Looking for a way to make your baked goods healthier and add extra nutrients to other everyday dishes? Then you’ll want to start keeping some pulse flours in your kitchen pantry. If you search online or in specialty grocery stores, you’ll find a wide array of flours made from pulses — like green pea, white bean, chickpea, fava bean and black bean. And more and more, you can find one or two varieties (chickpea being the most common) even at mainstream groceries.
Pulse flours are a staple of many gluten-free bakers, who often choose to use them in place of or in conjunction with other gluten-free options like rice, teff, almond and coconut flour. But there are plenty of good reasons why even those who don’t shun gluten should seek out pulse flours. “From a health standpoint, you get bonus nutrients, plus pulses are really filling, so eating something made with pulse flour delays the return of your hunger,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, R.D., author of Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Pulses — The New Superfood.
Regardless of which pulse flour you choose to bake or cook with, you’ll be adding a nice helping of fiber, protein, antioxidants, vitamin B6, folate, potassium, zinc and magnesium to your dish. In fact, a recent study found that people who had higher intakes of pulses had higher intakes of these key nutrients, the exact ones that many of us tend to fall short on.
So what are the best ways to use pulse flours? “They are extremely versatile and easy to cook and bake with,” says Sass, who routinely mixes them into brownies, muffins, chocolate truffles, pancakes, smoothies, sauces and soups. She recommends trying chickpea flour first, because, in addition to being the easiest one to find, it’s the most user-friendly. “It has no color, very little flavor and it’s very light in texture,” she says, making it a nearly undetectable substitute for all-purpose flour. Black bean flour, while it doesn’t have a strong flavor, will darken whatever you add it to, so it may not be the best choice for most baked goods. Fava bean flour has a slightly higher fiber content than other pulse flours. That means it works great as a thickener for sauces and soups, but might make something like a cupcake too tough in texture.
If you want to adapt a current favorite recipe to include pulse flour, Sass suggests starting off by replacing just half of the regular flour with pulse flour, then move on to experimenting with various amounts and mixtures. The results will definitely be healthier — and most likely very tasty too!
First time working with pulse flours? Try this easy Chickpea Crust Pizza.
Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.