Baking with ancient grains: Learn to add alternative flours to classic recipes

Baking with Ancient Grains via @kingarthurflour

Here at King Arthur, we take our flours pretty seriously — wheat or otherwise — and right now we’re hooked on ancient grains. I mean, what’s not to love? They have unique flavors. They contain a variety of yummy nutrients. Plus, they’re fun to pronounce. (Say it with me: quinoa.)

Since we introduced our latest three ancient grain flours — amaranth, quinoa, and teff — we haven’t stopped baking with them. Baking with ancient grains has enhanced our breakfast cookies, given our breads new life, and jazzed up our crêpes. But you don’t need special recipes to incorporate more ancient grains into your baking.

Enter our Complete Guide to Baking with Ancient Grains, the product of months and months of testing. We wanted to create a go-to, easy-to-follow resource for mixing ancient grains into some of our classic recipes like pancakes and muffins.

Here’s a peek at how the guide came together and some key baking lessons we learned along the way.

Baking with Ancient Grains via @kingarthurflour

Creating a guide from scratch

To make sure our guide was the resource for incorporating ancient grains into baking, I had some brainstorming to do.

My first task was to decide which ancient grains to test. Easy! With a simple shop around our test kitchen and local grocery store, I came up with a list of eight flours that are tasty, popular, and generally accessible: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, Kamut, millet, quinoa, spelt, and teff.

These eight ancient grains are versatile enough to include in many standard recipes; just swap out some of the all-purpose flour for an equal amount of ancient grain flour. Our R&D team has had great success doing this at a 25% substitution (i.e. it has replaced 25% of the all-purpose flour with an ancient grain flour in many recipes without significantly altering the flavor and texture of the baked goods). This was a great place to start, but I was eager to dig deeper. Would substituting more than 25% of spelt or millet flour yield disastrous results? If I put in 100% teff or amaranth flour, would I discover fantastic new combinations?

Next, I had to pick recipes for testing. This wasn’t as easy. With literally thousands of recipes on our website, it was hard to even know where to start. With some collaboration, though, I narrowed my focus to breakfast baking, a natural fit for these wholesome grains. From there, I chose five customer favorites: Banana Bread, Basic Muffins, Scones, Simply Perfect Pancakes, and Cinnamon Bread.

Now I had a plan: I would substitute 100%, 50%, and 25% of each ancient grain flour in each recipe.

You don't need special recipes to incorporate more ancient grains into your baking. Click To Tweet
Baking with Ancient Grains via @kingarthurflour

Cinnamon bread baked with (left to right) 25% quinoa flour, 25% buckwheat flour, and 25% spelt flour.

Baking and tasting

In the comfort of King Arthur Flour’s test kitchen, I worked through 32 batches of each breakfast item. At the end of each day, I taste-tested and analyzed everything, oftentimes recruiting my fellow employee-owners and family members (lest you think that I didn’t share).

It may seem like glamorous work, but picking out the textural impact and intricate flavor components in 160 different baked goods was no easy task. My notes became a jumble of descriptors like nutty, earthy, light, moist, tender, etc., etc., etc. More often than not, I spent more time analyzing and sorting through my notes than I did baking. In the end, though, the hard work paid off in the form of this thoroughly researched guide.

Baking with Ancient Grains via @kingarthurflour

Scones baked with (left to right) 50% amaranth flour, 50% buckwheat flour, and 50% spelt flour.

Our favorite ancient grains combinations

Ancient grains are definitely just as cool as they’re made out to be. Each of the flours I tested had a unique taste and contributed varying degrees of textural complexity to the recipes. That said, I did have some favorites. Here are just a few I recommend trying:

  1. Cinnamon Bread made with 50-50 Kamut and all-purpose flours was so soft and tender that we preferred it to a loaf made with 100% all-purpose flour.
  2. Our Simply Perfect Pancakes almost seemed more perfect with amaranth flour. In fact, here’s a secret: our gluten-free Easy Amaranth Pancakes are actually just our Simply Perfect Pancakes recipe with amaranth flour replacing all-purpose. We liked this combination so much that we created a new recipe just to feature it.
  3. Kamut flour really enhanced the flavor of our Scones, making them richer and more buttery tasting.
  4. We loved the way the quinoa flour complemented the cinnamon and nutmeg in our Banana Bread and didn’t mask the banana flavor even when substituted 100%.
  5. Spelt flour ensured that our Basic Muffins were moist and tender, and had an extra touch of sweetness.
Baking with Ancient Grains via @kingarthurflour

Pancakes baked with (left to right) 100% quinoa flour, 100% teff flour, and 100% kamut flour.

What we learned about baking with ancient grains

As for takeaways from the project, our new Guide to Baking with Ancient Grains includes all the results from our extensive testing, and is chock full of useful tidbits on each grain, as well as suggestions for how you can start incorporating them into your baking. But without getting into all that nitty-gritty, here are some of general tips to help get you started:

  1. Substituting 25% ancient grain flour for all-purpose flour in just about any recipe will add interesting flavor to your baked goods without significantly altering the texture.
  2. While many ancient grains are gluten-free, Kamut, spelt, and barley contain gluten and generally have a higher threshold for substitution.
  3. In yeast bread, we don’t recommend substituting more than 50% ancient grains for the all-purpose or bread flour. You’ll end up with dough that’s difficult to work with and a finished loaf that’s dense and fractured.
  4. Of the five recipes we tested, the quick breads (muffins and banana bread), and pancakes seemed the most adaptable to the ancient grain substitutions we threw at them.
  5. We found that adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of liquid to our batters and doughs was an easy way to combat the sometimes drier, crumblier texture in baked goods made with higher amounts of ancient grain flours.
  6. Because ancient grains are often whole grains, they’re more prone to deterioration when left at room temperature. We recommend storing them in plastic containers or bags in your freezer.
  7. To preserve freshness, any uneaten baked goods should be stored airtight at room temperature for up to two days, and in the freezer after that.
  8. Like all our flours, the best way to measure ancient grain flours by volume is with this fluff-sprinkle-scrape method. Better yet, measure by weight.

We loved experimenting with ancient grains, and will continue to do so and pass along our findings. In the meantime, we encourage you to check out our guide and start incorporating these unique, flavorful grains into your baking. As always, we’d love for you to share your own experiences and discoveries with these versatile ancient grains; tell us what you think in comments, below.

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      While we do have a number of cookbooks, including one about Whole Grain Baking, the full Ancient Grains Guide is currently only available online. We’re glad to hear you’re eager to use it and have it easily accessible, though! We’ll keep your request in mind during future discussions about printed publications. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  1. Rosech

    I do not use flour of any kind in this country due to over hybriding and bleaching or even the unbleached, but go online and order in the REAL flour Einkorn from being restarted as a real ancient grain 10K years ago and has now been replanted. It is not hybrided nor bleached and is fantastic, and very, very low gluten content as well. Just like I switched to stevia for sweetening. Better healthy food items than not.

    Reply
    1. Jan

      Rosech, I like to use flour from Italy for making pizza. It is very low in gluten. I don’t use any sugar substitute as they are all synthetics. I am gluten free because I have to be. So far, over close to 7 years, I find that King Arthur comes the closest to helping me with my sensitivities as anyone else. You can tell they are dedicated.

  2. Susan

    A few weeks ago for a friend who, for medical reasons, has to avoid gluten, I made a cookie that called for all Teff flour: Teff Peanut Butter cookies. The recipe is from Bob’s Red Mill. Wow! I liked these as well as or better than PB cookies made with wheat flour.

    Reply
  3. Sarah Reid, CNP

    How did you manage to make 100% substitutions of GF flours like quinoa for gluten containing? Sounds like a recipe for glue to me – usually GF baking is a little more complex than a 1:1 substitution! Perhaps clarify the banana bread comment for novice GF bakers out there?!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We checked in with Charlotte herself to get a definitive answer on this one, and this is what she had to say, “Great question! We were as surprised as you are to discover that we could substitute 100% of some ancient grain flours into some of our recipes. In the case of the quinoa flour in banana bread, we think that the flour absorbed moisture (from the eggs, sugar, honey, and bananas) is such a way so as to help it maintain structure through the baking process. This will depend on each flour and each recipe, and may even depend how the flour is milled – our quinoa flour is ground quite fine, but others may be coarser and therefore not absorb liquid in the same way. Our guide is a great resource for all our recommendations on which flours work well in which recipes.” If you have any further questions, we’d be happy to talk them over with you on the Baker’s Hotline (855-371-BAKE(2253)). Hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  4. Jake Sterling

    Have you thought of adding the Indian grain, “Ragi,” to your collection of ancient grains? I discovered it on one of my trips to India, where they use it in place of rice. It is considered to be less refined, sort of the rye is in the west—good for lunch, but not something you would serve to guests. But, in fact, it is delicious. I was served dosa (a crepe-like pancake usually made of rice and urad dal), and was told that this was ragi dosa. My host thought that, since I was interested in Indian agriculture I might be interested in trying it. It was really delicious and much more subtle than Indian food usually is. Ragi is a tough drought resitant plant that is extremely nutritious (much more so than rice), fits into extreme ecosystems, and will grow where rice will not. I discovered that, back in the States, you can buy ragi at Indian groceries, but they aren’t available every where.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Jake, we haven’t tried baking with “ragi” in the test kitchen, but our curiosity is piqued! It seems like it’s an ingredient that may be difficult for some folks to find, so it’s not likely that we’ll add it to our guide. However, that doesn’t mean we won’t keep an eye our for it the next time we’re looking for new flours and ingredients to bake with. Thanks for writing and happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Charlene, we used “regular” recipes, all of which called for all-purpose flour. Therefore, the ancient grains were used in conjunction with all-purpose flour (except for in the 100% versions, where only the ancient grains flour was used). If you’re looking to use ancient grains in gluten-free baking, you can use these same recipes and replace the all-purpose flour with our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour, adding ancient grains to taste. The only exception where this approach won’t work is with the Cinnamon Bread recipe. Because it contains yeast, it won’t work well with Measure for Measure. Otherwise, go for the swap! Kye@KAF

  5. Mary

    I am always looking for ways to up the nutrition in my baked items, such as breads and buns. Thanks for this! I look forward to information on cookies. (Please!)

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We appreciate your request to see more information about using ancient grains in cookies. We do currently have three different cookie recipes developed that use a range of ancient grains flour, from amaranth to millet. Check out the tasty selection here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  6. Grace H.

    I manage a cooking school and have classes for kids and adults alike. I wish this guide was in printable form …Online does us NO GOOD… also this is misleading. I was expecting recipes that use the grains listed. 🙁

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Grace, thanks for sharing your request to see this information in printed form. We’re always open to hearing feedback from other bakers, and often times many of those suggestions come to fruition. Your desire to see the Ancient Grains Guide in a printable form has been passed along to the right team to consider. As for your note about recipes that specifically call for ancient grains, we have a number of those on our website. You can simply type in the grain you’re looking to bake with into our “Search recipes by Ingredient” tool. Here’s an example of all the tasty recipe choices that come up for amaranth flour: see them here. Hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  7. Preston Wilson

    I’m grateful for the lessons on ancient grains, because it isn’t the gluten my partner is allergic to, it’s wheat. This has made baking almost everything more of a challenge than I would wish. I’m going to try some of these grains, hoping he won’t have the reaction he gets from wheat.

    Reply
  8. Jean

    Your sourdough bread recipe with quinoa (the whole grain, not the Flour) is awesome. We’ve had it several times. I used red quinoa and the bread has the most awesome color as well as flavor.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Kristina, we don’t have any plans to currently carry an Ezekiel blend, but we’ve shared your request with our Ingredients Team to consider. We always love hearing what King Arthur Flour bakers are hoping to see — thanks for writing. Kye@KAF

  9. Karen Lane

    I recently made my usual chocolate chip cookie recipe using 1/3 all purpose flour, 1/3 KA white whole wheat flour and 1/3 teff. The result was a delicious, chewy cookie. What I liked best, though, was that the texture didn’t change after days in the cookie jar! They were just as good 7 days later! I’m on a quest to make some nutritious breakfast cookies using ancient and whole grains, so this was very helpful. I can’t wait to use this article to do some more exploring!

    Reply
  10. Deb

    I’m Eritrean and traditionally eat Teff engera. However it’s an art I haven’t mastered and I am completely intimidated by. Now I can buy Teff and make other things so I feel better about my self lol. Maybe I’ll impress my mother and mother-in-law👍🏽

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Deb, impressing your mothers with your baking is a challenge for many of us! Best of luck — I think this guide (and the teff recipes) will really give you a hand. Stay tuned — a week from today we’ll be posting a piece here on teff quiche crust — something else to add to your baking “arsenal”! PJH

  11. Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer

    Over the past few years, I have used all of these grains to various extents … but absolutely never analyzed them to the depth you have here. Thank you for doing all this work. I definitely have learned even more about these ancient grains. And am looking forward to trying many of the ideas you’ve presented in the guides.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Not to worry, we’ve included millet as one of the eight ancient grains we tested. You can find a link to our results by clicking through the the guide itself. Enjoy! Mollie@KAF

  12. Colleen

    I submitted a full review on the recipe page, but wanted to let you know that I loved the quinoa pancakes (substituting about 1/3 quinoa). Thanks for all your research!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We haven’t done much experimenting with this for ourselves, Nancy. We did some research and found that there are ways to make a sourdough starter from grains like quinoa flour, but the process is different than what is shown on our blog. You might want to take a look at some other articles online that give alternate instructions. If you’re looking to simply feed your already existing starter with ancient grains, you could try alternating feedings between all-purpose flour and ancient grains to give it a bit of extra vitamins and minerals. Watch to see how it responds–you might need to adjust your ratios as needed. Give us a call if you have any trouble: 855-371-BAKE(2253). Kye@KAF

  13. C. Welch

    Thanks for the information on ancient grains. This has really helped me because my son has discovered that besides having gluten allergies, he can’t even tolerate rice or oats! I’ve had to learn to bake and cook using ancient grains. It can be quite challenging at first. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. TCH95148

      Hi C. Welch – I am also in the camp of your son. I am allergic to wheat, rice, almonds, and the list goes on. I’ve tried baking various things I used to eat with grains I can tolerate with often disappointing results. I’ve been able to find a mixture of flours that produced a decent cookie, but haven’t really figured out piecrusts, or breads yet.

      I know it is unrealistic for a company to manufacture a flour mixture that I would be able to tolerate, but it would be nice when they are suggesting an alternative flour to substitute, how that is decided.

      I recently restocked some flour I needed and was comparing to wheat flour. I was thinking of trying to mix millet flour with tapioca or arrowroot and attempt to get the same ratio of protein/starch as wheat to see how that functions, then using a gum of some sort in place of the gluten. I don’t know if this a way to do it or not…but something I was thinking about trying.

      Unfortunately, it isn’t cheap or easy to ‘experiment’ with the various flours. Often, I’ve made a dough that looks ‘normal’, but then after baking it up, you have an unpleasant surprise…occasionally, you get a good and delicious surprise.

      Does anyone have suggestions of how to combine various flours to get the effect you might want?

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Normally, when we experiment, we try to change one variable at a time. We suggest starting with a recipe you can rely on and going from there. You could substitute 25% of the flour with an ancient grain flour, and see how you like the flavor and texture impact. If you like the flavor, but find it too dry or crumbly, maybe add a bit of starch and/or a gum to see if that improves the texture. Unfortunately there is no hard and fast rule, but as long as you’re making gradual changes, one at a time, you should never end up with something you strongly dislike. Charlotte@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Look for a home grinding mill, as a food processor, blender or coffee mill will probably not work to produce flour from seeds. Here’s the grain millwe offer. A quick on-line search will show you mills that are hand powered or electric powered with a range of prices. Irene@KAF

  14. John

    Perhaps I am missing how this is to be used, but being allergic to wheat and rice, I am only interested in recipes using King Arthur Gluten Free Ancient Grain Blend that does not also add other flours with wheat or rice. Very specifically looking for a pizza crust, so I can stop all the failed attempts with plaintain or cauliflower or chickpeas or quinoa or coconut flour 🙂
    So far, every time I click on a recipe that looks interesting, like banana bread, I find the recipe is not just using King Arthur Gluten Free Ancient Grain Blend

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi John, our goal with this article was to explore a wide range of ancient grains (both glutenous and gluten-free), and see how they performed in recipes with other kinds of flour and on their own. It sounds like you have a very specific need, which we’re happy to help with. The Gluten-Free Ancient Grains Flour Blend isn’t typically used all on its own because it can make baked goods heavy, dense, and crumbly (even pizza crust). To achieve a light yet chewy texture, it’s typically combined with other kinds of flour, like our All-Purpose Flour or Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour. You might want to consider using our Gluten-Free Pizza Crust recipe and replacing 25% of the flour with the Ancient Grains Flour Blend. If you like the result, feel free to use more the next time. We hope that helps! Kye@KAF

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