Almonds arrived in Mediterranean Europe from Asia via the ancient Silk Road trading route, then traveled to the New World with Spanish missionaries in the 1700s. According to the Almond Board of California, that state's growers now produce 80 percent of the world's almonds, with the sweet nut beloved around the globe.
As gluten-free, paleo, keto, and other specialty diets become more common, options for alternative flours such as almond flour are proliferating in the baking aisles of grocery stores. While it's convenient to grab a bag, many products, especially those made from nuts, can spoil rapidly; that's why it makes sense (and saves cents) to make almond meal at home.
What Is Almond Flour?
It's common to see the terms "meal" and "flour" used interchangeably, but meal technically refers to a coarser grind, an easier result to achieve at home, and flour is finer. You can make almond meal and flour in recipe-specific quantities at a fraction of the cost of store-bought. The process requires almonds, a coffee bean grinder, and a flour sifter; it takes less than 5 minutes.
Almond flour is a key ingredient in marzipan, frangipane, macarons, and many fruit tart recipes. It makes a delicious substitute for wheat flour in gluten-free baked goods but it also adds nice flavor and texture when swapped out for breadcrumbs in savory recipes. For the Jewish holiday of Passover, almond flour often replaces wheat flour in cakes, cookies, and other desserts served during the week-long observation.
How to Make and Use Almond Flour
You can use whole raw almonds for a darker, more rustic meal, or blanched almonds with the skins removed, which produce a lighter-colored and more finely textured flour. Start with about 1/2 cup and follow these simple steps:
- Pulse the almonds several times in a clean electric coffee bean grinder. Process the nuts until you see medium-fine grounds, similar in texture to cornmeal. Whole almonds take much longer to grind than slivered or sliced ones, so keep an eye on what you're doing.
- Transfer the ground almonds to a clean flour sifter and push it through into a bowl; return any large pieces to the grinder and pulse again. Sift the remaining almond meal into the bowl.
If you don’t have a coffee grinder, you can use a food processor. However, it's best to freeze the nuts before you grind them, which helps prevent over-processing, resulting in nut butter or paste instead of meal.
Almond flour can be substituted for a portion of the wheat flour in many baked goods, but for gluten-free baking, you can replace the wheat flour completely with almond flour in treats such as cookies and bars, which don't rely on gluten to provide structure the way bread does.
What Does It Taste Like?
Almond flour tastes, naturally, of almonds. It adds subtle sweetness, moistness, and texture to baked goods.
Recipes Using Almond Flour
Once you begin using almond flour in recipes, you will see its versatility. The high-fat nut flour, when substituted for a portion of the wheat flour in a recipe, adds moisture to baked goods. But it can also be found on ingredients lists for many savory dishes.
Where to Buy Almond Flour
If you prefer to purchase prepared almond flour, look for it with the specialty flours in well-stocked grocery stores or natural foods stores. You can also order it online.
The high oil content of nuts makes them susceptible to spoiling; increased oxygen exposure once they're ground can quickly lead to a rancid flavor and odor. For best results, use almond flour immediately. If you need to store it, keep it in an airtight container in a dark and dry location for a few weeks or tightly sealed in the freezer for up to three months.
Almond Flour vs. Almond Meal
Although they can usually be used interchangeably, nut meal and nut flour are two different ingredients. While nut meal is made by simply grinding nuts, the finer texture of a true nut flour requires a more complex process since too long of a grind time turns nuts into butter. Commercial nut flour producers press some of the oil from the nuts first, forming a cake that can be ground into a consistency similar to wheat flour.