If you’re a fan of coconut flour, you know it’s a superb alternative to all-purpose flour for lots of reasons. This gluten-free, grain-free flour makes for a great baking substitute, and bonus: it’s naturally sweet and nutritious, too. But it’s not the only gluten-free flour out there – there’s coconut flour vs almond flour vs chickpea flour and more – and all of these alternatives can get a little confusing.
Another popular and versatile flour substitute is rice flour. So what exactly is the difference between coconut flour and rice flour? What’s the best way to use them, and which is better for baking? Let’s break down everything we know about coconut flour and rice flour to dust off any lingering questions you might have.
Comparing coconut flour and rice flour
|Coconut flour||White rice flour||All-purpose flour|
|Substitution ratio vs all-purpose flour||1:4||7:8*||N/A|
|Allergens||Coconut (tree nuts)||Rice (rare allergen)||Wheat, gluten|
|Pantry shelf life (unopened/sealed)**||Up to 2 years||Indefinitely||6-8 months|
|Best for baking…||Most desserts – especially cakes, cookies, and pie crusts, muffins, and dense breads (especially pumpkin bread!)||Cookies, cakes, muffins, brownies, breads, and pancakes|
(Also used to thicken soups or sauces and cook many Asian dishes like noodles, crepes, dumplings, etc.)
|Non-yeast recipes (think cookies, biscuits, and some breads)|
*If you’re cooking with rice flour (it’s often used as a thickener or in frying batters) you can usually substitute a 1:1 ratio with all-purpose flour. But when it comes to baking, you’ll want to use a bit less rice flour than the amount of all-purpose flour that the recipe calls for (so about ⅞ of a cup for each cup of regular flour) due to its slightly higher absorbency. It’s a small change, but it’ll go a long way.
Taking a look at the flours side by side, it’s clear that from a dietary perspective coconut flour and rice flour are actually quite different. While they’re both gluten free, coconut flour is more keto-friendly and paleo-friendly than rice flour.
Two types of rice flour: white rice flour and brown rice flour
It’s worth noting that there are two main types of rice flour, just like there are two different types of rice: white rice flour and brown rice flour. You can probably guess where they each come from – white rice flour is made by grinding medium or long white rice grains, where brown rice flour is made from grinding whole grain rice. When it comes to the flours, think of them as the rice flour version of all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour.
While white rice flour is very light and fine in texture and virtually tasteless in flavor, brown rice flour is a bit heavier and denser, and has a nuttier, earthier, almost sweeter taste to it. And just like rice, the flour made from brown rice is more nutritious than one made from white rice. Brown rice flour also has a shorter shelf life of only around 4-5 months.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be referring to white rice flour – this is what’s most comparable to all-purpose flour, and it’s also more commonly used and easier to find.
What are the major differences between coconut flour and rice flour?
Back to coconut flour vs rice flour, there are a few major differences between the two. Let’s start with the obvious: their ingredients! Coconut flour is finely ground dehydrated coconut meat; rice flour, as defined above, is finely ground medium or long-grain rice.
Because coconut flour is so fibrous, it’s more absorbent which means you need a lower ratio of flour to liquid (that’s why you only sub in ¼ cup of coconut flour for every cup of all-purpose flour). But rice flour, with a nearly 1:1 substitution ratio, is less dense with a finer, lighter consistency that acts much more closely to all-purpose flour in most recipes.
When it comes to taste, coconut flour is on the sweeter side, with a natural coconut flavor to it, while rice flour doesn’t have much of a flavor at all. And as you know, sweet and meaty coconut, which is a fruit, is a vastly different food than gritty rice, which is a grain – so the two flours differ a lot in terms of nutrition (which we’ll get into below).
Baking with coconut flour vs baking with rice flour
Both coconut flour and rice flour are versatile and can be used to make similar types of desserts and breads, from muffins to crepes. But due to their different consistency and characteristics, they produce different outcomes when baking. As we’ve mentioned, coconut flour is high in fiber and high in liquid absorption, which means it’ll yield thicker doughs and denser bakes. That’s also why you’ll usually need more binders (like eggs) when using coconut flour in most recipes, to make up for its high absorbency.
Rice flour, on the other hand, is a closer 1:1 swap with all-purpose flour (although not exactly, as it still lacks gluten), and because it’s typically very fine, it’ll brown and crisp up baked goods nicely. But where coconut flour tends to yield dense bakes, rice flour can result in a dry or crumbly final product if not used in ideal proportions. It can make for a stickier batter, with an almost gritty or gummy result. This is why rice flour, although it can be used on its own, is often combined with other flours for a gluten-free flour mix that will help yield the desired consistency and best results (this is also why you’ll notice rice flour in most store-bought gluten-free flour blends).
As with most gluten-free flours, the way you use them largely depends on what you’re baking. Since both coconut flour and rice flour can be tricky for different reasons, we recommend sticking to recipes made specifically with each type of flour to ensure success and get used to the way they bake, before you start to experiment and substitute more.
Coconut flour + rice flour nutritional facts
|Per 1/4 cup serving||Coconut flour||Rice flour||All-purpose flour|
|Carbs||18 g||32 g||23 g|
|Fiber||10 g||<1 g||1 g|
|Fat||3 g||<1 g||0 g|
|Protein||6 g||3 g||4 g|
|Glycemic index score||45||95||85|
Rice flour is a higher-calorie, higher-carb all-purpose flour substitute (vs. coconut flour) with a much higher glycemic index (which measures a food’s effect on blood sugar levels). While it’s very low in fat, rice flour has less protein than coconut flour and almost no fiber. Because it’s lower in carbs, coconut flour can be somewhat keto-friendly, and it’s definitely paleo-approved; rice flour doesn’t work great for either diet due to its main ingredients and high carb content.
Overall, coconut flour is a much healthier substitute thanks to its high fiber content. And where you get a bit more protein and healthy fats from coconut flour, rice flour tends to be more of an ‘empty carb’ (similar to white rice). If you’re looking for a more nutritious gluten-free flour, opt for brown rice flour over white rice flour – you’ll get slightly more fiber and protein (but still much less compared to coconut flour).
Best ways to store coconut flour and rice flour
Both coconut flour and rice flour have a very long shelf life, with coconut flour lasting up to two years and rice flour lasting indefinitely if stored correctly. So what’s the best way to store them? Just make sure they’re in a closed, tightly-sealed container and keep them in a cool, dry place.
(Keep in mind that brown rice flour is not nearly as shelf-stable, with only around 3-5 months before it tends to go rancid. You’ll want to store this type of flour in the fridge to maximize its shelf life, or you can keep it in the freezer for up to a year.)
Coconut Flour vs Rice Flour: The Ultimate Verdict
That was a lot to take in…but you made it! So what’s the answer to the burning question – which is better, coconut flour or rice flour?
While rice flour is definitely very versatile and in many cases it can be easier to use due to its similarities to all-purpose flour (lightweight, fine texture, neutral taste), there’s something important coconut flour has that rice flour doesn’t: nutritional value! If your goal is to simply use a gluten-free flour substitute that does the job, rice flour will do that for you. But if you’re looking for an alternative with health benefits that will still taste great, coconut flour is the way to go.
And the good news is, there’s no shortage of ways to use it. Get started with 30 of our best coconut flour recipes!
Overall, yes – coconut flour has more nutritional value and thus more health benefits than rice flour. While brown rice flour is more nutritious than white rice flour, when compared with coconut flour both types have less fiber, less protein, more carbs, and more calories.
Both flours are gluten-free alternatives to all-purpose or wheat flour, but they are substituted differently due to their different properties – so when it comes to replacing one with the other, subbing in coconut flour for rice flour (or vice versa) won’t work for most recipes because the two yield different results. See our tables above for a summary.
Yes! Coconut flour is high in fiber, which makes for denser baked goods. And it absorbs a lot of liquid, so it’s important to use extra binders and be mindful of exact measurements. Meanwhile, rice flour is similar in that it’s also gluten-free, but with a consistency more similar to wheat-based flour, it can be used in a ratio that’s closer to 1:1 for most recipes.