Many types of flour are available today, and with the increased interest in specialty diets and natural/organic foods, it seems that the number of varieties carried at the average supermarket also has grown. This guide will help you to understand what makes these flours different from each other, so you can decide which variety best suits your needs.
By far, the most commonly used flour in America, all-purpose flour is a blend of hard and soft wheat (a combination of high-protein bread flour and low-protein cake flour). It is available in bleached and unbleached forms. Bleached flour contains less protein than unbleached and is best for use in tender products such as piecrusts, cookies, quick breads, pancakes, and waffles. The protein content of all-purpose flours can vary widely according to brand. When making yeast breads, the flour should contain at least 2¾ grams (g) of protein per ¼ cup (C) to ensure a high volume and finely textured bread.
Arrowroot flour is used in cooking as a thickener, with approximately 50% more thickening power than a whole-wheat flour. Because you can cook arrowroot at a low temperature, it is suitable for use in egg-containing sauces. It also is frequently called for in recipes for glazes, fruit-pie fillings, and puddings. It also is used in commercial ice cream.
Bread flour is made only from hard wheat and is higher in protein than other varieties. Bread flour is only available unbleached and contains more protein than other varieties. Bread flour helps dough to rise and results in larger loaves with a lighter texture. The ascorbic acid frequently added to bread flour also lends itself to improved volume and texture. Bread flour is best utilized in the making of yeast-bread products and is especially good for making sourdough bread. If you use bread flour in place of all-purpose flour, you will need less.
Buckwheat flour is gluten-free, making it an ideal choice for people with celiac disease. It has a slightly bitter flavor, and is most often used in pancakes, waffles, blintzes, crepes, muffins, and soba noodles.
Cake flour is a finer, softer flour with a high-starch content made from the endosperm of soft wheat. Of all of the wheat flours, cake flour has the lowest protein content. Cake flour is chlorinated, which allows it to set a cake more quickly and to distribute fat more evenly to improve texture. Cake flour is used in fine-textured cakes, such as chiffon or angel food cakes, as well as some biscuits, piecrusts, cookies, and quick breads. In recipes using volume measuring, you can substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour by replacing 2 tablespoons (Tbsp) of the all-purpose flour with 2 Tbsp of cornstarch for every 1 C of cake flour needed, although this trick does not work in all recipes.
Durum flour is high protein and is most commonly used in the making of pasta. Durum flour is created as a by-product of semolina flour milling.
Gluten flour is produced from hard wheat and has had all of the starch removed. Gluten flour is usually used in making pizza crusts, bagels, flat breads, and rolls.
Used in the making graham crackers, this very coarse flour also is useful in other recipes calling for a highly textured flour, such as certain cookie recipes.
Pastry flour is made from soft wheat and contains less protein than all-purpose flour, but more than cake flour. Pastry flour absorbs less fluid than other varieties of flour. Pastry flour makes a tender and crumbly pastry. It is good to use when making biscuits, pancakes, piecrusts, pound and sheet cakes, cookies, brownies, and a few quick breads. +
Self-rising flour is low protein, with salt and leavening agents already added to it. Self-rising flour often is used in biscuits and some quick breads. To make your own self-rising flour, add 1½ teaspoons (tsp) of baking powder and a ½ tsp of salt to every 1 C of all-purpose flour. Self-rising flour loses some of its leavening power with extended storage time.
Semolina flour is a granular flour that is high in protein and made from the coarsely ground endosperm of durum wheat. It is used in white pasta, gnocchi, couscous, and some specialty breads. Bread made with semolina flour has a crispy crust and a chewy interior.
Soy flour contains no gluten, but is added to wheat flour in some products to increase the protein content. You can replace roughly 25% of wheat flour with soy flour in recipes. The more fat that soy flour contains, the more quickly that it will go rancid. You need to tightly wrap full-fat soy flour and store in either the refrigerator or the freezer. Soy flour causes products to brown more quickly, so you will need to reduce your total baking time most likely.
Teff flour is gluten-free, high in protein, and contains calcium, thiamine, and iron. Teff flour also is high in fiber.
Whole-wheat flour is made from the whole kernel of wheat, containing the germ, bran, and endosperm. It is higher in fiber and nutrients, including B vitamins, selenium, vitamin E, and thiamine than white flours. You cannot use whole-wheat flour alone to make yeast breads. You must mix it with either all-purpose or bread flour. You can substitute whole-wheat flour for about 50% of the white flour called for in yeast- and quick-bread recipes, although the final product will turn out smaller and heavier than one made with only white flour.
References and recommended readings
Better Homes and Gardens. Flours and grains: types of flour. Available at: http://www.bhg.com/recipes/desserts/baking-basics/flours-and-grains/?page=1. Accessed February 19, 2010.
CookeryOnline.com. What is flour? Available at: http://www.cookeryonline.com/Bread/flour.html. Accessed February 19, 2010.
RecipesTips.com. Types of non-wheat flour—legumes. Available at: http://www.recipetips.com/kitchen-tips/t--1029/types-of-nonwheat-flour-legumes.asp. Accessed February 19, 2010.
RecipeTips.com. Types of non-wheat flour—seeds. Available at: http://www.recipetips.com/kitchen-tips/t--1028/types-of-nonwheat-flour-seeds.asp. Accessed February 19, 2010.
RecipesTips.com. Types of non-wheat flour—tubers. Available at: http://www.recipetips.com/kitchen-tips/t--1030/Types-of-NonWheat-Flour-Tubers.asp. Accessed February 19, 2010.
RecipesTips.com. Types of wheat flour. Available at: http://www.recipetips.com/kitchen-tips/t--1026/types-of-wheat-flour.asp. Accessed February 19, 2010.
Stradley L. Types of flour: how to buy flour, how to store flour. Available at: http://whatscookingamerica.net/Bread/FlourTypes.htm. Accessed February 19, 2010.
Review Date 3/10