Are you starting your journey as a baker and ready to tackle your first recipe? One of the first things you should stock is flour. It’s arguably the most important ingredient you’ll ever need as a baker. But once you hit your local grocery store, you’ll see different kinds of flour–which one should you get?
Well, don’t panic. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn about the differences in flour types you’ll encounter as you bake. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Note: This article was originally published back on December 5, 2020. It’s been updated today, May 22, 2023.
- Flour is a crucial ingredient in baking and cooking.
- Various types of flour cater to different needs and recipes.
- Wheat flour is the most common type, but non-wheat flour is also becoming popular.
- Different types of flour have varying protein content, gluten formation, color, and flavor, which make them suitable for specific baked goods and culinary purposes.
- Mixing different types of flour is possible and can lead to unique outcomes, allowing for flavor balancing, texture improvement, and enhanced nutritional profiles.
A Brief History Of Flour
According to Wikipedia, the word “flour” came from a variant of the word “flower”, which was derived from the Old French “fleur”. And the earliest evidence of something that resembles today’s flour dates back to around 32,000 years ago. Apparently, people back then would crush wheat seeds between millstones to make flour. This was a slow way to make this valuable resource, especially since there was no flour mill back then.
But as technology improved over time, flour production also became faster. And as years passed, different kinds of flour started to emerge, each with its own unique qualities and uses. Today, there are various kinds and brands, such as Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur, that meet the needs and preferences of bakers around the world.
A Word About Flour Color and Protein Content
Did you know that flour isn’t really white? Flour’s natural color is actually slightly yellow, but consumers didn’t like the color. That’s why some manufacturers bleach their flour with a bleaching agent or food additives such as benzoyl peroxide.
Don’t worry: bleached flour is safe for consumption. Both it and unbleached flour have different results when you use them for baking–try it out for yourself when you get to baking and see!
Aside from the color, one thing you should note about flour is the specific protein content. When flour is mixed with water and kneaded or mixed, the proteins in the flour form gluten strands. Gluten is a network of proteins that provide structure and elasticity to dough, giving it the ability to stretch and trap gas produced by yeast during fermentation.
Different types of baked goods require different levels of gluten development. For example, the usual bread recipe calls for flour with higher protein content, such as bread flour or high-gluten flour, to develop strong gluten strands for a chewy texture.
On the other hand, cakes and pastries are better made using flours with lower protein content, like cake flour. That way, you’ll get a tender and delicate crumb by minimizing gluten formation.
Let’s now get to the main event of this article: the different types of flour explained.
A quick disclaimer, though: we can’t guarantee that we’ll cover all kinds of flour, especially with technological advances happening every day. That means different types of flour will be emerging all the time.
What we will cover, though, are the common or well-known ones. So without further ado:
The Different Kinds Of Wheat Flours
For the purposes of simplicity, you can divide flour simply into two kinds: wheat and non-wheat variety. Wheat flour is the most common kind, and its varieties have different milling processes and protein content.
Here are the different kinds of wheat flour:
All-purpose flour, or APF, is one of the most well-known types. Also known as plain flour, it’s easily accessible in any grocery store. You can use it for most recipes.
No matter the different brands or types of all-purpose flour, you can count on it being milled from hard red wheat or a mix (80:20 ratio) of soft and hard wheat. It has a fine and powdery consistency and is naturally light in color, but manufacturers usually bleach this to make it even lighter. You can use AP flour to make cakes, breads, pizza dough (in case you don’t have Italian double zero flour but still want an authentic Italian pizza), cookies, muffins, and biscuits. You can also use all-purpose flours to make different savory dishes, sauces, and gravies. Hey, that’s why it’s “all-purpose!”
Bread flour is locally known as “1st class flour.” That’s because it has a higher protein content (around 12-15%) and is well-suited for making bread and other high-yeast products. Since it has high protein content, it also has more gluten, which means the dough made from bread flour has more elasticity and a light texture when baked.
As the name implies, you use bread flour to make white bread, pan de sal, French baguettes, sourdough bread, and more. It is important to note that you should be careful in replacing this flour when making bread, as you might end up with a dense, close-textured, or uneven dough that has not risen correctly.
If bread flour is called 1st class flour, pastry flour (also known as soft or biscuit flour) is known as 3rd class flour. That’s because bakers consider it less refined. It also has a lower protein content, around 9%.
However, it is perfect for recipes that need to have flaky and airy products, such as pancakes, cupcakes, biscuits, cookies, and pie crusts.
This type of flour is made from a strain of low-protein wheat, giving it a protein content of only 6-9%. It’s very fine and has a low gluten yield, meaning it’s perfect for light and airy baked goods like sponge cakes and muffins. You can also use this as a substitute for all-purpose flour in making other goods like quick breads.
Do take note that this flour has the tendency to expire if stored for a very long time. That means if you don’t use this type of flour often, stocking up on it is not a good idea.
Self-rising or self-raising flour is all-purpose flour with a twist: an added leavening agent. It was invented by Henry Jones. He made it so that sailors could have better baked goods on ships and for bakers to get a consistent result every time.
So since you’re not a sailor, should you still use this type of flour? Yes, if you want to have a simplified baking process and if you want a light and fluffy texture in your cakes. However, if you want more control over the raising process of your bake, skip this flour.
Semolina flour comes from hard durum wheat. It is a high-gluten flour that is yellow in color, coarse in texture, and high in gluten protein. Semolina is readily available across the globe and is popular in Italy.
Its high gluten content helps create a less sticky dough that’s still elastic and can hold a shape. This type of flour is best used in making different types of pasta from scratch. However, you can also use it as a thickener for soups and stews.
Whole Wheat Flour
Whole wheat flour has a grainy texture and a much darker color than the usual flour, but it also has more nutrients since it includes the endosperm, bran, and germ of the wheat grain. Do note that there is a natural white whole wheat flour–there’s no bleaching involved!
The shelf type of this is lower, so I don’t recommend stocking up on this flour. It’s great for a variety of baked goods, though!
A quick note: be careful when choosing your whole wheat flour, as it can get quite confusing at times. Some companies tend to label flour as “wheat flour,” even if it’s just white flour–plus, technically, all types of flour come from wheat. Take the time to check the label and nutrition facts to be safe!
If you’re thinking of graham crackers when you read this, you’re right! Graham flour was one of the many products inspired by Reverend Sylvester Graham, a 19th-century American dietary reformer who advocated for the consumption of whole grains. This flour is a type of whole wheat that is coarsely ground from the endosperm and bran of the wheat grain and has a slightly nutty and earthy flavor.
And yes, graham flour is commonly used in the production of graham crackers and other baked goods. You can also use it to add a rich and hearty taste to recipes that you want to have a more robust flavor profile.
One advantage of this flour is that it has a higher nutritional value compared to refined white flour. However, graham flour is not as common as other kinds of flour.
The Different Kinds Of Non-Wheat Flours
There has been a growing interest in exploring alternative sources for flour production, driven in part by their local abundance. While wheat remains the most widely used grain for flour, there are also specialty flours that serve specific purposes and are less commonly used. Some of these other types of flour include:
Oat flour is a whole grain flour and primarily comes from rolled oats. It has plenty of nutrients such as fiber, vitamin B1, chromium, manganese, magnesium, copper, molybdenum, and magnesium.
You can replace your regular flour with oat flour if you want to do gluten-free baking. But do note that oat flour is much lighter than your usual flour–1 cup of oat floor is not equivalent to 1 cup of regular flour. You’ll have to adjust the volume accordingly.
Almond flour, also known as almond meal, is made from finely ground almonds. The almonds can be with the skin or without. Almonds with skin make for a darker flour and are perfect for products that require darker colors like gingerbread cookies or rustic bread.
Skinless almonds, on the other hand, are lighter, making them great for light-colored muffins, cakes and other products. Almond flour is commonly used for keto bread.
Amaranth flour comes from the amaranth plant. It’s another flour that is gluten-free, has a distinctive nutty flavor, and is high in protein. You usually use this to make unleavened or flat breads like tortillas and chapatis, but you can also use this for making pasta.
Bean flours are made from dried beans like chickpeas or lentils and ground into a fine powder. This flour is best suited as a binder for a veggie burger or meatloaf, for coating food before sautéing, or for blending with other flours to achieve better textures and results in baking.
Bean flour has many forms. Examples are white bean flour, black bean flour, fava bean flour, garbanzo bean flour, soy flour, and green pea flour.
Despite its name, buckwheat flour heat and does not have wheat nor contain gluten. It comes from ground buckwheat groats or the seeds of the buckwheat plant. Since it’s naturally gluten-free, it’s great for making products for individuals who are looking for a gluten-free diet.
Buckwheat flour has a unique earthy and nutty flavor. It also has a very good nutritional value and is especially great for soba noodles. You can use it as a substitute for different bakes as well.
Corn flour is made by incorporating dried corn kernels that have been cooked and then ground with lard or shortening and water. The dough is then dried to create the flour. It is usually used in making arepas, tortillas, and of course, cornbread.
Rice is a common ingredient in many cuisines around the world, particularly in Asian cooking. There are different varieties of rice flour, including white rice flour and brown rice flour, each with its own characteristics and uses.
Because it lacks gluten, you can’t use it in the usual bread recipes. You’ll have to combine it with other gluten-free flour to be able to mimic the texture and structure of what flour.
However, you can use rice flour for rice desserts, dumplings, or merely as a thickening agent.
This flour comes from you grinding quinoa seeds into a fine powder. Quinoa is a highly nutritious and protein-rich pseudocereal that is naturally gluten-free.
You can use quinoa flour for gluten-free baking. When doing this, experiment and blend it with other flours so you can achieve your desired texture and structure.
Potato flour has excellent thickening properties, making it a valuable binding ingredient for sauces, gravies, soups, and stews. It helps you achieve a smooth and consistent texture in these preparations. Potato flour also has the ability to retain moisture, helping to keep baked goods moist and tender, especially in gluten-free recipes that tend to be drier compared to those made with wheat flour.
Don’t be worried about the potato flavor: it’s subtle and will not overpower other ingredients in recipes.
What is flour?
Flour is a fine powder made by grinding grains, seeds, or roots. It is a key ingredient that you use in baking and cooking to provide structure and texture to recipes. There are different types of flour available with varying properties for specific culinary purposes.
Are flours interchangeable?
Flours are not always interchangeable as different types of flour have varying properties, such as protein content and gluten formation, which affect the texture and structure of baked goods. It’s important that you consider the specific recipe and desired outcome to select the appropriate type of flour.
Can you mix different types of flour?
Yes, you can mix different types to help balance flavors, improve texture, and enhance the nutritional profile of your final product.
How many different kinds of flour are there?
There are numerous different kinds of flour available, each with different sources, processing methods, and specific characteristics.
Why are there different types of flour?
The availability of different types of flour allows for versatility in the kitchen, catering to various dietary needs, preferences, and culinary traditions.
With your newfound knowledge about different types of flour, including their consistency, quality, and uses, you can now approach your baking choices with confidence. Feel free to explore and experiment with these varieties to create your own unique baked creations!
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