Your Guide to Understand Different Types of Flour

by Apr 4, 2019blog

Gone are the days, where a house had just a single canister filled with flour. Nowadays, if you walk down the baking aisle, you are presented with a myriad of flour types. We get to so many varieties where some are gluten free while others are white whole-meal, and you are left to wonder, “do people actually need all these types of flour?” The truth is, yes, there is a growing need for all these different types of flour because different people consume certain kinds of flour depending on the nutritional benefits.

Has there never been a time where you decide to cook something but the recipe card requires for you to use a specific type of flour? Well, it is very common for people to be confused since there are so many types of flour today. So the most popular question is “which flour to use?” This confusion is exactly what this article is trying to solve. Through this blog article, we will help you understand all the different types of flour, so get ready to wave goodbye to your flour-confusions. The article structure is as follows:

•  Soft wheat and hard wheat
•  Types of flour
      –  Wheat Flours
      –  Non-wheat flours

Soft wheat and hard wheat

Before we understand the different types of wheat, it is important to first understand the basics. Wheat grains used to make flour are chosen based on its ability to form gluten and its protein quality. The reason why these two elements are important is because it determines whether the flour will have an elastic consistency or not. The protein content in the wheat grain determines whether the wheat is soft wheat or hard wheat. Understanding these two types of wheat is the first step in the process.

• Soft wheat:  Soft wheat is the category of grains that contain low gluten content. These grains are used to process plain flour and self-raising flour, which makes it perfect for cakes, biscuits and other confectionary items. If the flour used to make cakes and biscuits are high on gluten,when mixed with water this flour becomes highly elastic. Therefore, soft wheat grains are used for these types of flour. Plain flour is suitable for baking, as it has a crumbly structure, which is very necessary while making biscuits and other pastries.

• Hard wheat: These grains are high on gluten as well as rich in protein. Since bread making requires stretchy dough, hard wheat grains are ideal for processing bread flour or commonly known as strong flour. These grains are used to make pasta flour, since this flour provides a firm and silky texture to the dough, making it easy to roll if you are making pasta from scratch.

Based on these grains, flour is broadly divided into two categories, wheat flour and non-wheat flour.These two categories of flour include the various types of flour, and so this forms the major part of this article.

Types of flour

Wheat Flour

Knowingly or unknowingly, wheat flours are the most commonly used flours in a household. Most of the flours that we use are milled from wheat. These flours by law contain essential nutrients such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, iron and folic acid. In the same way, whole-wheat flours contain vitamin B, iron, selenium, potassium and magnesium, which make whole wheat flour a good choice by health enthusiasts. Wheat flours are ideal for bread making, as it is milled from hard wheat grain, implying that they are rich in protein and gluten. The types of wheat flours are as follows:

• All-purpose flour: this wheat flour is a special blend of both hard and soft wheat grains. This flour is milled with the endosperm alone, leaving out the bran and germ that is essential for baking. Some versions of this type of flour are fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D. Since it is blended with both the types of wheat grains, it has a medium-range protein content and is used for baking a variety of baked goods.

• 100% whole-wheat flour: this wheat flour is made from milling wheat berries also known as hulled red wheat grain. This is commonly used as a replacement for all-purpose flour as it is richer in protein and fibre when compared to all-purpose. Though this flour has a short shelf life, it is used to make heavier bread and other baked goods that require such a dough consistency.

• White whole-wheat flour: The main difference between this flour and the whole-wheat flour is that this is made with white spring wheat, while whole-wheat is made with wheat berries. This is preferred over whole-wheat by few people, as it has a milder taste and color. This mild taste has a definite impact on the taste of baked goods.

• Gluten flour: This is yet another type of flour made from hard wheat. The gluten wheat flour is a type of refined flour where most of the starch content is stripped. It is higher in protein content than the all-purpose flour, thereby consisting of increased strength and rising power in the dough.

• Semolina flour: This is the product of refined hard durum wheat flour and is very coarse in texture. This type of wheat flour is commonly used to make pasta, couscous, and gnocchi and so on since it is high in gluten, which indicates high levels of elasticity.

• Cake or Pastry flour: This is a type of wheat flour made from soft wheat. Being high in starch and low on gluten, this fine-textured flour, as its name suggests, is perfect for baking tender cakes and pastries.

• Bread flour or Strong bread flour:  As mentioned earlier, this is a type of flour that is made from hard wheat, and a limited amount of barley flour. The high gluten content in this flour makes it ideal for bread making as it rises well and provides ample air holes, essential for baking good quality bread.

• Self-rising flour: This is simply all-purpose flour with salt and baking soda added to the contents. This is a convenient product that cannot be used for making any type of yeast bread.

These are the various types of wheat flours that we use, and from the list above, it is almost too obvious that we all would have used these types of flour from time to time. Now we can move on to understanding the different types of non-wheat flours that we are often exposed to.

Non-wheat Flour

This category of flours includes gluten free mixes, which are often blended from flours of other grains. For example, a gluten-free baking mix could contain bean flour, potato starch, tapioca flour etc. These gluten free flours offer a variety of health and nutritional benefits. These flours, unlike the wheat flours, are sold pre-packaged, ensuring an increased shelf life. The main reason for such packaging is because gluten free flours are at high risk of turning rancid quickly. Therefore, it is commonly believed that refrigerating these flours help increase its life. The types of non-wheat flours are as follows:

• Almond meal flour: This flour is made from blanched almonds and is low in carbohydrates but high in protein content. This flour is used to make pastries and gives the baked goods a nutty taste while increasing its moisture content. However, the major issue with this non-wheat flour is that it has an incredibly short shelf life.

• Amaranth flour: It is ground with an ancient seed and comes with a high level of protein. It is used as a thickening agent while making sauces, gravies and soups. It also has a nutty sweet taste and works well while baking pastries.

• Barley flour: This type of flour is made from whole-grain barley or better known as pearl. This non-wheat flour contains gluten, but not the level required to lead to the rising of the dough.

• Buckwheat flour: This non-wheat flour is made from buckwheat, which is in the same family line as rhubarb. This flour is added or combined with other flours to give it a hearty flavor as well as to add color to the flour. It is ideal for making pasta and pancakes, even though it has a strong flavor.

• Corn flour: This is a type of non-wheat flour that is milled from the whole corn kernel. It is commonly used in breading or as a blend with other flours to make a batter or dough. It can be further processed to make corn flour with the help of a food processor.

• Oat flour: This is ground from oat groats and is commonly used to replace certain types of flour in a recipe. It brings in a flavor of rich nuttiness and has a dense texture. However, in order to bake goods, this flour needs to be mixed with another flour, as this flour alone does not have the ability to rise.

• Peanut flour: Crushed, fully or partially defatted peanuts are used to make this type of non-wheat flour. It is again used as a component to thicken soups and sauces while enhancing the flavors.

• Potato flour: As the name suggests, grinding whole and dried potatoes make this flour. It is used as a thickening agent for cooking a smooth, creamy sauce, or soups, gravies and frozen desserts. In order to bake with this flour, you will need to add starch enabling it to retain the water content. Using this flour helps bake soft, moist and fresh bread.

• Rye: This is a heavy and dark non-wheat flour made from rye. It contains less gluten compared to the all-purpose flour and whole-wheat flour. To increase the flour’s rising ability, it needs to be added to another high protein flour.Using this flour leads to making very dense bread and so is not generally used to make pastries and desserts.

• Soy flour: Made from milled soybeans, this non-wheat flour is rich in protein and low on carbohydrates when compared to all-purpose flour. It is an excellent source of calcium, iron and magnesium. It is used as an alternative to making quick bread and cookies.

• Spelt flour: This flour is made from spelt, which is an ancient grain. It is slightly higher in protein when compared to wheat flour. This flour also has a mild, mellow and nutty taste and is substituted for wheat flour while baking.

There are types of ethnic flours that are often used by chefs across the globe. These ethnic flours are used for baking, cooking, thickening, binding and so on. Some of these flours include, cassava flour, chickpea or garbanzo flour, chapatti flour, dal flour, millet and the list does not end here. These flours are generally acquired from local suppliers, as the grains used to grind to make flours are local staples.

The numbers of wheat and non-wheat flours that are made available nowadays are not limited to the list given in this article. The truth is, with the growth in demand for the need for healthy food options, manufacturers produce various types of flours. This guide will probably help you be better prepared the next time you walk down the flour or baking aisle, as even buying a packet of flour requires information.

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