Flour…. One of the most common and staple things in almost everyone’s pantry. Flour is a powder (fine or coarser) made by grinding raw grains, roots, beans, nuts, and seeds. There are so many different flour types, so I made a quick guide to cover the gluten-based flours.
Cereal flour (fine) or cereal meal (coarser) is the most common. They make it by grinding grains between stone or steel wheels, and it consists either of the endosperm, germ, and bran together (whole-grain), or of the endosperm alone (refined flour).
People use flour extensively. It is the main ingredient in breads, tarts, pies, crackers, cookies, biscuits, sweets and cakes, and pasta. We even use it as thickening agent for gravy, puddings, desserts, and sauces.
Flour is an excellent source of protein, fiber, minerals, vitamins, trace elements, fats, micronutrients, amino acids, and a complex of carbohydrates.
A group of proteins that we find in some grains (wheat and its related species and hybrids, barley, rye, oats) have the name gluten. Gluten has unique properties. It determines the toughness, elasticity, and texture of the flour and the final product.
I am dividing my flours in two main categories: Gluten-containing flours and gluten-free flours.
Gluten flour power and usage
The grains that contain gluten are wheat (common) and its related species and hybrids (spelt, triticale, emmer, kamut or Khorasan, einkorn and durum), barley, rye, and oats.
The amount of protein (gluten) content is the one that determines if the flour is:
- Hard/heavy/strong: (12% to 15%)
- Medium: (10% to 12%)
- Soft/light/weak: (5% to 9%)
The higher the protein content the harder and stronger the flour.
Usually, the package indicates the strength of the flour, as the flour’s protein content. Supermarket flour ranges from about 5% to 14%.
Heavy flour is ideal for bread, sourdough bread, and tsoureki (Greek Easter bread), because it is high in gluten. That makes the dough more elastic, sticky, and dense. Heavy flour creates crusty and chewy baked goods. It is able to hold air bubbles with the help of a leavening agent as the dough rises. However, the rising time for leavened bread products is generally long (3 to 12 hours, depending on the baked goods).
Medium flour, also known as all-purpose flour, is created by half hard and half soft flour. It is ideal for almost everything and we use it for making pizza, focaccia, baguettes, bread, cookies, pie crusts, and desserts. It gives a texture that is something between hard and soft flour textures.
Light flour has less gluten so it is not as elastic as hard or medium flour. It is ideal for cakes, biscuits, cookies, pie crusts, and delicate pastries. The crumb that it creates will be light, soft, and tender.
Traditionally, the most common and widely used flours are the ones that are milled from wheat. Wheat is either hard or soft. Wheat flour categories are extensive and understanding their differences helps you to pick the right one, substitute one for another, and create better goods.
The categories of wheat flour are:
All purpose or plain flour: A refined combination of hard and soft wheat. This type of flour has a protein content of 9% to 12%. That makes it a great staple in the kitchen that covers a wide variety of household baking needs. We use it for baking breads, cookies, cakes and pastries, coating or breading for fried or sauté foods, and as a thickening agent for sauces and gravies.
100% whole-wheat flour: Naturally contains the most fiber, minerals, and nutrients. It is whole-grain flour and produces dense baked goods. We mix it often with all purpose flour for a lighter texture and rising.
White whole-wheat flour: We can use it instead of regular whole-wheat flour in baked goods, for a milder taste and lighter color. Sometimes, producers add additional gluten to this flour. It is whole-grain and contains a great amount of minerals, vitamins, and fiber.
White or refined flour: Contains only the endosperm and it is whiter and finer than every other wheat flour. It has more elasticity and has a longer shelf life. It is used vastly for snacks and likes. The negative is that most of its nutrients and fiber is removed. Also, eating refined carbs has a link to drastically increased risk of many diseases.
Self-rising or self-raising flour: Convenience flour sold with added leavening agents. If stored too long it loses its leavening action. Typically composed of a ratio 1 cup all purpose flour +1 ½ teaspoon baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt (100gr flour +3gr baking powder+1gr or less salt). It has a protein content of 8-9% and it's not typical to use it for making breads.
Cake flour: Refined flour made from soft wheat, with the lowest gluten content 5% to 8%. You can make your own cake flour by removing 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour from 1 cup and replacing it with 2Tbsp of cornstarch. It is suitable for soft texture cakes and cookies. Cake flour is ideal for super light, airy, and tender cakes, and pastries.
Pastry Flour: This type has a bit more hard wheat flour than cake flour. It is high starch like cake flour but has a bit more gluten, so it is suitable for cookies, tarts, muffins, scones, crackers, and biscuits. Its protein content is around 8-9% and it’s available as white pastry flour, and whole-wheat flour.
Bread or strong flour: Refined flour made from hard wheat and sometimes a small amount of barley flour. Has the highest protein content of the supermarket flours, averaging 10-14%. It makes excellent bread, particularly yeast risen baking. It can be white, whole wheat, or something in between.
Gluten flour: Refined flour made from hard wheat with most starch removed. It has high gluten content and increases the strength and rising power of other flours, commonly used for bread making.
There are also some other not so common flours like:
- Graham Flour (uncommon outside the U.S.),
- Instant flour (precooked) used for gravies and sauces,
- Enriched flour with added nutrients
- Bleached flour treated with bleaching agents to whiten it. Chemically bleached flours are banned from EU.
Other grains, wheat hybrids and species containing gluten
Rye Flour: The only flour other than wheat that we can use without blending to make yeast-raised breads. It is nut-free, whole-grain flour, high in fiber, with low gluten content. Usually, they sell it as medium flour, but light and dark types are also available. To substitute whole/white wheat flour, the ratio is 1:1 (in cups). Rye flour is good for baking sourdough breads or any other dense, heavy bread. You can lighten it by blending it with other high gluten flours. Pumpernickel flour is dark rye flour made from whole wheat grain and used in bread making.
Barley flour: they make it from milling dried and ground barley and there are two general types of it: coarse and fine. It is nut-free, whole-grain flour with lower gluten content even than rye. It adds fiber in baked goods, and is ideal as a thickener in soups, stews, sauces and gravies. Substitute 1 cup whole/white wheat with ½ cup barley flour. Malt or Malted Barley flour is prepared from barley malt. Its common use is as a diastatic supplement for other bread flours.
Oat Flour: They produce it by grinding oat groats and produces whole oat flour. We can also make it by pulsing rolled oats or old fashioned oats in a food processor or spice mill. Oat normally contains the smallest amount of gluten but it is frequently cross-contaminated with other gluten containing cereals during harvesting, transport, storage, or processing. Pure oats contains almost no gluten. It has a rich, nutty flavor and denser texture. In baked foods that need to rise, we must combine oat flour with other flours.
Semolina or Durum flour: It derives from hard durum wheat, and it is generally coarsely and fine milled. Durum flour is whole-grain flour with high gluten content. We can use it for pasta, gnocchi, noodles, puddings, couscous, traditional pizza, doner bread, and cereal. Other wheat varieties or grains may also have the name semolina, such as corn semolina (grits, polenta) and rice semolina. Durum flour (fine) is easier to work than semolina flour (coarse) so it is usually preferable.
Spelt flour: It is an ancient grain (triticum dicoccum), with the alternative name dinkel. It is nut-free, whole-grain flour full of fiber, nutrients, and with the highest gluten content. Its gluten has a different molecular make up, is water soluble, and easier to digest. It works extremely well as a replacement of wheat flour and the substitute ratio is 1:1. Both refined and whole spelt flours are available in markets.
Khorasan or Kamut flour: It is an ancient grain. Kamut flour is nut-free, whole-grain, and contains more proteins, vitamins, and amino acids than wheat. The grain has an amber color and we can recognize it by its smooth texture and a rich, nutty, buttery flavor. We find it mainly in breads but also in cookies, waffles, pancakes, baked goods, pastas, beer and snacks. Substitute it 1:1 ratio with whole/white wheat flour.
Einkorn Flour: Nature’s original wheat, is nut-free, whole-grain, ancient grain. It has a high content of gluten but lower than modern wheat and it is considered more nutritious with a mellow, nutty flavor. Einkorn flour has a lack of rising characteristics desirable for bread so we use it for bulgur, or we eat it boiled in whole grains or in porridge. Substitute 1:1 ratio with whole/white wheat flour.
Emmer Flour: It is produced from Emmer or hulled wheat and it’s used mostly for bread making. It is an ancient grain very similar to einkorn. It contains gluten and is eaten mostly as the whole grain. Emmer is also called farro.
- The English word flour is originally a variant of the word flower, and both words derive from the Old French fleur or flour, which had the literal meaning “blossom” and a figurative meaning “the finest”. The phrase fleur de farine meant “the finest part of the meal”.
- Flour dust suspended in air is explosive – as in any mixture of a finely powdered flammable substance with air.
- In Denmark, they use rye to make a dark, dense sourdough bread called Rugbrød that’s part of the healthy Nordic diet.
- You can find emmer bread in the Netherlands and in Switzerland.
- Khorasan refers to historical region in modern-day Afghanistan and Iran and parts of central Asia. It is also known as Oriental Wheat.