Truth be told, I actually don’t think the following ingredients are “weird” at all…they’re normal to me, but comparing to conventional ingredients, I guess some people would.
I’ve been struggling lately, trying to decide what ingredients to use in recipes. I don’t want to turn people off by using weird ingredients that nobody is interested in buying or using. I want my recipes to be easy and NOT intimidating. I feel if they become that, I’m not doing what I was set out to do…easy and simple, yet healthy. I define healthy as no white flour, no white sugar, limited processed ingredients and artificial sweeteners.
Oat Flour: This ingredient has been a standard in my recipes from the beginning. So I won’t be kicking it out the door anytime soon. I find it very versatile. I also feel better baking with it (digestion-wise). When I make muffins and snacks for my family during the week, its typically a recipe that contains oat flour.
Whey Protein: Another staple in most of my recipes. Its not always possible to use it in everything (especially desserts) as it can produce a very different texture. I find it works best in muffins and protein bars. I’ve also had some success lately using them in healthier Blondies, but they are borderline muffin-like. Adding whey protein makes it a more balanced snack. Since I got more involved in fitness, I learned the importance of protein and that I wasn’t getting enough as I should. Having it in recipes is a great way to sneak it in. I’ve found I’ve been able to maintain a semi-lean and fit physique by keeping my protein intake on the higher side.
Spelt Flour: Whole wheat flour really doesn’t agree with me, so the closest you’ll see me get is spelt flour (which is technically a relative of wheat). It is considered a non-wheat alternative, but still contains gluten. I have it in a few recipes. Depending on which recipe, you could probably substitute for a wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, or maybe even oat flour. I try not to use it that often though.
Almond Flour/Almond Meal: I’ve been getting more adventurous with this in the last 5-6 months. I like the idea of grain-free baking, since going grain-free can have many health benefits including reducing inflammation (which can cause many health issues). It does make a recipe higher in fat (naturally), but also lower in carbs. I see it as a win, as long as its not too high in fat.
If you’ve ever seen any recipes from Elana’s Pantry (great site and books!), you’ll know that she says to use a specific type of almond flour for her recipes. It must be blanched almond flour, and she recommend specific brands, or else she can’t guarantee the recipe will be as good.
I’ve got another route using almond flour. I find the blanched almond flour to be really expensive, so I make my own using regular raw almonds. I get the big bag from Costco and grind it in my big Ninja (blender).
So when you see almond flour/almond meal in my recipes, I’ve made it like that. You should see in brackets that I say (ground up raw almonds in your blender).
Another quick note about almond flour/meal. Almond ‘flour’ usually means from blanched almonds ground into a fine flour. Almond ‘meal’ is ground up almonds (raw or blanched). Almond meal is not as fine as almond flour would be. The consistency I get from grinding my own is more like almond meal.
Coconut Flour: This is by far, the most challenging ingredient of the bunch. I love how its high fiber, lower fat and low carb. But, its very challenging to bake with, if its the only flour you’re using in a recipe. It soaks up liquid like a sponge, and its impossible to have a low fat recipe with coconut flour as your primary flour.
One book I’ve been referencing is Cooking with Coconut Flour by Bruce Fife, which is basically the bible for cooking with coconut flour. But what I don’t like – cake recipes call a dozen eggs, and quick breads, half a dozen. Yes, you need to add whole eggs and some sort of fat (butter, coconut oil, etc) to make it edible. That’s why it won’t be low fat. I’ve had better luck baking with an almond flour/coconut flour combo (see my recipe for Grain-Free Berry Muffins) While they aren’t as good as a muffin with oat flour, for grain-free, they are pretty darn good!
Brown Rice Flour: You may have also seen this in many gluten free recipes (but only a couple of mine). I’m not that big of a fan, as it tends to taste gritty when its the only flour used. I prefer brown rice flour mixed with another type of flour.
Coconut Oil: I’ve also been using this for a while, and find it works great! I also like the health benefits. It won’t always work since it lends a coconut flavor. In cookies and crumbles I’m still more confident using butter (or margarine for non-dairy). I tried coconut oil in a crumble topping and it didn’t work. It melted it to mush and made the topping soggy. But its great for a lot of other things, so you’ll continue to see it in recipes from time to time.
Other Weird Things I’m Considering: Palm oil shortening. I’ve seen it in other grain-free recipes. I assume it would hold up better than coconut oil. Its non-hydrogenated like typical shortening, and isn’t made of soybean oil. Perhaps it would work well in a crumble topping? It would be a vegan, non-dairy alternative to butter in recipes. Although, if you can use butter in recipes, you honestly can’t beat the taste.
Me and Dairy….
I have a love-hate relationship with dairy. Whey is ok for me as its lactose free, but yogurt is usually a no (which sucks because I’d love to eat non-fat greek yogurt all day long), and butter is a so-so thing for my stomach. Small amounts are ok (like in a recipe), but cream sauces with butter would make my stomach a very unhappy camper.
I’ve been liking using Earth Balance (a vegan margarine), but it contains soy. Although, they do have a soy-free version. I’ve also tried Becel Vegan (I think this may only be in Canada) and that tastes good too, and works well in recipes.
I often get asked about substitutions, and I totally understand it needs to be done sometimes due to allergies, preferences or what you have on hand. But you need to be warned, if you’re not following the recipe to a tee, I have no idea how it will turn out. Baking with some of these ingredients is difficult and they aren’t always interchangeable. So please don’t blame the recipe for not being good. Its not its fault 😉 It wasn’t made how it was meant to. I don’t have the time to test a recipe with 4-5 different variations, so its up to you whether you want to risk it.
Examples: Leaving whey protein out of a recipe. It may work, but I’ve added extra liquid in that recipe to compensate for the whey protein as it tends to really dry things out. So you may end up with something that doesn’t bake properly.
Omitting eggs for flax eggs (1 Tbsp ground flax mixed with 2 Tbsp warm water). Flax eggs are an option for people with egg allergies, but I’ve never tried using flax eggs in any of my recipes. Since many of them call for up to 5 egg whites, using 5 flax eggs would totally chance the outcome and make it taste really flax-y.
I’d love to hear if you make substitutions and it works. That way, I know if someone asks, its doable. So please comment on the recipe at the bottom of the page. I’m sure others would thank you for the feedback too!
So as you can see, its not always a simple swap out. I spend a lot of time testing recipes and having yucky outcomes to know this. It really is a science experiment. When I post a recipe, I’ve tested it at least 1-2 times and myself and hubby give it a two thumbs up on taste to share it with all of you.