I remember when I first dabbled in the grain-free world that I was confused by all of the new ingredients that were required of me. It was almost like starting all over again with baking and a lot of cooking and I honestly had no idea what some of the ingredients were. So to help any of you that might be confused in all this Paleo mumbo jumbo, I want to start this series about ingredients you might find when approaching a way of eating like this.
First up is coconut flour. I chose this one because it was the very first grain-free flour I had experience with and it’s probably the least similar to wheat flour, therefore a bit of a mystery when you don’t know how to use it.
What is it?
Coconut flour is actually just ground up dried coconut meat. You can make it at home if you want using shredded coconut (and get coconut milk out of the process too), but I typically just buy mine online (I have been using Anthony's because it's inexpensive and I love the consistency). It should be a kind of creamy, off-white colored powder with some clumps in it. It amazingly enough doesn’t taste very coconutty, which is great when you are trying to make a pumpkin muffin and don’t want it to be a “coconut” pumpkin muffin.
It is super high in fiber, ringing in at 11 g of fiber per ounce, which actually makes it the highest fiber of any flour. The majority of this fiber is a type called inulin fiber, which can cause gas, bloating, and other GI symptoms in some people. So if you eat a coconut flour baked good and experience any of these symptoms afterwards, you might want to either avoid it or start with smaller amounts and work up to more.
There is also some protein in this flour, at 5.5 g per ounce, which I have found causes me to get fuller off of less (the fiber probably plays a role in this too). For example, if I have maybe 2 small silver dollar sizes coconut flour pancakes I am satisfied. Whereas back in my wheat flour days I’d have to have a plate sized stack. And even when I have almond flour pancakes I seem to want more than I do with coconut flour ones.
It is also a pretty dense flour and it soaks up liquid like a sponge. However, this can be an advantage because you don’t need to use as much of it. But if you don’t get the ratio of liquid correct it can be extremely dry. Like extremely dry, bleh bleh, get of my tongue dry.
If you are used to buying regular wheat flour, you might be a bit shocked at the sticker price of coconut flour. It is definitely more expensive than a lot of flours, but due to the not needing to use as much it kind of evens out. You probably use roughly ¼ of the amount of coconut flour than you would with a wheat flour, so it’s not nearly as bad if you multiply that bag of wheat flour’s price by 4.
How do you use it?
So because you use a lot less of it than you do with wheat flour, and because it is such a thirsty sucker, you need to approach using it a lot different than you would with a regular wheat flour. Liquid is your friend in a baked good. Usually in the form of eggs. When baking with coconut flour you generally will want about 1 egg to 1 ounce of coconut flour. However, this can range quite a bit depending on other ingredients you are using and sometimes you need additional liquid and sometimes you don’t (like my AIP Lavender Shortbread Cookies for example have NO liquid nor eggs). So I recommend that if you are new to this whole coconut flour baking thing, use some tried and true recipes first and then start experimenting with ratios a bit. Unless you happen to have a ton of time and money, in which case, have at it and let me know your results! (One recipe that adheres to the typical need for eggs is this one that I've loved for years: Coconut Flour Waffle recipe by Cara Comini of Health, Home, & Happiness)
Because coconut flour can be clumpy I also recommend that you either sift it (I just use a regular wire mesh colander), whisk it, or break up the big clumps with your hands before adding to your recipe. Let me tell you, it is not fun biting into a warm muffin and getting a big clump of dry dry coconut flour. Once you add it to the other ingredients I also recommend mixing pretty well. You will notice when mixing up batter for a coconut flour baked good that it is very sticky and doesn’t pour like other batters will. Most times you will have to take a spoon and scoop bits of the batter into your muffin tins, bread pan, griddle, etc and then flatten down a bit. Rest assured it will still puff up and bake like a typical baked good would, but it’s a bit disconcerting the first few times making it.
When using it for other applications, like a coating on some fish or chicken, you can use it pretty much 1:1 for wheat flour. For example, a quick dinner idea is to mix a ½ cup of coconut flour, some salt, pepper, garlic salt and paprika into a bowl, dredge some boneless, skinless chicken thighs in a beaten egg, dip it in the coconut flour mixture and cook in a pan with melted coconut oil until done (flipping once).
Where to get it
I get mine from Anthony's on Amazon. I used to get Tropical Traditions, which is also great, but it was twice as expensive. Either one are very consistent in quality and “clumpiness” so I know what to expect. There are also brands now in the grocery stores and even at Costco that I have noticed, and some I have tried, but I just personally seem to be drawn more towards the Anthony's and Tropical Traditions ones. However, just like the recipes themselves, I encourage you to try a few different types and find one that you like.