The world of keto baking can be a daunting one, as you need to replace most of the major components of classical baking in order to remove nearly all of the carbohydrates from what you're making. Replacing sugar may change the taste of a dessert, but it's the binding and structuring powers of gluten—found in the common wheat flour we otherwise use ubiquitously—that requires particular finessing. Too often keto baked goods are missing the elements we most want in our food, from a soft crumb in cakes to bread that won't crumble to bits when you make a sandwich.
In this guide, we'll walk you through not only which flours can be used in cooking and baking on a keto diet thanks to a low carb count, but also some tips about how to use them so that you get results that live up to the ones you're hoping for. Note that because none of these flours contain gluten, they can't ever be substituted cup for cup with white flour to recreate classic recipes, although in the right combinations they can help you make delicious keto dishes and desserts.
The most widely used flour for keto baking is almond flour, which is made of nuts that have had their shells removed. Taking off the shells gets rid of the brown flecks that would otherwise be present; when not removed, ground almonds are known as almond meal. Almond flour is also a version of almond meal, but in addition to the shells being removed, it has been ground more finely. In a pinch, almond meal can be substituted without much issue, but for best results, you'll want almond flour. Specifically, products notated as "superfine" will be best as they're the least gritty.
Almond flour is great for creating a soft crumb in cakes and bread and is an ideal choice as a breadcrumb substitute for coating protein or bulking up items like meatballs. Due to the fine crumb it offers, you can use it alone in muffins and quick breads provided you have other ingredients such as eggs to create structure. For the very best structure, however, you'll want to use almond flour in conjunction with coconut flour.
Low in carbs but high in protein and fiber, coconut flour is made by grinding dried coconuts. "Dry" is the operative word here: coconut flour has a soft, somewhat silky texture, but it absorbs moisture like a sponge. You'll notice that if a keto recipe calls for only coconut flour as the flour component, there are probably a great many eggs being used. Eggs are the perfect balance for coconut flour because they add moisture but the coconut flour can't fully absorb them like it does water. Because of this, making vegan keto goods with just coconut flour can be tricky and an egg replacer should be employed. Coconut flour has some binding power on its own.
Due to how dry and absorbent it is, coconut flour is usually used along with almond flour, which when used alone creates a good crumb but has no binding power at all. For muffins, cakes, cookies, quick breads, and more, a ratio of one cup of almond flour to 1/4 cup of coconut flour will create consistently successful products.
If you prefer a finer crumb than almond flour can ever achieve, coconut flour is the best choice—just don't skimp on the eggs!
Absorbent in a wholly different way than coconut flour, flax meal errs on the gluey side. The mucilins on the skin of its seeds, which are ground whole to make flax meal, give it a slimy texture when exposed to liquid. That's why it's often used as an egg replacer in vegan goods: it has strong binding power. When using flax meal in a recipe, you'll want to choose golden over dark or non-labeled, unless you don’t mind your item turning the color of rye bread.
Flax meal cannot be used alone to create most baked goods, though it can be used to make a flatbread that holds up well to sandwiches. In keto cooking and baking, your best use for flax meal will be as a binding agent, adding a tablespoon or two of it to recipes that call for other flours. Because of its gritty texture, it may be noticeable and can detract from otherwise smooth textures when used in larger quantities.
Also used as a vegan egg replacer, ground chia offers binding power and has a gluey texture when exposed to liquid. Its dark grey color prevents it from being used in lightly colored recipes, and its heavy texture renders it unappealing as a stand-alone flour (though there are recipes in existence that call for it to be used as such). Chia meal is excellent as a thickening agent: you can thicken soups with it like you would a roux, or add it to a breadcrumb mix. It has a slightly bitter taste, so it's best used sparingly in anything sweet.
Not to be confused with oat flour, made by grinding whole oats, or oat bran, which is ground oats plus the hulls, oat fiber is a ground version of just the oat's husks. It's an insoluble fiber, which means that your body can't process it and it moves through you without carbohydrate absorption. It's useful as a bulking agent and can provide additional structure to foods made with other keto flours or used to add bulk to meatloaves or keto breadcrumb mixes. Because it soaks up liquids so well and is a form of fiber, it's very important to both use it with enough liquid and to drink enough water yourself when eating it. Otherwise, it can create digestive blockages.
Psyllium Husk Powder
Best known not as a baking flour but as an ingredient in constipation-relieving products like Metamucil, psyllium husk is best used in small quantities. This is because, not surprisingly, too much of it can create different digestive problems than the one it's used to resolve. Like chia and flax, it has binding properties. It becomes gelatinous in liquid, and due to its texture being smoother than either of those, it can hold together items like breads without creating grittiness. It's also beige in color, making it easier to incorporate appearance-wise than either flax or chia. That said, it can be tricky to work with: some brands may turn purple when baked, and when mixed with eggs it can result in items having an odd odor.
Other Keto Flours
There are other flour products available that are also keto, such as hazelnut flour and sunflower meal, but they are difficult to find and haven't been worked with—and subsequently troubleshot—nearly as much as the above flours. Keto flours may be more complex than wheat flour, but with the right ratios, you can make excellent items that hold together well and have great texture. Just be sure to follow recipes closely and to work with keto or low-carb recipes rather than altering classic ones. When you learn which products and ratios you enjoy most, you'll be amazed at how close to the "real thing" keto baked goods can be.