Alternative Flours


When your child is allergic to wheat, you are forced to avoid most commercially-available baked goods and pastas. If he is also allergic to corn—as our son Graeme is—the options for baking at home dwindle to near zero.

Wheat and corn are everywhere, from unexpected places like soups to unbelievable places like baking powder. Beyond just loaves of bread, former everyday staples in our household—cinnamon rolls, tortillas, pizza, and mac and cheese—have sadly disappeared. I've considered passing my great grandmother's cast-iron cornbread skillet, which has been in use since the 1800s, on to another home where allergies are less prevalent. Its neglect has bothered me almost as much as the dearth of buttermilk drop biscuits and Irish soda bread.

But eliminating Wonder Bread and corn fritters from our lives—and finding acceptable replacements—hasn't been without some pleasant discoveries. Consider amaranth, the nutty, gluten-free flour that is ground from amaranth seeds; teff flour, which comes from a plant grown in Ethiopia and Eritrea and is used to make the flat, pancake-like bread used in dishes from East Africa; or quinoa flour, made from the South American grain that's high in amino acids, minerals, B vitamins, and vitamin E.

For the last two weeks, I've been experimenting with these three flours, along with coconut, green pea, and spelt. And I find myself appreciating the variety my son's allergies have brought to our lives.

These nontraditional flours are hard to find and more difficult to cook with than traditional white wheat flour, but they are high in fiber and filled with vitamins, protein, and amino acids. In short, they're a whole lot healthier than than heavily processed white wheat flour. (Cornmeal, for the record, is actually high in fiber, vitamin A, manganese, potassium, and foliate. Blue Cornmeal has a lot of protein in it, too.)

They are also exotic in taste. A recipe for apple tart I tried from author Tiffany Haugan's The Power of Flour, a new cookbook that focuses nontraditional flour, mixed a nutty, dense crust with tart apples for a flavorful surprise.

My wife and I loved it. Graeme liked the sugary apples but didn't really notice the crust. My picky daughter totally turned up her nose.

But I'm undeterred. For the next few months we're going to bake recipes with flours made from barley, beans, green peas, rice, buckwheat, coconut, rye, teff, and spelt. I'm not going on this alternative-baking binge with only Graeme's wheat allergies in mind. I'm also doing it for me. Some flours, like coconut, are higher in fiber and lower in carbs than whole wheat, which means as a diabetic, I can enjoy baked goods without worrying as much about spiking my blood sugar, for a change.

Want to try it with us? Here are three places online where you can order alternative flours (you may also find some of them at Whole Foods and other organic grocers):

Bob's Red Mill

Purcell Mountain Farms

The Gluten-Free Mall