When the package arrived, I went straight for the tiger nut flour, the genesis of this journey. The first eye-catching claim on the container? It’s a gluten-free, one-to-one substitute for wheat flour. The one-to-one flour option has soared in popularity because it takes out all the guesswork of yielding precise ratios. Typically, tapioca and/or potato starch, rice and sorghum flours, plus sometimes xanthan gum are mixed together to replicate the stretchy, airy qualities of gluten; it’s passable but not perfect.
The tiger nut flour is more intriguing than that blend because it’s derived from a single ingredient: an ancient wrinkly root vegetable the size of chickpeas. To gauge its qualities, I settled on baking bread because, well, that felt like the ultimate test.
Most baked goods, such as cookies, cakes, and pies, contain sugar and fat, resulting in an addictive, moreish unctuousness. Flour is important for structure but is not the sine qua non. Bread, on the other hand, is simply composed of flour, yeast, salt, and water. With only four ingredients, the tiger nut flour would have nowhere to hide. Success would be triumphant. Failure? Equally spectacular. I would soon discover the latter.
I made the breads side-by-side. Same temperature water and yeast in two separate bowls, one with all-purpose wheat flour, the other with tiger nut flour. From the get-go, our star ingredient looked suspect. While the gluten-laden dough came together with ease and became more pliable when kneaded, the tiger nut dough would not cohere. Its texture felt more akin to a facial mask paste. It was granular, almost spongy, and reminiscent of an adult sea urchin.
Eventually, I resorted to a silicone spatula to pat it all together. I hoped time and yeast would work their magic; alas, the dough did not proof, whilst the wheat loaf puffed up into a springy ball.
After an hour in the oven, the end product was fascinating. The tiger nut bread resembled a dense, moist loaf with a somewhat pleasant flavor that was vegetal and sprout-like with nutty undertones. At the dinner table, guest reviews were tepid. My companions thought it was decent but unmemorable. It tasted much better when toasted with extra butter. “Just the one slice,” remarked one polite diner. “Thanks.”