What is Flour?
When we think of flour, typically wheat flour comes to mind, however, there are many different types of flour made from many different substances. Flour is simply a term for an item that is ground into a powdery form. Wheat flour is simply ground wheat. Almond flour is ground almonds, and coconut flour is ground coconut. I’ve been baking with these two flours for over a decade and am writing here to share all I’ve learned about them during this time!
What is Almond Flour?
Almond flour is blanched almonds that are ground, then sifted into a fine powdery flour. I adore almond flour. In fact, back in 2009, I wrote an entire book of almond flour recipes called The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook. Almond flour has a sweet flavor and rich buttery texture. It is high in fat and protein and fantastic for gluten-free baking as well as grain-free Paleo baking, and is a wonderful ingredient when it comes to making cookies, cakes, scones, and muffins. Almond flour also works well for breading (see my Paleo Chicken Parmesan and Paleo Cod Piccata recipes).
Almond flour is very different from almond meal. Almond meal is ground almonds that have NOT been blanched, the skin is left on. Almond meal does not work in my recipes, nor do certain brands of almond flour that are not very finely ground. Why? When you use a product that is not finely ground you will get a lumpy, uneven result, not a beautiful baked good that closely resembles its wheat flour counterpart.
What is Coconut Flour?
Coconut flour, a fantastic flour that yields very fluffy baked goods, is made from ground coconut. It is a bit more challenging to work with than almond flour. That’s because coconut flour is an incredibly “dry” flour. Like a sponge, coconut flour sops up a ton of moisture.
Baking with coconut flour can be confusing for those accustomed to baking with wheat flour. Why? Because a very small amount provides a very high yield of baked goods relative to wheat flour. I have a Paleo Chocolate Cupcake recipe that uses only ¼ cup of coconut flour combined with 4 eggs, ¼ cup and ¼ cup honey. Many people ask if the measurements in my coconut flour recipes are correct as they are so surprised to see ingredient ratios that are so heavily weighted toward wet ingredients.
Coconut flour does not yield crunchy baked goods as a stand alone flour, the way almond flour does. Coconut flour does however work incredibly well in cake and muffin recipes. Because coconut is not technically considered a nut, many people with nut allergies who cannot consume almond flour, can consume coconut flour. My second book Gluten-Free Cupcakes, contains dozens of recipes that use either coconut flour, almond flour, or a combination of the two flours. It’s a great book to refer to when baking for birthdays and other festive occasions. If you are looking for an easy nut-free birthday cake recipe, try my chocolate Paleo Birthday Cake, made with coconut flour. It is a family and fan favorite!
Almond Flour and Coconut Flour are Very Different
When it comes to Paleo baking I primarily use blanched almond flour (not almond meal) and coconut flour. Unfortunately, neither of these flours are a direct 1:1 substitute for wheat flour. While we’re on the topic of substitutions, I’m frequently asked by readers if they can use almond flour in place of coconut flour, and vice versa. Unfortunately, it is not possible to substitute almond flour for coconut flour, or coconut flour for almond flour in my Paleo baking recipes.
Unless you are very advanced in Paleo baking it is probably best to follow a recipe to the letter. Once you are an advanced Paleo baker, you’ll know quite well that if you substitute in a recipe that you are experimenting, and that there is a very good chance the experiment won’t work. So, if you want something that works, i.e., a gorgeous finished product, follow the recipe to the letter and use the recommended brands of ingredients, which I elaborate on below.
Almond Flour and Coconut Flour are Real Food
Almond flour and coconut flour are both wonderful real foods. As discussed, almond flour is made from blanched ground almonds, and coconut flour is made from ground coconut.
I do not use de-fatted flour in my recipes. First, because I do not want to eat a product that has the fat removed, and second, because these flours will not work in my recipes if their fat is removed. If you are buying de-fatted almond or coconut flour, you are purchasing an entirely different product than the products I use in my recipes. It would be like using apple juice in a recipe that calls for apples. Sure they’re both apple products, but can you imagine using apple juice to make apple pie? To put it simply, that won’t work.
Below is a comparison of the macronutrients found in both almond flour and coconut flour. Measurement is 100 grams (approximately 3.5 ounces) or just shy of 1 cup.
As you can see, almond flour is far higher in fat than coconut flour, making it superior for those following a ketogenic diet, or a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet. Additionally, coconut flour has far more carbohydrates than almond flour.
You alone will need to decide which is the better flour for you. Although my blog has hundreds of baked goods recipes, I rarely eat baked goods these days. I focus on consuming animal protein, healthy fats, and green vegetables. Foods such as starchy vegetables (squash, beets and carrots), fruit, and the above flours now make up a very small portion of the foods that I eat.
Using Paleo Baked Goods to Transition Away from SAD
Paleo Baking is fabulous for those transitioning from the SAD (Standard American Diet) to a Paleo diet. Eating baked goods that are made from real food, without artificial coloring, flavoring, and other chemical substances is a big step in the right direction for those concerned with diet and health.
Of course, research indicates that eating as few sweets as possible is the healthiest choice for most of us, especially those of us with weight issues or autoimmune conditions. Added sweeteners, even those that are natural sweeteners, such as honey, maple syrups and coconut sugar, can lead to weight gain and inflammation, so they are best avoided in totality.
However, switching from the SAD to a keto-Paleo diet, or LCHF diet is a big change that can take years. During my transition, I enjoyed having as many baked goods as I wanted, and found that simply switching from eating starchy flours such as wheat, and rice, to eating baked goods made with almond flour and coconut flour, greatly improved my health. Please remember when making a switch in your diet, that we are all biochemical individuals and need to make our transitions according to our own time tables! It also helps to choose an eating plan that is fulfilling and satisfying so that you can stick to it in the long run, rather than just a few weeks here or there.
On that note, I don’t believe in dieting, I believe in choosing a way to eat and adhering to it. I’ve been eating completely grain-free since 2001, (no rice, corn, potatoes, millet, quinoa, etc.), and that is a choice that has worked very well for me, given the health issues that I deal with day-in-and-day-out. I do this because eating this way makes me feel great –that’s a pretty big motivator for me! You’ll need to find a way of eating that works for you, as well as figure out what motivates you in your overall goals for healing.
Recommended Brands of Almond Flour and Coconut Flour
If you are familiar with my blog and books, you’ll know that there are certain brands of almond flour and coconut flour that work in my recipes, and other ones that don’t. And I mean, they don’t work at all. It’s not that I play favorites with different companies, this was all figured out by trial and error and chats back in the old days when I first started Elana’s Pantry with my readers.
Unfortunately, because almond flour and coconut flour are both relatively new ingredients on the mass market, there is quite a differential when it comes to product composition. Below are the brands that work in my recipes:
- Benefit Your Life (organic)
- Digestive Wellness (kosher)
- Honeyville Blanched Almond Flour
- JK Gourmet
- Lucy’s Kitchen Shop
- Aloha Nu Organic
- Benefit Your Life
- Tropical Traditions Coconut Flour
- Wilderness Family Naturals
Unfortunately, Bob’s Red Mill almond and coconut flours do not work in my recipes. Nor do the brands Let’s Do Organic and Coconut Secret.
If you want to dive into the world of Paleo baking, almond flour and coconut flour are great ingredients. They’re highly nutritious, easy to use, and make for fantastic Paleo baked goods and treats! For many, including myself, these grain-free flours are easier to digest than wheat flour, or starchy gluten-free flours such as rice flour, buckwheat flour, teff flour, or tapioca flour.
I discovered almond flour in 2001 and started using coconut flour a couple of years after that. My goal? To turn all of my favorite recipes from childhood into grain-free classics for my then toddler (newly diagnosed with celiac), who was following a strict grain-free diet.
If you’re looking for recipes using either of these flours, be sure to check out my almond flour recipes as well as my coconut flour recipes. If you are nut-free, take a look at my nut-free recipes. I hope you enjoy baking with these fantastic flours as much as I have for the last 15 years!