Coconut flour is a popular alternative to regular flour because it’s relatively low in carbohydrates while being high in protein and fiber. It’s also naturally gluten-free. But it can be difficult to work with. So here’s what you need to know.
As the interest in grain-free diets continues to rise, many cooks are looking to find a replacement for all-purpose flour in their baking. But, before you switch out your flour, there’s a few things you should know.
What is coconut flour?
Coconut flour is a soft, naturally grain- and gluten-free flour produced from dried coconut meat.
It is a natural byproduct of coconut milk production. When producers press coconut for its milk, bits of coconut meat remains. They then dry the coconut meat at low temperature and grind it until it produces a soft, fine powder which is then suitable for baking.
Popular among those adhering to grain-restrictive diets such as paleo diets, GAPS , SCD and ketogenic diets, coconut flour can offer a gluten-free and protein-rich alternative to traditional grain-based flours.
What are the benefits of coconut flour?
Coconut flour is denser in many nutrients than traditional grain-based flours. It is also naturally gluten-free, so if you’re on a gluten-free diet by necessity or choice, you can enjoy it.
Coconut flour is fairly high in protein, fiber and fat, and relatively low in carbohydrates by comparison to other flours. A single serving of two tablespoons contains a whopping 5 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein as well as 1.5 grams of fat. It’s this combination of nutrients – fiber, protein and fat – that makes it so filling.
It is also exceptionally rich in manganese, an essential nutrient that is critical for many processes and functions within the body. Notably, manganese it helps to support bone health, and it helps your body better use other nutrients like choline and biotin. Even more, it acts as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient.
In addition to manganese, coconut also contains other trace minerals like iron, potassium, phosphorus, selenium and vitamin B6.
Baking with Coconut Flour
Coconut flour is commonly used in baking, particularly paleo, grain- and gluten-free baking. It can be used to make cakes, cookies, breads and muffins. While it is a versatile baking flour, it can be challenging to use, and you should rely on established recipes, especially if you’re new to baking with this alternative flour.
Coconut flour is particularly absorbent, and a very small amount of flour will absorb a very large amount of liquid. It also tends to have a drying effect on baked goods, because it is so absorbent. The best way to counteract its drying effect is to use plenty of eggs when you’re baking. The protein in egg whites helps to provide structure to baked goods while the yolks provide moisture.
Foods baked with coconut flour can often have a gritty texture, so it’s best to sift the flour thoroughly before you bake with it. Additionally, it’s good practice to separate your eggs, beating the flour with egg yolks and then beating the whites separately until they hold stiff peaks. You can then fold the whites into the egg yolk and flour mixture, and this improves the natural heaviness of many baked goods that use coconut flour as an ingredient.
Substituting Coconut Flour for All-Purpose Flour
Coconut flour is tricky to work with because it is not a grain-based flour. It’s not an easy substitute, so it’s best to use established recipes.
You can’t substitute coconut flour on a 1:1 ratio for all-purpose flour, or most other flours, but try to cut down the amount of flour to 1/4 of what you would normally use. In addition, every 1/4 cup coconut flour typically requires one egg for both moisture and structure. You may also need to increase other liquids in the recipe or make small adjustments to baking times.
Drawbacks to Using Coconut Flour
While coconut flour is dense in protein, fiber, fat and many micronutrients, it is also rich in salicylates. Salicylates are naturally occurring chemicals in many wholesome foods like strawberries, citrus and coconut.
Some people react negatively to salicylates, and they may exacerbate headaches and hyperactivity, or contribute to skin complaints like eczema. If you’re sensitive to these compounds, it’s best to avoid coconut and products made from it.
Coconut flour can also be gritty, and it can give everything that you bake a slight, but distinct coconut-like flavor. While this can be a pleasant experience where that flavor is desired, as in a coconut cake or muffin, in some recipes that flavor is undesirable. Mix it with other alternative flours for better and more balanced flavor.