I’m not gluten-free, but sometimes I feel like I’m the only one left who isn’t. In my group of six friends who hang out on a regular basis, four are GF (as well as dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, and a bunch of other -frees).

I love to bake, so when our group gets together, I’m the appointed sweets-maker. This means I’ve had to get creative by making desserts without that problematic little protein, gluten.

In the name of exploration (and friendship), I recently stepped out of my home-baking comfort zone by experimenting with three popular flour alternatives: coconut, almond, and chickpea. For consistency, I used each one to make that most classic of all baked goods: the blueberry muffin.

With a backward glance at my beloved white bag of Gold Medal, I was off to the baking races.

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I could eat almonds literally every day (and may have occasionally used almond extract as a perfume), so this option appealed to me most.

Since I wanted to go all in to make treats my gluten-free friends could enjoy, I went with a fully almond flour-based recipe for blueberry muffins.

How it compared to classic wheat flour

As I stirred the batter of familiar ingredients like eggs, honey, and baking soda, I was impressed at how flawlessly the almond flour incorporated into the mixture. I never would have guessed by looking that the batter contained an “alternative” flour. Plus, it smelled heavenly.

When they emerged from the oven, the muffins had a golden color that was unexpected but not unattractive. As for taste, these morning treats were nice and sweet, if a tad grittier than a typical blueberry muffin. And their texture was somewhat oilier, owing again to almonds’ extra fat and moisture. (But hey, maybe that just eliminates the need to add butter on top?)

Hot take: The taste and look of these muffins stacked up pretty darn good against the wheat-based muffins I’m used to, and I would definitely recommend it as an alternative flour. However, expect a grittier and oilier texture than usual.

Tips for using almond flour

  • Store almond flour in the fridge or chill the batter before baking. Because almonds have a high fat content, it’s common for almond flour to cause baked goods to flatten (like when you add too much butter to a cookie recipe). Cooling the flour before you bake it helps keep your project perked up.
  • Use a deep baking dish (like muffin tins or a bread pan). Because almond flour is prone to flattening, a deep, more contained dish can help keep your baked goods from spilling out of bounds.
  • Substituting almond flour is not as easy as 1:1. According to King Arthur Flour, the ideal ratio of substitution is up to 1/3 cup of almond flour per cup of wheat flour in yeast breads and 1/4 cup per cup in non-yeast treats like muffins and scones.

Get the recipe!

With the rise of the Paleo diet, coconut flour has gotten serious traction for being high in fiber, high in iron, and less allergenic than almond flour (although some people are allergic to coconut).

Continuing my blueberry muffin gambit, I opted for a recipe that called for only coconut flour rather than one combining it with other flours. It didn’t take long for me to realize that a little bit of coconut flour goes a long way — this recipe needed just 1/4 cup to make six muffins.

How it compared to classic wheat flour

Compared to wheat flour, coconut flour definitely produced a clumpier, heavier batter. Since it tends to soak up moisture, many recipes call for only a portion of coconut flour mixed with wheat or another less absorbent flour.

This alternative also requires a lot of extra binder (something to hold the batter together). Therefore, most baked goods made with coconut flour contain additional eggs.

With three eggs for just six muffins, the batter for these muffins (and the finished product) was noticeably bright yellow. Maybe, I thought, that just made them pretty and a little sunshine-y?

Not so much. Eating them, I found their eggy flavor and texture overpowering, like they couldn’t decide if they were muffins or frittatas. But they looked gorgeous and certainly smelled amazing!

Hot take: Though they were lovely to look at, next time I’d look for a recipe that uses something other than eggs as a binder.

Tips for using coconut flour

  • Use applesauce, mashed banana, or a combo of flaxseeds and water as a binder instead of eggs. Coconut flour needs a binder, but using eggs — a common binder in baked goods — can be overpowering.
  • Use coconut flour in combination with wheat flour. This can provide a better, fluffier texture.
  • Fluff the batter with a whisk or fork to remove clumps. Since coconut flour doesn’t contain gluten, you don’t run the risk of creating a tough finished product by overmixing. So whisk away!

I’m a nutritionist, so I’m all for beans taking over the culinary world. Their high fiber, low carb, phytonutrient-rich nutrition profile is the stuff of dreams.

For my final experiment, I was totally ready to geek out over chickpea flour, once again using a blueberry muffin recipe.

How it compared to classic wheat flour

Chickpea flour has better binding power than almond or coconut flour, so it doesn’t need extra eggs to hold together — a promising start.

This batter whipped up a little thin, but as it baked, the muffins became thick and plump. Plus, they rose beautifully, with high domes that would make any wheat-based muffin jealous. They looked so perfect I didn’t even wait for them to cool before hoisting one out of the tin.

At first bite, I noticed that its fluffy, tender texture rivaled any of my usual favorite recipes. But — *record-scratch* — as I continued to chew, I had a moment of major regret. Even with a full cup of sugar in the recipe, something was seriously off about the taste of these muffins — they were earthy and, frankly, almost dirt-like.

Hot take: Though it emulated the texture of wheat to a T, chickpea flour isn’t my alternative flour of choice for sweet pastries.

Tips for using chickpea flour

  • Reserve chickpea flour for savory projects. Chickpea flour has long been used in Indian and Pakistani cuisine to make savory baked goods like crepes and fritters. Its earthy taste likely does far better in these more savory preparations.
  • Easy does it. Try subbing just a portion of wheat flour with chickpea flour. This way you’ll add fiber and protein without altering the flavor of your recipe too dramatically.
  • Think outside the baking box. Try chickpea flour as a thickener in soups, a binder in burgers, or a gluten-free breading for chicken fingers.

Experimenting with alternative flours can certainly be tricky, especially since they don’t have many of the same properties as wheat.

Since gluten gives breads, cakes, and muffins their signature chewy texture, flours without it won’t provide the same results. Plus, denser textures, higher fat content, and less binding capability in alternatives make for a different finished product — so expect this as you go.

With all that in mind, it’s helpful to read any recipe reviews to see what has worked for others — and what hasn’t.

If a certain recipe doesn’t work out for you (like my coconut flour muffin ordeal), don’t get discouraged. Think of it as a data point in your ongoing alternative flour research project.

Sarah Garone is a nutritionist, freelance writer, and food blogger. Find her sharing down-to-earth nutrition info at A Love Letter to Food or follow her on Twitter.