There are many sources of plant protein, some more unusual than others. Alternative flours, which are obtained from plants other than traditional grains or seeds, are an example.
Don Guerra, owner of Barrio Bread, Tucson, Ariz., uses mesquite flour in a number of recipes. The fleshy part of the mesquite tree’s pod provides carbohydrates, including soluble and insoluble fibers. The seeds are a concentrated source of protein with the essential amino acid lysine, which is often limited in plant-based proteins. This makes mesquite flour a nutritional powerhouse, as it’s also loaded with calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. The flour has a malty, nutty, smoky, sweet flavor profile often described as having hints of cocoa, maple, molasses and hazelnut.
Mr. Guerra uses mesquite flour with locally sourced wheat flours to make a loaf topped with pumpkin seeds. The toasted seeds bring additional plant protein, flavor and crunch to the bread and are a source of plant protein that many bakers tend to forget. Their crunchy textures and earthy flavors add an extra layer of sensory appeal.
“People are looking for products beyond the ordinary,” said Jane Dummer, a registered dietitian and author of The Need for Seeds. “Seeds (and nuts) pack a punch of plant protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. For consumers who require nut-free or gluten-free, seeds are outstanding ingredient choices.”
Indeed, nut flours and powders are growing, with many contributing noteworthy levels of protein. Almond protein powder from Blue Diamond Almonds Global Ingredients Division, for example, is about 45% protein. It is made from almonds grown in California’s Central Valley that undergo a simple mechanical separation process where the fat is removed and the protein and fiber gets concentrated.
“Almond powder is ideal for protein and nutrition bars as well as breakfast cereals,” said Jeff Smith, director of marketing, Blue Diamond Almonds Global Ingredients Division. “It can be included as part of an almond flour blend, contributing to fortified versions of bars, cookies, brownies and other bakery favorites. It can also aid in neutralizing unwanted flavors contributed by other nutritional ingredients, including complementary proteins, vitamins and minerals.”
Acorns are another nut catching the attention of specialty bakers. Sue Chin, owner of Sue´s Acorn Cafe & Mill, Martinez, Calif., collects local acorns to produce her own flour. She uses it to create an array of baked foods served at her restaurant and sold online.
Acorns — the nuts with caps and shells removed — are high in protein, potassium, magnesium, calcium and vitamin B6. They are naturally gluten-free and loaded with fiber. There are more than 400 species of oak trees grown around the world, and the acorns they produce vary in color, flavor and size.
On Kea Island in Greece, Marcie Mayer heads the Oakmeal Acorn Initiative, which is a multifaceted project to help farmers rekindle the collection of acorn caps for exportation to tanneries, as well as establishing acorn flour-based products in the local cuisine.
“Acorn flour is best combined with other flours, grains and oats,” she said. “It is a hard flour and needs extra time to absorb other ingredients in a dough or batter.”
This article is an excerpt from the September 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on alternative flours, click here.