Freedom of choice is never something to take for granted. But when it comes to baking, the vast number of choices is enough to make you want to throw in the dish towel. For instance, will oatmeal flour vs. all purpose flour work as well as good old wheat flour?
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Oat flour is a worthy alternative, especially when it comes to nutritional value, but it doesn't behave quite the same as the old standard.
Oatmeal Flour Versus All-Purpose Flour
If you're into healthy baking, get to know oat flour. It's a bit harder to find than wheat flour, but it's a nutritional powerhouse that trumps refined wheat flour with its protein, fiber and mineral contents.
In one-third cup, whole-grain oat flour has 7 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, according to the USDA. Whole wheat flour measures up well against oat flour with 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber in one-quarter cup; however, a quarter-cup of refined wheat flour has 3 grams of protein and no fiber. Oat flour offers a little more iron and calcium than whole wheat flour, and both beat out refined wheat flour which has only trace amounts of minerals.
If you're watching your weight, oats are particularly rich in a kind of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which has been shown to increase satiety and be a useful addition to foods for controlling body weight and blood sugar, according to a review article published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism in December 2012.
Oats are generally gluten free, so they're perfect for those who have celiac disease or just want to cut out gluten. To be safe, look for a "gluten-free" label.
Baking With Oat Flour
You're convinced making the switch to oat flour is going to be good for your health, but how will it be for your cookies, cakes and pies? The absence of gluten definitely makes a difference in its ability to provide elasticity and structure. But all is not lost.
Oat flour has a texture that is more similar to whole wheat flour than to refined wheat flour. But it's actually light and absorbent, says Stella Parks, a Food & Wine 2012 "Best New Pastry Chef," and it's an essential addition for making fluffy gluten-free white and yellow cakes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, oat flour can give rustic bread a new lease on life. And, as if it needs saying, it's right at home in an oatmeal cookie.
Oat flour can be used to replace part or all of the wheat flour in most recipes. According to Bon Appetit, oat flour cannot be used on its own in baked goods that require gluten to help them rise slowly, such as yeast breads. In these recipes, you can substitute oatmeal flour for all-purpose flour in a ratio of 3 to 1, but you should also add a little more yeast.
Instead of xanthan gum, you can use glucomannan powder, made from the root of the elephant yam, also known as konjac. Glucomannan is a rich source of soluble fiber — the same kind in oats — and it's also been found to be effective at helping to reduce weight and control blood sugar, reports a research review in the Journal of Obesity in December 2013.
If you can't find oat flour, or you just like to DIY, you can make oat flour from whole oats at home. You just need a good blender or food processor.
- USDA: "Whole Grain Oat Flour"
- USDA: "Whole Wheat Flour"
- USDA: "Wheat Flour"
- FDA: "Questions and Answers on the Gluten-Free Food Labeling Final Rule"
- Food & Wine: "4 Tips for Baking with Oat Flour"
- Bon Appetit: "Oat Flour"
- Bob's Red Mill: "Whole Grain Oat Flour"
- USDA: "Xanthan Gum"
- Journal of Obesity: "Safety and Efficacy of Glucomannan for Weight Loss in Overweight and Moderately Obese Adults"
- Bob's Red Mill: "Gluten-Free Oat Flour"