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Monday, January 14, 2013

Sourdough Bread with Coconut Flour

Sourdough Bread with Coconut Flour

You stumbled in...
Recently someone replied to an ancient blog I had posted.  How the reply was worded left me wondering what some people think when they navigate to this site when Google sends them here.  I'm not sure what people expect.  Fact is, I'm not really interested in sharing recipes, although I do often post the ingredients and discuss how I made a bread.  This is mostly for my own reference.  I usually suppose no one else really cares.

So what is this blog about then?  I guess it is about my baking experiences.  I've posted every bread I've made over the past 3 years (and also somebutnotall buns, flatbreads, granola bars, pizzas…).  That is the pretext, that is the (self-imposed) deadline, if you will.  The rest of the blog is about stuff I think about or wonder about or research.  Mostly it is about bread, or grains, or food in general.  

I'm interested in whole grains.  I always have been, but if anyone were to follow my breads from the beginning (and you can most easily do this by examining the CRUMB SHOTS from 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013), you would see that they have reached the point where I mostly insist on 100% whole grain, and almost exclusively sourdough. Short reason for this: its healthier.  

So perhaps you've come here because Google sent you to my blog about bread, and you wanted a recipe that uses coconut flour.  Ok, I accept that.  But if you wanted gluten-free, or paleo, or a quickbread, you can leave now: you could, for example, try this instead.  Google sent you to the wrong place.

Today's blog entry is about using coconut flour with wheat.  I have no problem with wheat.  I like bread made with wheat.

Furthermore, this posting is about a loaf failure.  Because I post every bread I make, there have been quite a number of failures.  I like to experiment.  Not all experiments turn out perfect.

You can learn from my failures though.  If you read on, you may learn what you SHOULDN'T do, when you make a coconut flour sourdough bread with wheat.  Or you may learn something even more important.

Coconut Flour
Coconut flour has seen a surge in interest lately.  You see, there is a lot of fiber in coconut, and a lot of that fiber is left over as a residue or waste product when the oil is removed.  The coconut industry and oil processors are looking for a place to send the fiber.  So they have been doing tests  (e.g.: Trinidad, P. (2004). Dietary fiber from coconut flour: a functional food.  Innovative Food science and Emerging Technologies. 7:4 pp. 309-317) to determine whether the coconut, when ground into flour, has usefulness as a functional food.  It turns out it does.  There is not a lot of food value in it*, but the fiber alone can be used in breads, for example, to increase bulk and reduce hunger -- making it an ideal filler flour to help in weight reduction and lower cholesterol, etc. 

One study whose Abstract I saw (Gunathilake, K. et. al (2009) Use of coconut flour as a source of protein and dietary fibre in wheat bread. Asian J of Food and Agro-Industry 2:3 pp. 382-391) said that 20% coconut flour is acceptable in loaves, but that 30% would negatively impact volumes and the bread's perceived quality.  So for my first experiment with coconut flour in a whole wheat loaf, I kept it at 20%.

But I didn't understand anything about coconut flour before using it.  I also added my typical 5% wheat germ and 5% wheat bran to this loaf -- even though, I discovered, it certainly didn't need the extra bran.  

There was so much fiber in this dough, I made a brick. 

Here are the ingredients I used.  It was made in the Tartine style, sorta:

  • 100% ww flour
  • 5% wheat germ
  • 5% wheat bran
  • 2% salt
  • 80% water
  • 20% sourdough starter
  • 20% coconut flour
Turns out, with this combination, you could build a very sturdy house.

Sidebar: Rant about "Functional Foods"
Does anyone else think it is strange that when farmers are given a lot of indigestible roughage like coconut byproduct to feed their animals, they turn thumbs down on it because it provides no nutrient value for their livestock, and the cows need nutrition to build more milk and meat; but when humans are given indigestible roughage to feed themselves, they turn thumbs up and call it a "functional food" because they then feel satiated but they haven't gained weight?

Why are we eating?

I may have said this before: we know more about animal nutrition than we do human nutrition, because we know WHY we are keeping and raising animals.  We raise them for eggs (e.g. chickens, ducks), or for their milk (e.g. cows, goats) or for slaughter (e.g. cows, chickens, pigs), or for some other use (e.g. sheep).  We want them healthy so they can deliver the things we want.

But of what use is a human?  Why should we care about our own nutrition?  What do humans deliver that adds value to this world?

Your answer will depend on what you think is important in life, and what gives life meaning.  Some of the best human nutrition comes from athletes and body builders -- but they are mostly interested in sports performance, or looking muscular.  Is that the epitome of human worth?  I personally can't accept that as a final solution. 

I think that in fact we do want good human eggs (even though we don't eat them, as we do chicken eggs);  and we want good human milk (but I don't mean for general consumption) -- with the ultimate aim to raise healthy human children.  We want our human progeny to be healthy.  Vibrant with life.  Not deficient, but able to thrive, to reach a potential that we ourselves cannot yet even dream.

And speaking of this potential: consider how humans differ from other animals on this globe, and determine the one thing that separates us and gives value to us.  It is our heart.  It is our caring.  It is human thought.  It is our consciousness, our ability to love.  Our ability to consider, and cogitate, and chart new paths.  Human nutrition should enhance our ability to think well and love deeply.

Will coconut flour do this?  Will it make me a better person?  I want to see that proved.

Coconut Flour "Goodness"
Is there anything else good about Coconut flour, other than the fibre?  See this article:  DebMandel, M. and Mandal, S. (2011) Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.: Arecaceae): In health promotion and disease prevention.  Asian Pacific J of Tropical Medicine. 20 March. pp 241-247.  It suggests that coconut flour has antimicrobial effect on oral microflora.  But if that's the case, what will it do to the microbes in sourdough, then?

Another article (Chastain, M. (2006) Coconut bread as a means of improving protein nutrition.  J. of Food science 40:5 pp. 1014-1017) suggests that coconut flour can improve the protein efficiency ratio (PER) of wheat breads, by supplementing wheat's low lysine values with a balanced protein.  If that is the case, then coconut flour has some definite possibilities for enhancing human nutrition.

Kwon, K. et. al. (1996) "Fractionation and characterization of proteins from coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) J. Agric. Food Chem. 44:7 pp 1741-1745 showed that defatted coconut still has relatively high levels of glutamic acid, arginine and aspartic acid.  That aspartic acid is where the lysine boost will come from.

But several articles suggested to me that the coconut is treated with hexane solvent to remove the fat, and thereafter it is dried and ground into the powder that is called coconut flour.  Is there any hexane left in the flour?  Probably.  Is it okay to eat?  Perhaps not.

Don't worry if you say no, and take a pass on coconut flour; the coconut by-product industry will be ok.  If they can't sell this stuff as a 'functional food', they will sell it to the ethanol-producing industry.  (e.g. see Filho, E. (2000) Babassu coconut starch liquefaction: an industrial approach to improve conversion yield. Bioresource Technology 75:1 pp 49-55)  It won't go to waste.  So even though it takes gas to produce, it may also end up as gasoline.

Dense.  Hard as a bullet.  Sure, I ate one of these loaves (generally I give away one of my loaves, but I couldn't put another soul through that, it got tossed).  It was steinhart, as my mother-in-law might say: hard as a rock on the cutting board, hard as a stone in your stomach.


Notes to Myself
  • * Re: the food value of coconut flour.  The abstract breaks down coconut flour as follows:
  • Use up your coconut flour, and then don't buy any more, until and unless there is no other way to get balanced protein in your diet.
  • I feel sorry for the people who have to eat coconut flour as a rule, because they must eat gluten-free.  But I pity those people who have no wheat sensitivities who are eating coconut flour, pretending that it is better for them than wheat, even though they don't have to.
  • Stick with whole grains.  Defatted coconut that is ground into dust is not a grain, and what is more, it is no longer whole, by definition. 
  • Keep coconut flour well hydrated, when you use it with wheat.  It sucks up a lot more water than you would expect. 


  1. Read the book Grain Brain. Loose your "healthy whole grains." They are not healthy.

    1. I've read it. Perlmutter's book is awful, I don't recommend it. He cherry picks science. He never once discusses how glucose is the brain's primary fuel. He never mentions the work of Fasano who has discovered that gluten is a trigger for zonulin which alters the gut's, and the brain's tight junctions -- work that might have lent some (as yet still unproven) credence to his hypothesis. But he confuses things by saying it is wheat's sugars that are the culprits, when it is some of wheat's proteins. The solution he proposes is to eat more fat, which will also give you more protein. Cardiologists would disagree. Nephrologists would disagree. You may be right when you say grains are not healthy. On the other hand, you may be wrong, and Perlmutter's book doesn't help anyone by confusing issues. I don't trust his book. But thanks for suggesting it.

  2. Just came across this and I think this idea that "whole grain wheat" is unhealthy is not because whole grain wheat itself is unhealthy, but that store bought bread in general is unhealthy. So when there was a movement to push people toward whole wheat bread, then we found out and realized whole wheat store bought bread is no healthier than other store bought bread. This is why I found this page; im looking to learn how to make bread from live yeast, not store bought.