Almond flour is a type of flour that is usually made from blanched sweet almonds. The flour is sometimes referred to as almond meal, but almond flour and almond meal are two different products. Almond meal can be made from blanched or whole almonds and has a grainier texture. Both almond meal and almond flour are naturally gluten-free, so they are often used by those who have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Using almond flour for baking and cooking may pose a slight challenge for those who are new to a gluten-free lifestyle. It can be used instead of tradition flour with a flour to almond flour ratio of 1:1, but depending on the flour you choose it may alter your recipe slightly. However, there are benefits to using this flour alternative for those who avoid gluten or for anyone interested in enjoying a healthier diet.
Types of Almond Flour
Much of the almond flour that you find in the store is made from blanched almonds. But unblanched almond flour is also available. You can use the two interchangeably but there are some key differences to note.
- Blanched almond flour has a smoother texture because the skin of the almond is removed during the blanching process.
- Unblanched almond flour is made from the whole almond, skin and all. As a result, the flour has a rougher texture and may also have brown specks throughout.
You will find that blanched almond flour is a far more tenable product in the kitchen, especially where baking is concerned. Blanched almond flour is likely to produce lighter, fluffier, softer baked goods. Using unblanched almond flour can change the appearance and texture of baked goods due to the darker color of the flour and courser texture.
Almond Flour Benefits
Almonds are widely touted for their health benefits. For instance, studies suggest that the nuts contain phytochemicals and nutrients that may boost heart health. But what about the benefits of almond flour? There are certain advantages to cooking with it, especially for those who need to maintain steady blood sugar levels.
- It is not a grain-based flour and therefore does not possess the carbohydrate content of its competitors.
- Almonds are a tree nut and high in proteins and natural fats.
- Almonds are low on the glycemic index
The fats contained in almond flour are unsaturated and essential for the human body, making almond flour a guilt-free gourmet fundamental in your kitchen. Almond flour is also keto-, vegan-, and paleo-friendly.
How to Start Cooking with Almond Flour
When first learning to use almond flour as your main base in recipes, it is best to use recipes specifically designed for this flour. As you start experimenting with almond flour, you'll discover for yourself how well it works in your traditional recipes. It does work particularly well in certain types of baked goods such as:
Keep in mind that almond flour produces very dense, rich baked goods. So your recipes for crispy, thin cookies won't work as well with almond flour, but your recipe for chocolate cake will.
When cooking with almond flour, it is the fat content that influences your dishes and baked goods. The fat in almond flour helps replace the soft elastic qualities of wheat gluten. Though almond flour cannot precisely replicate the texture of glutinous wheat flours, it will provide your foods with more moisture than a light dry product such as white rice flour.
Because of its fat content, you may be able to eliminate ingredients such as dairy or eggs from your recipes, without consequences. Just work in a little additional "liquid" fat like softened coconut oil and some full fat coconut cream. It will still hold together and bake well even without eggs. It also works well as a "breaded" coating for foods like chicken tenders or vegetables. The moist qualities of almond flour are one of the major perks of using a tree nut-based flour.
Many gluten-free recipes use a blend of flours, rather than a single flour to help replicate the taste of traditional baked goods. Almond flour stands up well on its own, but it can also be blended with a few other wheat flour substitutes to get even better results. Try blending almond flour with:
- Coconut flour
- Tapioca starch
- Whey powder
Almond flour does not need xanthan gum to help it hold together. Xanthan gum is a food additive that is commonly found in flour. Some gluten-free cooks add xanthan gum to recipes to get the thickening or binding effects usually provided by flour. However it can cause bloating or gas in some people. But since almond flour doesn't need this binder, people that are sensitive to it may find that replacing xanthan gum with almond flour in their baked goods may work as an alternative.
Though traditional wheat flours can be stored in airtight containers for lengthy periods of time, almond flour is different. Much like quinoa and soy flours, almond flour needs to be refrigerated and kept from light. Almonds contain delicate monounsaturated fats that are threatened by exposure to both light and air. These elements speed up the rate at which almond flour becomes rancid, so proper storage protocol is necessary in order to keep your product fresh. If you find you have a large amount of almond flour left over after baking, freeze it to protect its freshness.
Tips for Baking With Almond Flour
Once you get started, you'll find that using almond flour for baking really isn't all that different than baking with regular flour. Follow some of these tips to help make your baking a success.
- Avoid high temperatures. Almond flour baked goods have a tendency to burn easily as they cook very quickly. Use low temperatures and check on them starting a few minutes before the recipe says they will be done.
- If the flour you are using is too coarse, pulse it through the food processor or run small batches through a coffee grinder until it gets lighter in texture.
- Measure your almond flour by scooping and leveling, rather than pouring. The way it settles can make a big difference in the amount you actually add to your recipe.
- Use a light hand with risers. Baking soda and baking powder will provide you with a lighter product, but a little goes a very long way with almond flour baked goods.
- Use parchment paper or silicone baking cups whenever possible. Almond flour baked goods stick easily.
Almond Flour Recipes
There are numerous places you can find almond flour recipes. A few good resources include:
- Elana's Pantry: Elana's Pantry is filled with almond flour recipes, and includes a cookbook of nothing but almond flour desserts.
- The Urban Poser: This site is filled with almond flour recipes that are also dairy and egg free.
- The Minimalist Baker: This is not a gluten-free site, but it does contain many good almond flour recipes.
Lastly, remember that converting to almond flour can take some time to get right. But once you get the hang of it, the sweet, nutty taste and texture that almond flour brings will quickly become your new favorite. Give almond flour a try the next time you start baking and taste the difference it brings.