What is Coconut Flour?

Buying, Cooking, Recipes

Coconut Flour

Coconut flour is gluten-free flour alternative made by grinding dried coconut into a powder. It can be used to replace some of the wheat flour in a recipe, or combined with other gluten-free flours to make a gluten-free flour blend.

Fast Facts

  • Made from dried coconut meat
  • Gluten-free
  • Can replace up to 20 percent of the flour in a recipe
  • Has a distinct coconut flavor

What is Coconut Flour?

Coconut flour is a fine, soft powder made by grinding dried coconut meat into a flour. It can be used in a variety of recipes as a substitute for wheat flour, but only up to around 20 percent or so. In other words, you can't make a baked good using 100 percent coconut flour. It's usually made from the coconut meat that is left over after manufacturing coconut milk

It has a soft, powdery texture and white color, as well as a distinct flavor and aroma of coconut. That means it might work in certain recipes where the flavor of coconut will be acceptable, but not in others. And of course, if you don't care for the flavor of coconut at all, then this flour substitute might not be for you.

Also, when cooking with coconut flour, you can't expect it to behave in the same way as a conventional wheat flour, or even a gluten-free flour. That's because ordinary flours, whether they're made from wheat or some sort of gluten-free grain like rice, sorghum or corn, are all primarily starch, so they absorb liquid like starch, gelatinize like starch, and bind with proteins such as eggs in more or less the same way. 

Coconut flour, on the other hand, isn't made from a grain, so it's not primarily a starch. Coconuts are fruits, of a type known as drupes, along with mangos, apricots, cherries, olives and peaches, and the "meat" of the coconut is the endocarp of the fruit, which is analogous to the fleshy segments of an orange, or the fibrous part of an apple at its core. Thus, cooking with dried, ground coconut powder is like cooking with dried ground up apple cores. Its bulk consists mostly of fiber, not starch. Moreover, because it's dried, it has a tendency to absorb more water than grain flours or even nut flours.

How To Cook With Coconut Flour

Just because something isn't a starch doesn't mean it can't be used in baking. Nut flours, like almond flour, for instance, are often used in gluten-free baking, sometimes up to 50 percent of a recipe. Coconut flour, on the other hand, is best limited to about 25 percent of a recipe's total flour. That's mostly because of how much liquid it absorbs. When cereal grains absorb water, the starches gelatinize, but when coconut flour absorbs water, it simply turns soggy. That liquid is eventually cooked away, but because it soaks up so much liquid, it essentially deprives the other starches in the recipe from absorbing their fair share, so the overall recipe turns out denser and heavier than you might like. 

To avoid all this guesswork, it's best when baking with coconut flour to stick with recipes that are specifically developed for coconut flour, rather than trying to substitute coconut flour in a recipe on your own. 

what is coconut flour
Getty Images / Savany 
what is coconut flour
Getty Images / Katrin Ray Shumakov 
what is coconut flour
Getty Images / Arundhati Sathe 
what is coconut flour
Getty Images / AmalliaEka 

What Does it Taste Like?

Coconut flour does carry the nutty, sweet, and slightly floral flavors of coconut meat, though it is milder. If you prefer your baked goods not to taste like coconut, but still want to use the flour, try adding stronger flavors into the mix (such as chocolate) to mask the coconut profile.

Coconut Flour Substitute

Substituting different types of gluten-free flours can be tricky since they don't all behave the same. But in general, coconut flour has more in common with nut flours than with flours made from gluten-free grains like rice or corn. So if you wanted to substitute another type of gluten-free flour for coconut flour, almond flour might be a good choice.

Coconut Flour Recipes

Here are a few recipes that feature coconut flour.

Where to Buy Coconut Flour

Most natural grocery stores and health food markets carry coconut flour. It can also be purchased online. Coconut flour has a high fat level, which makes it prone to rancidity and oxidation, so check the expiration when buying.

Storage

Store unopened bags of coconut flour in a dry, dark, cool place. Once opened, keep sealed in a container in the refrigerator for 6 months or in the freezer for 1 year.