While I’d give most pre-packaged gluten-free flour mixes a firm shake of the head for their empty carb content and (at times) filler ingredients, there’s one I’d recommend as a paleo/Primal and low-carb staple: coconut flour.
The obvious benefit is that it’s gluten-free, but it also has a respectable dose of fat, protein and fiber as well as a pleasantly sweet taste. In this post, I’ll explore some of the nutritional benefits of coconut flour along with the many ways in which it can be used.
As far as flours go, coconut flour is relatively high in nutrients—a fact that sets it a cut above the rest.
Lab analyses show that coconut flour is 60% fiber; 56% insoluble and 4% soluble. That’s considerably more fiber than almost every other flour on the market, including the other major paleo contender, almond flour.
Unlike most of the grain-based flours on the market, all the indigestible fiber in coconut flour makes for a surprisingly low glycemic product. In fact, multiple studies show that adding coconut flour into traditionally high-glycemic products like macaroons, carrot cake, granola bars and multigrain loaf helped to significantly lower blood sugar spikes after eating.
And whether you have diabetic tendencies or not, using a flour that doesn’t send your blood sugar levels through the roof is definitely a good thing.
Research shows that coconut flakes (made as part of coconut flour production) can significantly reduce LDL cholesterol and serum triglycerides in those with moderately high cholesterol levels.
While the research is a little thin regarding the phytic potential of coconut flour (and coconuts in general), preliminary trials indicate that it’s nothing to be concerned about—certainly not when compared to nut and grain flours. As a case in point, this study showed that coconut flour additions to baked goods didn’t impact mineral availability, which is the key concern when it comes to phytates.
Coconut flour contains a decent dose of lauric acid, a fatty acid often present in high saturated fat content foods. As a precursor to monolaurin, lauric acid can aid in the inhibition of pathogenic species in the body, ward off certain forms of acne, and support a healthy cardiovascular system.
While almond flour, the main contender for paleo flour dominion, has a lot more fat, most of it is pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
When it comes to baking or culinary creations in general, no one flour is the same. Most of us have spent most of our lives eating and working with wheat flour, which has drastically different qualities to, say, almond flour, which again is completely different to coconut flour.
It’s best to adapt your expectations and approach when dealing with coconut flour for the first time. Know that the flour has its own unique features that require certain recipe adaptations.
Coconut flour is more sponge-like than most other flours. Due to its high fiber content, coconut flour tends to suck up any liquids (water, milk, etc.) it comes into contact with, which runs the risk of drying out your recipe if you’re not careful. For this reason, coconut flour isn’t a 1:1 substitute for regular wheat or gluten-free flour. Recipes designed with coconut flour generally include more liquid to compensate for the added fiber content.
These recipes also typically call for more eggs as well. While the gluten in regular wheat flour acts as a binding agent, eggs play that role in the absence of gluten for coconut flour.
Finally, I’m partial to the sweeter taste of coconut flour, but it also means that it might not be a great option if you’re looking for a more neutral flavor. In those cases, mixing or substituting with a blander flour, like almond flour or rice flour, might be the wiser course of action.
Coconut flour definitely excels in certain culinary applications while falling short in others. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of baked goods that work well with coconut flour.
Technically, you can add coconut flour to plenty of other baked recipes, like pancakes, waffles, buns and crepes…but in these cases I find that coconut flour becomes a little too heavy and can take over the recipe. In these scenarios, consider making a blend of coconut flour and another, lighter flour (e.g. one part coconut flour to four parts almond flour—or rice flour if you’re gluten-free but not paleo/Primal).
Aside from baking, coconut flour does provide a good flour substitute in certain savory dishes. These include:
Finally, although coconut flour is definitely one of the healthier flours, it’s no replacement for real food. Coconut flour should be a minor addition to regular recipes or an occasional treat in baked goods, rather than something you base your daily eating around. Use it wisely, and enjoy!
Thanks for reading, folks. What’s your stance on coconut flour? Any stand-out coconut flour recipes that you feel compelled to share? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.