Coconut flour is one of many healthier-for-you alternatives to wheat-based flour available nowadays. Wander down the baking aisle and you’ll also see almond flour, rice flour, chickpea flour, buckwheat flour…the list goes on. Each has its own unique characteristics and benefits, and there’s a lot to consider when choosing and baking with a substitute for standard all-purpose flour. We’re here to help unpack all of that.
Next up is barley flour. We’re comparing this grain flour to the grain-free coconut flour, to break down their differences in both use and nutrition. Ultimately, we’ll come to a final verdict about which is better so you can choose wisely.
Comparing coconut flour and barley flour
|Coconut flour||Barley flour||All-purpose flour|
|Substitution ratio vs all-purpose flour||1:4||1:2(1:4 for yeast breads)||N/A|
|Allergens||Coconut (tree nuts)||Barley, gluten||Wheat, gluten|
|Pantry shelf life (unopened/sealed)*||Up to 2 years||2-3 months||6-8 months|
|Best for baking…||Most desserts – especially cakes, cookies, and pie crusts, muffins, and dense breads (especially pumpkin bread!)||Bread and flatbread, cookies, waffles, muffins, pancakes||Non-yeast recipes (think cookies, biscuits, and some breads)|
You can see right off the bat that there are several differences between coconut flour and barley flour – especially in terms of which lifestyles and diets they fit best. While barley flour has less gluten content than wheat flour, barley is one of the three grains (rye is the third) that contain gluten, so it’s not gluten-free and thus not suitable for someone who has celiac disease or is gluten-sensitive. It’s also high in carbohydrates, which means it’s not keto-friendly. And unlike coconut flour, it’s not paleo-friendly since barley is a grain.
Coconut flour and barley flour are both high in fiber and as a result high in liquid absorption (although coconut flour has barley flour beat) – so less of each flour alternative is needed when replacing regular flour in a recipe. They can be used to make similar types of baked goods and breakfast items, but the outcomes of the bake will be quite different in terms of texture and characteristics, which we’ll get into more below.
What are the major differences between coconut flour and barley flour?
The reason coconut flour and barley flour have such dietary differences is because their main ingredients are so different. Coconut flour is dried coconut meat that’s been ground up, which is why it’s both grain-free and gluten-free (coconut is a fruit, after all). Because the coconut meat hasn’t been processed, coconut flour packs all of the typical health benefits of coconut.
Barley flour, on the other hand, is ground from dried barley grain. Most barley flour you’ll find on the grocery store shelf is ground pearl barley, which means the husk and bran have been removed – but it’s possible to get hulled barley flour as well, which means the bran layer has been left intact. Similar to brown rice as opposed to white rice or whole wheat flour as opposed to all-purpose white flour, hulled barley flour comes from the whole grain so it’s less processed and more nutritious. In either case, though, barley flour does contain gluten.
While coconut flour is fairly dense in consistency with a naturally sweet flavor to it, barley flour tends to be finer and has a slight malty, nutty flavor.
Baking with coconut flour vs baking with barley flour
Coconut flour, because of its sweet flavor and the density it adds, is a great option for baking desserts like cookies, cakes, and sweet or dense breads. Because it’s so absorbent, a little goes a long way; using too much coconut flour can dry out a baked good or make it too crumbly. But when used in the correct amounts and compensated with extra liquid or binders, coconut flour can offer a delicious alternative that ultimately results in healthier baked goods.
Barley flour is used in baking to add a bit of texture and enhance baked goods or flatbreads with its rustic, nutty flavor – so think more savory than sweet. In most recipes for things like pancakes, muffins, or quick breads, barley can replace ½ or more of the regular flour without compromising the final texture too much. But when used specifically for breads with yeast, because of its low gluten content it should be knocked down to a 1:4 ratio and compensated with other wheat flours; otherwise the bread won’t rise enough. Overall, it causes breads and other baked goods to be more moist, tender, or chewier, giving them more of a cake-like texture rather than a bread-like one.
Coconut flour + barley flour nutritional facts
|Per 1/4 cup serving||Coconut flour||Barley flour||All-purpose flour|
|Carbs||18 g||28 g||23 g|
|Fiber||10 g||4 g||1 g|
|Fat||3 g||<1 g||0 g|
|Protein||6 g||4 g||4 g|
|Glycemic index score||45||53 – 66||85|
So how exactly do barley flour and coconut flour differ nutritionally? They’re both comparable to all-purpose flour in terms of calories. But while coconut flour is a lower-carb alternative to all-purpose flour, barley flour has more carbs per serving – making it the highest carb option of all three.
Barley flour is lower in fat than coconut flour, but it’s also lower in protein and fiber (it’s hard to beat coconut flour when it comes to fiber). That goes back to the use of pearl barley in most barley flour – when you strip away the bran, you strip away a lot of those health benefits. Hulled barley will provide you with much more fiber and protein, along with other minerals and nutrients, so that’s something to keep in mind if you’re looking for specific nutritional benefits.
Barley flour is certainly a healthier alternative to wheat flour, with a lower glycemic index score and less gluten, but overall it’s not quite as healthy or nutrient-rich as coconut flour.
How to store coconut flour and barley flour
These two flours also have very different shelf lives. As long as it’s stored in a sealed container in a cool, dry place, coconut flour can last in your pantry for up to two years.
Barley flour, however, only has a couple of months before it could go rancid. It’s also important to store in a cool, dry place – but since it’ll usually only last two or three months max in your pantry, it’s usually better to keep it frozen. That way you can take out what you need as you go, bringing it to room temp before you use it. Frozen barley flour will stretch its shelf life an extra month or two, lasting up to four months in the freezer. Just be sure to keep it sealed and tightly wrapped.
Coconut flour vs barley flour: the ultimate verdict
Barley flour definitely has its benefits; it’s a healthier, less-processed alternative to all-purpose wheat flour that provides baked goods and breads with a tender texture and nutty flavor. If you’re not sensitive to gluten, it’s a great option to swap in for some all-purpose flour in a recipe, lowering your gluten intake and making for a more nutritious final product.
But in the end, it’s not quite as versatile or nutritious as coconut flour. With more fiber and protein and less calories and carbs per serving, coconut flour provides a grain-free, gluten-free flour alternative that comes with all the added health benefits of the superfood it’s made from. So our ultimate verdict: if you’re okay leaving the gluten out, go with coconut flour!
Barley flour works well in most baked goods or breakfast items like quick breads, cookies, muffins, pancakes, and waffles. In breads where yeast is needed, it works well as part of a blend with other wheat or gluten flours to add some extra flavor and nutrition.
Coconut flour has a lower glycemic index than barley flour by about ten points or so. But of all the types of flour, almond flour has the lowest glycemic index score – coming in at less than one. This means that it’ll have little to no effect on blood sugar, which makes it a great alternative flour for diabetics.
Coconut flour is one of the healthiest flour alternatives available because it’s gluten-free, grain-free, and it’s filled with fiber, healthy fats, and antioxidants. With few side effects or health risks, it’s a safe bet for most people and makes for a healthy, nutritious flour.