Weird Ingredients and Substituting

December 19, 2011

in Blog, My Philosophy, News, Facts, Fitness

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.

I’d love your comments below about how you feel about all these “different” ingredients, and what you’d probably be inclined NOT to use….I appreciate all your feedback!

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I'm Kristine Fretwell, busy mom of 2 little girls, author, blogger, and former pro fitness competitor. I love almost any kind of cookie, anything coconut or pumpkin flavored, and Thai food. A perfect day for me is enjoying my family, getting to the gym, and whipping up a new healthy recipe. I've got a collection of over 300 healthy recipes, and other tidbits like fitness and health tips. My recipes have been featured on websites such as Huffington Post, Savvy Mom, Shape and Skinny Scoop.
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Latest posts by Kristine (see all)

  • Jackie Odom Smith

    i’m not sure if your crumble is the same thing I call crumb topping (mine uses oatmeal, chopped pecans, on top of apples or blueberries, etc) but i have used virgin coconut oil in place of butter many times and it has always turned out good…very tasty. I have had good luck using it in many recipes. In some I use half butter and half coconut, in some just coconut oil. 
    I have enjoyed looking through your recipes and have printed out several to try. 
    I don’t and probably won’t use whey protein, but use most of the other ingredients you have listed. 

  • Roxanne

    Hi Kristine,
    I am from Canada and love using Becel Vegan margarine. It works very well in most recipes! I also use coconut flour, Whey protien powder, spelt flour, Quinoa flour( my favorite!) . One of my least favorite and often I donot use is coconut oil . I don’t like the way it melts down and soaks everything!I don’t think any of the ingredients you name are wierd. Just have to get used to the taste and texture of the healthier versions of the food. My son is a holistic nutritionist and a chef. Most of the products you name are his staples. 🙂 Thank you.

  • Kelli P

    Thanks for this! I have a question, tho. I thought palm oil was very bad for you? I had heard that somewhere, but can’t recall where.

    • Kristine Fretwell

      Hey Kelli! I think palm oil has gotten a bad rap like coconut oil, just because of the saturated fat content. But palm oil shortening is non-hydrogenated unlike typical vegetable shortening. Also, palm kernel oil is slightly more saturated than palm oil. But its still a much better choice than any kind of regular shortening or lard that has the trans-fatty acids.

    • Christina

      It’s probably the environmental issue you’ve heard about – a big reason many people avoid all palm products. Some countries (New Zealand and Australia) are fighting to ban it altogether, or at least have it well labeled on products.

  • Amy Madden

    I can find pretty much all the ingredients you listed except the Palm oil shortening and almond flour (Australia only has almond meal and it tends to make things kind of gritty). I love your recipes. Especially the one’s containing oats. I don’t think you’re using anything too strange 🙂

    • Kristine Fretwell

      Thanks for the feedback Amy! I’m having a hard time finding the palm shortening too, so not sure if I’ll use it. Glad to know you use almond meal too…if you find it too gritty, just throw it in your blender. That should help a lot.

  • Tracy

    What a great post!  You explained the different flours well, I’ve always wondered about coconut flour so this definately helps.  I love using coconut oil, I used it in place of butter for my snickerdoodle cookies and they turned out pretty good.  They were a little harder in consistency but still tasted good.  I blend my oats to make oat flour, it’s so easy!  I haven’t try almond meal yet but I’m anxious to give it a try.  The thing I like about your recipes is that you do keep the ingredients simple with things that people have on hand at home.  Thanks!

    • Kristine Fretwell

      Hi Tracy! Thanks, so glad you liked the post. I totally like to stick to the simple stuff. Thankfully things like coconut flour are available lots of places now. Not sure how much I’ll get into using it as its a tougher thing to work with, but oat flour and almond meal are super easy and work great!

  • Angela

    Hi Kristine!
    Great post! I love that you included whey protein in your list of ingredients because I bake with it all the time. I’m not really big into baked goods (I seem to have a bit of a sugar intolerance so anything really sweet makes me want to fall asleep!) but when I do, whey protein is usually involved. Like you, I also seem to have a love-hate relationship with dairy. Yogurt seems to be fine (YAY!) but I don’t do so well with cheese, butter and milk. Thanks for all the info on the different types of flours. I’ve been curious about trying them but wanted to know a bit more about how they compare, so this was very informative! Have a fantastic day!

    • Kristine Fretwell

      Thanks Angela! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!

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