet trying to decide what to wear each day.
While I make that sound like a negative, I actually think the wide variety of choices has been a positive addition to our culinary practices, and provides limitless opportunities to be more adventurous with our cooking.
If you’re game for the challenge, visit your nearest grocery or specialty store, find the baking aisle, and behold the plethora of flours from which you have to chose.
The tried and trusted white and wheat will still dominate. However, amongst these classics you will find flours that, at least for me, are made from plants and grains I had not previously heard of. Gluten-free, nut, grain, fruit, and vegetable flours are ripe for the picking.
As I stared at the choices, certain questions dominated my mind:
Okay, but how do they actually taste?
Will my mom’s famous cookies taste the same?
Will my family still be excited about our weekend pancakes?
Will I ever again be asked to bring dessert to girls’ night?
So, while standing in the flour aisle staring at the flours (and likely being stared at by passersby) I decided—challenge accepted. I think I even said it out loud.
And thus, my quest began to discover the lowdown on some of the newest flours, and to find out if, even with their potential health benefits, they’d pass the taste test of my toughest, most honest critics.
I tried the following seven unique flours on my willing, discerning family—my husband and two sons.
Along with deciding if we appreciated the taste, I wanted to educate myself on the origins and health benefits of each.
Here are the official results:
Green Banana Flour
This flour first became popular in regions where green bananas are common (Africa and Latin America). One of its biggest benefits is that it is gluten-free, so popular among those with Celiac disease or other gluten intolerance issues. A lesser known, yet equally important quality, is that it is a resistant starch, meaning it is resistant to digestion and aids in the digestive process much like fiber does. This type of starch has been shown to have many health benefits, including helping to improve blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, and digestion, as well as possibly reducing the risks of colon cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
Along with the resistant starch health benefits, green banana flour is also packed with vitamins and minerals such as zinc, magnesium, vitamin E, and potassium. Banana flour can be used for baking, thickening soups, bread making, or simply used as an added ingredient to items such as smoothies to reap the health benefits.
For flavor testing purposes, I decided to use it to make pancakes, ‘cuz, bananas and pancakes. Banana flour is on the drier side and therefore, for baking purposes, you should use about 25 percent less than you would of typical flours.
Verdict: These got four thumbs up.
There was a mild banana flavor to the pancakes, but nothing at all overwhelming. They were nice and fluffy, albeit on the dry side. The recipe I used cautioned to begin with ½ cup of milk, and suggested to monitor the consistency of the batter. As the batter sat, it thickened quite a bit and I would have been wise to add more milk to improve the somewhat dry texture. However, still an overall hit. It’s great to now have another flour to add to my pancake-making repertoire.
I discovered that this gluten-free, grain-free flour is not a nut at all. It is a small root vegetable that grows in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean. Like banana flour, it is also starch resistant, and therefore offers the same health benefits. In addition, it is brimming with potassium, fiber, iron, protein, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins E and C. Its lightly sweet and nutty flavor allows for cutting back on added sugars in baking.
A quick search will reveal recipes and suggestions for adding tigernut flour to cakes, cookies, pie crusts, pancakes, smoothies, and even black bean or veggie burgers.
My oldest son and I decided to try tigernut flour in a chocolate chip cookie recipe.
Verdict: Another unanimous four thumbs up.
The recipe I chose also used coconut oil and coconut sugar, which brought wary glances from my sons. But, upon their initial taste, they were won over. I was concerned about an overly nutty taste, but this was not the case. The texture was less like cookies made from white or whole wheat flour and closer to the slightly more grainy texture when using almond flour. However, the tastes came together beautifully. The coconut was the only difference in flavor any of them noticed.
I think there might be two cookies left. This will definitely be used again in our baking.
I was hesitant to share the name of this flour with my non-quinoa loving offspring. I, however, am quite the fan.
Quinoa flour is made by grinding quinoa seeds to a fine consistency resembling whole wheat flour. This gluten-free flour has a slightly nutty, earthy taste and you can find recipes for adding it to baked goods, breads, soups, stews, or as an added protein to smoothies.
Quinoa is often referred to as a “super grain” as it is packed with protein, fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, and calcium, along with other vitamins and nutrients. It also contains sufficient amounts of all nine essential amino acids found in plants and is therefore considered a complete protein. Further benefits of eating quinoa include lowering cholesterol, aiding in heart health, helping digestion, and assistance in managing Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
Also gluten-free, it is actually a seed and not a grain, although it is most often prepared as a grain.
For our taste test, we went with a recipe for banana chocolate chip quinoa waffles. Yum! Or, so we hoped.
Verdict: Three thumbs down and one sideways.
I hoped that a recipe including cinnamon, nutmeg, two whole bananas, almond milk, and chocolate chips would help mask the earthy flavor of the quinoa. It did, but to a lesser degree than my family cared for. Both my sons said the waffles tasted a bit like asparagus. My husband and I didn’t get that, but there was definitely a nutty, grainy flavor that was stronger than we all appreciated.
After this fail, I read more about using quinoa flour and found a suggestion for first time users that due to its distinctive flavor, it’s a good idea to begin with recipes that include bold flavors such as dark molasses, cocoa powder, or strong spices. A second suggestion was to substitute a small amount (¼ to ⅓ cup) of the total amount of regular wheat flour for the added health benefits. Having tried it for the first time, I can definitely appreciate the affect other strong flavors would have on the prominent flavor of the quinoa.
While the waffles were not a hit, I will definitely try different recipes with this flour, as I love the health benefits and I also love to sneak healthy ingredients into my family’s food when they aren’t looking.
Beet, or beetroot, powder may be one of my new favs. This lovely pinkish/red root vegetable has earned its reputation as a low-calorie superfood. While I have never been inclined toward the consumption of beets, I am fully on board with using beetroot powder to reap the numerous health benefits.
Speaking of which, let’s take a look at them: it’s gluten-free, reduces blood pressure and improves digestion, lowers the risk of diabetes, aids in some cancer prevention, and is full of vitamins C and A, folate, magnesium, and phosphorus, with lower amounts of numerous other vitamins and nutrients. It can also positively affect athletic performance due to high nitrate content.
We chose to use our beetroot powder to make chocolate beet oatmeal cookies.
Verdict: Four big thumbs up.
These oatmeal cookies were delicious, with nary a hint of beef flavor, even with adding a full ½ cup to the cookie batter. The only sign of the added beetroot was the lovely red color of the cookies. My husband and sons never would have guessed what I added had they not been told.
So, what can you do with beetroot powder? While it is not intended to be a full replacement for flour or other ingredients, it is an easy addition that offers powerful health benefits and imparts a lovely reddish hue to your food—all without changing the taste.
One teaspoon of powder is equal to one beet, so a little goes a long way. It can be added to sauces, smoothies, dressings, baked goods, pancakes, and more. It is also a fantastic healthy alternative to food coloring in cookies, cakes, frosting, and pastas.
Cassava flour—gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free, and paleo friendly—is made from the cassava root vegetable. Distantly related to tapioca flour (which is made from starch extracted from the cassava root), it is considered a whole food versus a filler. This means that it retains all its own fiber and can be used as a base in your favorite recipes. Because cassava does not need ingredients such as eggs to achieve a good consistency, many cassava recipes are also vegan.
Cassava flour is a source of healthy carbs and, like banana flour and tigernut, is a resistant starch, which is good for gut health. Other health benefits include vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, among others. It is not, however, a significant source of protein or fat. Many other root vegetables offer more nutritional value.
Raw cassava is, in fact, toxic to eat as it contains natural forms of cyanide. Processing it into flour or other forms makes it harmless but also reduces the nutritional value.
Cassava flour has a mild and neutral flavor, and a light and fine texture, versus grainy or gritty, as some flours tend to be. This makes it a great 1:1 substitute for wheat flour in many recipes.
Cassava flour can be used in cakes, cookies, breads, tortillas, added to soups, and more. I decided to try my hand at cassava flour tortillas to accompany our taco night.
Verdict: Four thumbs sideways.
Let me just start by saying that thank goodness I am not including pictures with this write-up, as my finished tortillas resembled oddly shaped clouds, to say the least.
Also, I may or may not have yelled at innocent bystanders in my home who asked when the tortillas would be ready. It took some work getting the dough to the right consistency, rolling them out, and getting them to the hot skillet in one, semi-circular piece. Chalk it up to lack of tortilla making experience.
As for the taste—we all found them to be a bit bland and chewy. The chewiness could have completely been the cooks fault. But, the recipe was followed exactly and the taste was unimpressive.
After dinner, I began looking up more recipes and found some with considerably more seasoning that also used different varieties of milk—versusjust water, which I think could have made a substantial difference. However, with so many sites emphasizing the lack of nutritional value compared to other gluten-free and grain-free flours, I do believe I will stick with one of the other options.
Teff flour comes from the ground up teff seeds of the Eragrostis tef plant, commonly known as Williams lovegrass or annual bunch grass, native to Ethiopia. One of this tiny seed’s claims to fame is its high protein content. A regular staple in the Ethiopian diet, it is often referred to as the “runner’s grain,” in reference to the well-known talent of long-distance runners that hail from Ethiopia and get about two-thirds of their daily protein from this grain.
Other health benefits of teff include: it’s a great source of fiber, including resistant starch, it’s high in magnesium and calcium, and it’s a good source of vitamins B6 and C, as well as zinc.
Teff has a deep brown color that is imparted to the food in which it is used. It has a mild, earthy flavor. It is similar in consistency and texture to whole wheat flour, only slightly more grainy. For this reason, it is often used in combination with other flours to produce a more palatable texture. However, it can also be used by itself in any baked goods, pancakes and waffles, breads, and added to soups and stews. It was often suggested to pair teff with cocoa powder as it softens its texture and earth flavor.
As my sons are pancake fanatics, I found a honey teff pancake recipe to try.
Verdict: Two thumbs up, two sideways.
Even with using buttermilk, applesauce, honey, eggs, and vanilla extract, the taste was not as mild as we would have preferred. My family is used to me using all, or part, whole wheat, but they still noticed a much more grainy texture. While my husband and I appreciated the earthy flavor, it was a bit too much for my kids. I think a mixture of two flours would have been more successful.
However, with its high protein content and other health benefits, I will continue some trial and error in using this in at least our baked goods. It does tend to be on the pricey side, so it will likely be a once in a while ingredient.
Cauliflower has definitely been upgraded in recent years from the ugly stepchild of the veggie tray to a versatile, tasty choice for all things gluten-free. Once seemingly everyone had tried cauliflower pizza crusts, the question became what next? Cauliflower flour was the what next.
The many nutritional benefits of cauliflower include: it’s low in calories and high in vitamins, particularly C , K and B6, and it’s high in fiber. It also has smaller amounts of folate, magnesium, manganese, potassium and phosphorus. It’s a good source of antioxidants, and it is high choline, an essential nutrient needed to maintain optimal health.
According to Heathline, cauliflower contains some of almost every vitamin and mineral that we need. And, with only 25 calories per cup, it is an ideal low calorie swap for higher calorie foods.
A search for recipes using cauliflower flour produces everything from brownies, to “breaded” chicken, to waffles, to pie crusts, and so much more.
We went, once again, with tried and true pancakes.
Verdict: Four thumbs down.
I really wanted to like these. I really wanted my family to like them. I really wanted to jump on the cauliflower bandwagon. Sadly, we got left behind with this one.
Similar to the green banana pancake batter, the cauliflower pancake batter thickened very quickly and was semi-congealed by the time I actually began cooking the pancakes. This made the pancakes quite thick and difficult to cook throughout without burning the outside.
The biggest issue? They smelled and tasted like cauliflower. Fine for breads and muffins, perhaps. Not so much for pancakes.
I’m not giving up on cauliflower flour that easily. Rather, I will look for recipes in which the cauliflower taste complements the rest of the ingredients or is not so overpowered by them.
Prior to this experiment, I truly had no idea so many alternative flours existed. It was a fun and educational venture learning about the benefits of each of these unique flours, and I love the idea of having so many choices on hand with which to experiment. The variety of choices make it easier to get added health benefits from our favorite foods, along with meeting other dietary needs such as gluten-free and nut-free cooking.
For those of you looking for new options and ways to incorporate more nutrition and variety into your recipes, these flour choices are a fun and easy way to begin.