Specialty grains and alternative flours are in demand! The new food trends reflect growing consumer calls for plant-based ingredients, gluten-free alternatives to flour, and an increasing appetite for ancient grains that are not only packed with nutrients but packed with flavors and textures that breathe new life into traditional recipes and dishes.
Whether you own a bakery, are a professional baker or chef, or want to update your foodservice’s bread and dessert menus, it’s time to learn all about the new flours that are quickly rising to the top of the baked goods charts and becoming consumers’ top picks.
Ancient or Modern?
According to the experts at Bake Magazine and current consumer food trend reports, chickpea flour, cassava flour, and pea flour are the most trending new superstars, followed by over 20 other flour alternatives that the food industry and the public are just now beginning to learn about. Ironically, while singing the praises of flours and grains such as teff, arrowroot, sorghum, buckwheat, chestnut, and amaranth may sound like a modern-day revolution, in fact, many of these products are quite ancient, produced in grain mills from around the world since the Stone Age. Moreover, many of these alternatives far surpass today’s white and whole wheat choices in nutrient value and are not only wholesome and free of additives, fillers, and preservatives, they also offer textures and flavors that store-bought cannot compete with.
So, let’s take a walk down the new flour lane, becoming familiar with the many grain, cereal, legume, nut, and seed varieties and sifting through all the info to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Meet Cassava Flour
If you have customers who are gluten-resistant and also have food or nut allergies, it’s time to meet and make friends with cassava flour. As you already know, many gluten-free flours are nut-based, which leaves some customers out in the cold, while others simply don’t have the perfect texture for making great cakes and breads. Trending cassava flour, on the other hand, is gluten-free, grain-free, and nut-free, naturally achieves a good consistency, and can be substituted directly for wheat flour in practically all recipes.
Made from the whole cassava root (a root vegetable similar to taro or yam), it has a neutral taste with a slightly nutty kick. One cup of cassava flour boasts 8 grams of protein and 53 grams of fiber, however its real culinary claim to fame is the airy, super-fluffy end product it produces – a rarity in gluten-free alternatives, as well as a palate-pleasing chef and consumers’ delight. Expect to see flour flying off grocery store shelves soon and cassava dishes prominent in restaurant recipes and menus.
The Rise of Chickpea Flour
Did you know that chickpea flour is already considered an international superstar in parts of Europe and Asia, where it has been used for centuries? While relatively new to the U.S. food market, chickpea flour is a pantry staple in countries such as France and Italy where it is fried and roasted for use in breads and snacks, or cooked, sliced into logs, and then fried into a popular snack called panisse/panelle or chickpea fries.
Also known as garbanzo flour, gram flour, or besan, chickpea flour is made from dry chickpeas, which are a popular plant-based protein from the legume family. Featuring a grainy texture and a slightly nutty taste, chickpea flour is frequently used in Indian and Middle Eastern recipes to make hummus, falafel and a flatbread called socca, to name just a few. A great source of both fiber and protein, chickpea flour helps people on weight-loss programs as it promotes a feeling of fullness. It is also rich in magnesium and potassium, which plays a part in boosting heart health. For more on why your chefs should buy a bag of chickpea flour, see what marketing research firm Mintel’s Director of Innovation and Insight, Lynn Dornblaser, has to say.
A popular grain- and gluten-free flour, almond flour is made from ground blanched almonds and is commonly used to prepare baked goods or as an alternative to breadcrumbs. Typically, it can be substituted 1:1 in place of regular or wheat flour. It is a good source of vitamin E and monounsaturated fat and contains multiple minerals, including iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, copper, and manganese. However, if you are on weight-loss program, bear in mind that almond flour’s fat content increases its caloric count to 640 per cup – 200 calories more than whole wheat flour. Bakers’ Tip: When baking with almond flour, your batter will be thicker and the end product will be denser, so add one egg to your recipes.
Buckwheat Flour, unlike its name, actually contains no wheat and is free of all gluten. In fact, it actually belongs to the family of pseudocereals, a group of grains that are prepared and eaten like cereals but don’t belong to the grain family. Known for its rich, earthy flavor, buckwheat flour is increasingly used for baking quick breads and yeast breads. However, a note to the baking wise: Due to the lack of gluten, the flour tends to be crumbly in nature; by combining it with another gluten-free choice (i.e. brown rice flour) you can produce a better end product.
Nutrition-wise, buckwheat flour is high in antioxidants such as polyphenol rutin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains a variety of B-vitamins in addition to being rich in iron, fiber, folate, magnesium, zinc, and manganese.
Did you know that sorghum, an ancient cereal grain, has been around for over 5,000 years and that it is industrially considered the fifth most important cereal grain in the world? Now taking the foodservice industry by storm, gluten-free sorghum flour is rising in the popularity charts. Known for its signature mild sweet flavor, light color, texture, and denseness, the sorghum grain is high in fiber, protein, iron, and inflammation-fighting antioxidants. Research also suggests that it may also help balance blood sugar levels. It is often combined with other gluten-free flours or used particularly for recipes requiring small amounts of flour.
Another pseudocereal with an ancient past, amaranth flour is one of over 60 grains that were once a staple food in the Aztec, Inca, and Maya civilizations. Rich in iron, fiber, and protein and low in fat, research indicates its nutrients may play a role in bone health, brain health, and the synthesis of DNA.
Amaranth flour is loved for its earthy, slightly sweet, and nutty flavor and its ability to take on the flavor of other ingredients. Best combined with other flours for baking purposes, you will typically find amaranth flour in bread, pie crust, and tortilla recipes.
Teff flour’s ‘claim to fame’ is that it is made from the world’s smallest grain yet packs a nutritional punch that surpasses most of its counterparts. About 1/100 the size of a single kernel of wheat, it also boasts a wide variety of colors (from white to red and dark brown), each with their own unique taste. A general rule of thumb to remember: Light colored teff flours have a milder flavor; darker shades produce an earthier taste.
Teff flour is loaded with protein and fiber, promoting a feeling of fullness which can help reduce cravings and aid in weight loss. Moreover, it contains more calcium than any other grain; in fact, it is the only ancient grain containing vitamin C! You will find this nutritional powerhouse most often used in recipes for making pancakes, cereals, and breads, as well as in traditional recipes for injera, a sourdough-like Ethiopian bread.
Less common than its gluten- and grain-free counterparts, arrowroot flour is made from a starchy tropical plant extract. Rich in potassium, iron, B-vitamins, and folate, studies indicate it may stimulate and boost immune function and help prevent birth defects. A versatile flour substitute that is often used as a thickener for pie fillings, jams, and sauces, it produces a crispy, crunchy product when used alone.
Brown Rice Flour
Made from ground brown rice, this nutty flavored alternative is a whole-grain flour, meaning it contains the bran, germ, and endosperm. High in protein and fiber (helping lower blood sugar levels), it is also rich in B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and ‘lignans’ – plant compounds that may help protect against heart disease. You will frequently find brown rice flour combined with other gluten-free varieties in bread and dessert recipes, as well as in noodle and sauce recipes. It is also frequently used to prepare breaded fish and chicken.
Made by grinding whole-grain oats and fast becoming another consumer favorite, flavorful oat flour lends a chewy, crumbly texture to recipes, however leaving the end product moister than you would expect. Bakers’ Tip: To compensate for its moist nature, you may have to adjust some ingredients in baking recipes. Nutritionally, it is best known for providing beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber with multiple benefits such as lowering LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and blood sugar/insulin levels. Oat flour is also rich in protein, magnesium, B-vitamins, phosphorus, and antioxidants.
Similar to cornmeal but a more finely ground version, corn flour is another whole kernel variety, containing the bran, germ, and endosperm. A good source of fiber and carotenoids that promote eye health, corn flour is high in vitamin B6, the antioxidant selenium, thiamine, manganese, and magnesium. It comes in both yellow and white varieties and is often used to make breads, tortillas, and pizza crusts. Corn flour combines well with other gluten-free flours and is also commonly used as a thickener for soups and sauces.
Coconut flour is high in fiber and healthy fats, helps stabilize blood sugar and may even help lower bad LDL cholesterol. It absorbs a lot of liquid, so you’ll only want to use about a quarter cup where you would use a whole cup of wheat flour. Coconut flour is a bit finicky, so you may need to experiment with your flour-to-liquid ratios. It also has a short shelf life so be sure to refrigerate any leftover baked goods.
Made from dried coconut meat and featuring a mild coconut flavor, coconut flour is an excellent choice for people with nut and gluten allergies. With plenty of fiber and high in the healthy saturated fat ‘lauric acid,’ (which may help reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol), it yields similar results to regular flour and is a good substitute for baking breads and desserts.
Tigernuts are in fact not ‘nuts’ but small root vegetables that grow in the Mediterranean and North Africa. If you are a foodservice provider looking to gain an edge over your competition, consider introducing your customers to tigernut flour as it is new on the grain- and gluten-free market yet bears multiple delicious benefits. It features a nutty flavor and slightly coarse texture that works well in baked goods. Moreover, its natural sweetness allows you to cut back on the amount of sugar called for in recipes. In terms of nutrients, a quarter cup of tigerflour contains 10 grams of fiber, which may help lower cholesterol levels, and it is rich in iron, phosphorus, potassium, healthy unsaturated fat, and vitamins C and E.
Typically used to thicken pies, soups, and sauces, or in combination with other gluten-free flours in bread recipes, tapioca flour itself has no discernable taste or flavor. It is made from a starchy liquid that is extracted from the cassava root and provides little nutritional value apart from its carbohydrate content. However, since its starch content functions like fiber, research indicates it may offer benefits such as lowering blood sugar levels, improving insulin sensitivity, and reducing hunger cravings.
Other Gluten-Free Flours
If you’re hungry for more flour substitutes to satisfy your gluten-free customers, be sure to check out the virtues of millet flour, potato flour, quinoa flour, chestnut flour, and (believe it or not!) the latest trending choice: cricket flour. And if you have worked up an appetite for a delectable nut-free, grain-free, and gluten-free recipe, here is one to get you started.
Easy Breezy Cassava Pancakes (yield: 6-9 pancakes)
- 3 medium eggs
- 1/4 cup dairy-free milk
- 1/4 cup avocado oil
- 1 tbsp. maple syrup
- 3/4 cup cassava flour
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs until well-beaten
- Mix in milk, oil, and maple syrup. Stir until completely blended
- Add the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda, mixing until a batter is formed
- Grease a large skillet over medium heat
- Drop in small circles of pancake batter, cook for 1-2 minutes on each side or until golden brown