Walking down the baking aisle has become an adventure in recent years, as the availability of different types of flours has proliferated. Given that baking is a science, it’s important to understand which ones you can (and can’t) substitute, how they work, and what they taste like.
Why Swap Flours?
Let’s face it: Though all-purpose flour is easy to use and versatile (hence the name), it isn’t the healthiest. It’s low in fiber and other nutrients and high in refined carbohydrates. Also, if you have celiac disease or are sensitive to gluten, any wheat flour is off the table.
Can I Swap In Any Other Flour?
Whether you can swap another flour in place of all-purpose, and how to do so, depends on the recipe; for example, baking and sauces require more precision than dredging. Some flours are fairly easy to swap, others just won’t work. Any time you set out to swap flours in a recipe, know that it may require some trial and error to get the result you want.
Here’s a cheat sheet of some common alternative flours and how to use them.
Unlike refined all-purpose flour, in which the outer part of the grain is removed, whole wheat utilizes all three parts of the grain (the endosperm, germ and bran). It’s higher in protein than all-purpose, so it yields heavier, denser results. In general, you can swap up to half of the all-purpose in a recipe with whole wheat.
Use it: In yeast and quick breads, muffins, pancakes, pie crust
White Whole Wheat
It looks similar to all-purpose, but it’s still whole wheat. While all-purpose and whole wheat flour come from hard red winter wheat, white whole wheat comes from lighter white spring wheat. White whole wheat flour is nutritionally similar to regular whole wheat but has a milder flavor. Swap one-third to half of the all-purpose in a recipe with white whole wheat.
Use it: In yeast and quick breads, muffins, pancakes, cookies and bars, pie crust
Related: How to Use Gluten-Free Flour
Made from an ancient grain that’s considered an ancestor to modern wheat, spelt is available both as whole grain flour and white flour. It has more fiber and protein than all-purpose and lends a sweet, nutty flavor. Though spelt is an ancient grain, it is a form of wheat and does contain gluten, so it isn’t appropriate for anyone with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. If you’d like to swap spelt for all-purpose, start with 25 percent; you may be able to substitute up to 50 percent depending on the recipe.
Use it: In any baked goods; bread, cake, muffins, pancakes/waffles, cookies and bars
This gluten-free flour is available in brown or white. Both offer some fiber and protein and lend a subtle, slightly sweet, nutty flavor. Some rice flours can be on the gritty side, so look for one that’s finely ground (such as Bob’s Red Mill). In order to swap for all-purpose flour, you would need to mix rice flour with a starch, such as arrowroot or tapioca. You can buy pre-made gluten-free flour mixes that combine flours and starches for you (again, Bob’s Red Mill offers a good, reliable one).
Use it: Rice flour is good for thickening sauces without making them too gloopy, and for dredging. It’s also good for all baking applications, but best to use a pre-made mix that combines it with other ingredients. It’s not a 1:1 swap on its own.
Here’s another gluten-free alternative. Lower in carbs and calories but higher in protein than whole wheat, this flour, as the name suggests, is milled from chickpeas. It’s dense, and gets stickier than all-purpose when combined with liquid; plus, it has a mild savory flavor. This is not a good swap for wheat flour, but it can be useful as an ingredient in a number of applications.
Use it: As a binder for veggie burgers, in batter for frying, as a base for a savory bread
Related: How to Choose Sugar Substitutes
This grain- and gluten-free flour is made from the root of the cassava plant (also known as yucca), and has a texture and mild flavor that’s very similar to all-purpose flour. (Note: Though cassava and tapioca are both made from yucca, they are not interchangeable.) Brands vary in terms of how much flavor the flour has (less is more if you want your baked goods to seem like their all-purpose counterparts; Otto’s is especially good) and how absorbent it is; though, generally, cassava absorbs more liquid than all-purpose flour. Though you can substitute ¾ cup cassava for 1 cup of all-purpose flour in most recipes, weighing cassava is recommended, because being off by even a little bit can yield dry results.
Use it: All baking applications, dredging, as a binder in veggie burgers
A staple in paleo and keto baking, almond flour is simply finely ground almonds, so it’s grain- and gluten-free. You’ll see it blanched or natural; the former means the skins have been removed. Sometimes natural almond flour is labeled almond meal. Blanched, very finely ground almond flour (Wellbee’s is a great brand) works beautifully in all kinds of baking applications; almond meal is better suited for breading. Almond flour is higher in calories, fat, protein and fiber than flour, and it’s also substantially lower in carbohydrates. Rather than trying to swap almond flour for all-purpose, it’s better to seek out recipes developed using almond flour.
Use it: In all baking applications, sweet or savory. It’s best combined with other grain-free flours and starches such as coconut flour, cassava and/or arrowroot; mixing it yields a lighter texture. Or you can buy a pre-mixed paleo flour, such as this one by King Arthur Flour
Another staple in paleo and keto baking, coconut flour is made from dried coconut meat that’s ground into a powder. Like almond flour, it’s naturally grain- and gluten-free. It’s also higher in calories, fat and protein than traditional flours, and it’s very high in fiber. Coconut flour is also highly absorbent, so a little goes a long way. It is not interchangeable with almond flour (a common rookie mistake). Coconut flour imparts a coconut flavor, and it can make baked goods very dense. It’s best to only use it in recipes designed for it. Like almond, coconut flour works especially well when blended with other grain-free flours.
Use it: Very sparingly, in most baking applications, sweet or savory