Need a flour substitute? There are many, but the best one depends on what you need it for.
Knowing which ingredients to use in place of flour can be tricky—especially since it tends to play such a prominent role in so many recipes. I mean, can you imagine baking bread without some sort of flour-like component?
Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to get around using flour, especially if you’re stuck at home in quarantine, like us, and just ran out.
“With less trips to the grocery store, we may be put in a position to substitute a product in a recipe because we do not have it at home or perhaps the grocery store may have run out. Flour can be substituted for items at home,” says Sharon Priya Banta, MS, RD, CDN at New York City Nutrition.
Here’s your expert guide to baking and cooking without flour by using flour substitutes during this trying time.
Related Reading: Where to Restock Pantry Staples Online
What Flour Is Used For—And How It Can Be Replaced
We’re guessing you’re familiar with flour. You probably know that it’s made from finely milled wheat and is typically found in all of our favorite carbohydrate-filled foods. It’s an essential ingredient in recipes used to make everything from cake to cookies, bread, biscuits, pizza crust, and more.
In baking, flour adds structure to the recipe. This is due to the proteins that are found in wheat flour, which when hydrated, react with one another to form gluten. As gluten is produced, it creates an elastic property in the batter, which then allows you to mold your dough into different forms.
Flour can also be used in small quantities as a thickening agent, or to create a crisp coating on fried foods.
Once you understand how and why flour is used, it’s time to get creative when looking for a substitute—or another food item that can lend your recipe some structure in a similar way to flour.
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The first step is to “go browse your pantry for anything that seems like it might work for that function. If, for example, you need flour for breading chicken, consider coating baked chicken with finely chopped pistachios, cereal flakes, or cracker crumbs,” says Jackie Newgent, a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and author of “The Clean and Simple Diabetes Cookbook.”
The Best Flour Substitute for Every Use Case
If you aren’t keen on experimenting with what you think might work, here are some surefire flour substitutes that nutrition experts recommend giving a try:
What to Use When Baking
DIY Oat Flour
“If you need flour for cookies, brownies, or cakes, grind up some rolled old-fashioned oats in a food processor to create DIY oat flour—then use 1 and 1/3 cups of oat flour in place of 1 cup of all-purpose (wheat) flour,” Newgent says. (Try this Oat Flour Pizza Crust recipe too.)
Related Reading: A Beginner’s Guide to Gluten-Free Flour
No Flour at All
This vegan and gluten-free Peanut Butter Trail Mix Cookie recipe doesn’t require flour or a substitute (just peanut butter and baking soda). Our Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies are also flour-free, but do require an egg.
Other Alternative Flours
Flour substitutes for baking bread are a bit trickier, but the internet is your oyster—you can find bread recipes using alternative flours of all kinds, including gluten-free options. But if your recipe calls for bread flour and all you have is all-purpose flour, simply use the AP flour instead (the same amount). Beware, though, that cake flour will not work, because it’s so low in protein.
What to Use if You Want to Thicken a Recipe
Mashed Veggies or Beans
“If you need flour for thickening soups or sauces, try plain mashed potatoes or pureed chickpeas,” Newgent recommends. In this case, you simply add these substitutes directly to your original recipe in place of flour until your dish reaches the desired consistency.
In some cases, however, this won’t work as well—so you can also use a cornstarch slurry, as you see in many Chinese recipes, including ma po tofu.
What to Use When Cooking Breaded or Battered Foods
Cereal or Cracker Crumbs, Nuts & Seeds
As Newgent mentioned before, when cooking a battered or breaded food, such as fish or chicken, you can try using cereal flakes, cracker crumbs, or finely chopped nuts, such as pistachios.
Additionally, if you are looking for a lower-sodium way to bread your protein, you can crush up flax seeds (or chia seeds) and mix with some herbs. This also works well as a bread crumb alternative.
What to Use When You Run Out of Pasta
Zucchini noodles, or “zoodles,” are a super popular, low-carb replacement for pasta. They are made from raw zucchini, which have been spiralized or cut into long, thin strips until they resemble spaghetti. People also sometimes make them out of other vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes. If you’ve never made them, here’s a Romesco Garlic Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles recipe that can help get you started.
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Other Common Flour Substitutes
While there are many flour substitutes out there, there are some that are more commonly used than others. “Gluten-free baking flour, almond flour, garbanzo bean [or chickpea] flour, and coconut flour” are frequently used flour substitutes, Newgent says.
Priya Banta’s “favorite” replacement for all-purpose (AP) flour is black beans. In addition to working as an effective substitute, it also “allows for a lower carb and higher protein option,” she says.
To use black beans in place of flour, use a 15-ounce can of drained, rinsed black beans and make them into a purée using your blender or food processor. That purée is then used in place of flour in whatever recipe you are making. If a recipe, for example, calls for one cup of flour, you’d then use one cup of black bean purée. See our Black Bean Brownie recipe for a vegan, gluten-free treat.
When replacing AP flour, you can also use spelt flour, which is made from dinkel wheat or hulled wheat. It’s “higher in protein,” and like black beans, it can replace flour cup for cup.
What to Do If You Have Allergies and Need a Flour Substitute
“If you have any allergies, food intolerance, or other dietary restrictions, be sure to check the ingredient list, since some flours, like gluten-free baking flour, are typically blends and are not from a single source,” Newgent says.
Priya Banta agrees with Newgent’s advice when it comes to choosing the right substitute if you have allergies. For instance, “people with celiac disease should use a gluten-free flour choice. Some common examples in this case include buckwheat flour, almond flour, and brown rice flour.”
Even if you don’t have allergies, when using AP flour substitutes, “the type of flour being used should be based on the dietary profile of the person,” Priya Banta says. “For example, replacing a flour for food allergies or as an opportunity to boost health, such as a high-protein flour or a lower carb choice. Keep the person consuming the final product in mind and select your flour variety accordingly.”