The other day, I realized that I had spent about $15 over the past week on breakfasts. And I’m not talking about the usual eggs, bacon and toast (which would have been a deal at $15 for a weeks worth of that), but quick on-the-go sort of items like scones or muffins. Not only is this an insane price to charge (and pay) for flour, leavener, and the odd piece of dried fruit, but it’s also a problem if you are trying to be conscious about what you ingest. Often, café-bought items are not fresh baked in house, are shipped from a local bakery or wholesaler, and often contain preservatives.
Many cafés do bake fresh in house, but the cost of these tasty morsels is exorbitant. I understand the reasons for the price, and I’m not complaining – if I weren’t a financially restricted grad student I would have no issue supporting a small local business by purchasing expensive muffins. Alas, I wanted to find an alternative: something I could bake so I knew what was going into the food, something easy that didn’t require lots of ingredients nor myriad measurements of such ingredients, and of course something relatively healthy.
I baked these almond flour rhubarb muffins using rhubarb harvested from my little raised bed garden and this recipe from Elena’s Pantry, a great food blog built around using almond flour. The beauty of this recipe is its simple ratio formula, 4:4:1 – 4 parts flour, 4 parts egg, and 1 part sweetener. Almond flour is pretty heavy so it needs more leavener than all purpose flour, hence the proportion of egg, which is a natural leavener. The recipe also calls for a bit of baking soda and cider vinegar. It’s also pretty healthy because almond flour is fattier than regular flour, allowing for the removal of butter/oil in most other recipes using regular flour.
There are some people who argue that almond flour is actually a poor choice, since it is high in oxalates (enzyme inhibitors that make it harder for the body to digest food matter, and can cause bloating/gas etc.), contains other compounds (mainly polyunsaturated fatty-acids) that are inflammatory to the body, and because the actual amount of almonds you would be ingesting are pretty high if the flour were in whole-almond form. The process in the body that signals the brain that you are full takes a bit of time to start up, because it depends in part on some preliminary digestion of food matter, and so it’s easy to ingest massive amounts of ‘almonds’ in one sitting if almond flour is used. Some estimate that there are about 11 or 12 ‘almonds’ in one ounce of almond flour. Since my recipe calls for 4 ounces of flour, and it made 4 muffins, I’m ingesting about 12 almonds per muffin. That’s really not bad at all, and I’m perfectly comfortable with that amount.
Others have rebutted this line of thought, arguing that ALL kinds of flour (or any processed foods for that matter) lead to overconsumption, and especially baked goods that tend to act upon our neurological reward system due to the body’s reaction to carbohydrates. The high levels of oxalates found in almond flour are a problem, even if some people argue that ‘science’ is beginning to suggest otherwise. Even so, the consensus seems to be that the inflammatory propensity in almond flour is pretty high, which is the only real issue I have with using it. Nevertheless the benefits of cutting out the extra carbohydrates and gluten from all purpose flour outweigh this for me.
Does the type of flour used to bake muffins really matter so much as to warrant a 600+ word blog post? Well, many people will probably say no, but I think it’s important to consider these things and be conscious about food choices, especially with the prevalence of extremely popular health trends meant to make us fitter and happier, without being fully upfront about the potential drawbacks.
One such example is almond milk, which has been shown to be a pretty big rip-off given that almonds make up less than 2% of a carton of the stuff. Moreover, the proteins in almonds – the part most people are looking for – are lost in the process. Almond milk has almost no protein at all, and it has to be fortified with vitamins and minerals manually, and at much lower levels than in whole almonds. Overall, almond milk is pricey water with some vitamins mixed in.