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Dietitians Dish: Many types of flour to choose from

By By Lindsay Adams
June 11, 2013 at 1:11 a.m.


These days, it seems that grocery stores are bursting with all sorts of new and interesting products. One example of this is found in the baking supply aisle, where numerous types of flour are beginning to appear.

Whether the reason is for health, culinary creativity or ethnic preferences, people are beginning to cook with different types of flour or combinations of multiple flours.

The most common flours are made from wheat, such as all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cake or pastry flour and self-rising flour. Flour can actually be made from grains, nuts, seeds or legumes. Each type has different cooking or baking qualities and offer different nutrients.

Whole grain flours contain oil from the germ and nut flours can become rancid over time. You can refrigerate or freeze flours in airtight containers so they will maintain their powdery quality. Just be sure to bring them to air temperature prior to use.

Here is a breakdown of the different types of flour that are not made from wheat and how they are best used.

Almond flour is made from blanched almonds and is very low in carbohydrates but high in protein. It is not intended to replace flour in yeast or quick breads but adds moisture and a nutty flavor to pastries, baked goods and dessert filling. It has a relatively short shelf life.

Amaranth flour is ground from an ancient seed. It can be used in baked goods for up to one third of the flour content. It has a lightly sweet and nutty flavor and also works great as a thickener in sauces, gravies or soups.

Soy flour is - you guessed it - ground soybeans. It is high in protein but lower in carbohydrates than all-purpose flour. It is also a good source of calcium, iron and magnesium. It can be used to thicken sauces or as a wheat flour substitute in quick breads and cookies.

To do so, use one part soy flour to three parts all-purpose flour. If used when frying, less fat will be absorbed in your batter or dough.

Rye flour is a heavy, dark flour made from rye and produces heavy, dense bread. You may want to blend this flour with a higher protein flour for better rising. There are both light and dark rye flours available.

There are two types of rice flour. First, brown rice flour is made from unpolished whole grain rice. It has more fiber than white rice flour and gives a grittier texture in baked goods such as cornbread and pound cake.

White flour, made from white rice, works well in baked goods such as pie crusts and cookies. A particular type of white rice flour with three different names - called sweet, glutinous or sticky rice flour - is used to thicken sauces in Asian dishes.

Made from whole, dried potatoes, potato flour works well as a thickener for creamy sauces, soups, gravies and even frozen desserts. In baking, this type of flour adds starch to the dough, which retains water and makes breads more moist and keeps them fresh for a longer period of time.

One-fourth of a cup of potato flour should be used per loaf of yeast bread. You can also use this type of flour as a binder when making any type of meat patty or meatball.

Flaxseed flour is made from flaxseed and can be used as a fat or egg substitute in baked goods.

Oat flour, made from oat groats, can replace some of the flour in recipes. If it is used in a product that needs to rise, you should combine it with another type of flour. It adds a rich, nutty flavor and dense texture.

Barley flour is made from pearl or whole grain barley and increases the fiber content of baked goods. It does have gluten but not enough for rising. It is better used as a thickener in soups, stews, sauces and gravies.

Sorghum flour has a very mild flavor. Made from ancient grain sorghum, it is very high in antioxidants. It works well in cookies, cakes, brownies, breads, pizza dough, pastas, cereals, pancakes and waffles.

Spelt flour is higher in protein than wheat flour. It can be substituted for wheat flour in baking. It is made from spelt, which is a relative of wheat, therefore if you have a wheat allergy, you may want to avoid this type of flour.

Lastly, buckwheat flour works well when making pasta and pancakes. White or whole grain buckwheat flour can be purchased. When combined with other flours, it can be used to make breads and adds a hearty, grassy flavor.

All of the above listed flours are gluten-free except for rye, barley and spelt flour.

So whether you have certain diet restrictions that keep you from eating wheat flour or are just feeling adventurous with your cooking, try cooking with some of the many other flours available.

Lindsay Adams is a registered dietitian with DeTar Health Systems. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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