Types of flour. Which flour is more suitable for bread, which for cookies, which...?

When we talk about flour, we usually think of wheat flour. However, flour is very different - different types of flour, different amounts of nutrients, and applications.

Some use more flour in their diet, some less.

Flour is used to make bread, desserts, pastries, confections, pasta, sauces...

However, not all types of flour are the same. Some types of flour are healthier than others. For example, whole–grain flour is healthier than white flour because bran and germ are removed from white flour before grinding - most fiber and nutrients are removed.

However, whole grain flour is gray and "heavier" compared to white flour, so the "lightest" and whitest white flour is usually used for baking cakes.

That's why flour is different.

Flour is classified according to:

  • Raw material (cereals, roots, beans, nuts or seeds);
  • Grind fineness (coarse/medium/fine flour);
  • Amount of gluten.
 

Cereal flour is further divided into:

  • Whole grain flour – whole grains (endosperm (kernel), germ and bran) are ground into flour;
  • White flour - only the kernel of the grain (endosperm) is ground into the flour. White flour is also usually bleached (refined).
 

Wheat flour

One of the most important characteristics of wheat (also rye and barley) flour is the amount of gluten in it. Essentially, the protein (gluten) acts as a glue that helps the dough rise and keep its shape. Wheat flour is ground from "hard" wheat and "soft" wheat.

Hard wheat has a higher protein content with strong gluten bonds, so its flour is ideal for making pasta and bread.

Soft wheat has a lower protein content, so its flour is more suitable, for example, for making cookies and cakes.

And there are also various combinations of these flours – pastry flour, cake flour, self-rising flour...

Although all types of flour serve essentially the same purpose, they do differ slightly in terms of properties, taste, texture, and nutritional value.

 

1 Whole wheat flour

Whole wheat flour is ground from whole grains. In some cases, some germ and bran are added to white flour. Germ and bran give the flour a nutty flavor and denser texture (and are also a good source of fiber, minerals, and vitamins).

Whole wheat flour has a protein content of about 14 percent, but it does not form gluten as easily as white flour.

This means that if you want to bake something with whole wheat flour - do not overdo it and replace with it no more than 25 percent of the amount of white flour indicated in the recipe.

 

Use of: For adding nutty flavor (and fiber, minerals, and vitamins) to bread, pancakes, pasta, and baked goods.

 

2 All-purpose flour

The most common type of flour is a mixture of durum wheat with a high gluten content and soft wheat with low gluten content, usually in an 80:20 ratio.

As the name suggests, all-purpose flour is designed for the widest range of applications.

Only grain kernels (endosperm) are ground into flour. Because the natural nutrients are removed along with the bran and germ, this type of flour is often fortified with calcium, vitamins A or D, and other additives.

The protein content is usually around 10 to 12 percent, depending on the proportion of hard and soft wheat. The result is lighter textures that are ideal for cookies, cakes, etc. – for all pastries that do not need to expand and rise.

 

Use of: For pastry, thickening and breading.

 

3 Bread flour

White flour milled from hard winter wheat is called bread flour. Higher protein content means higher gluten content. This is the best choice for yeast bread.

Bread flour is milled from durum wheat varieties and contains more protein - from 12 to 14 percent. This provides more rise and structural support to the dough, allowing the final product to rise better and retain its shape. It also creates a chewier texture (like sourdough bread, for example). 

Yeast doughs need to be kneaded longer when using bread flour than when using all-purpose flour. But they tend to rise higher and have a crispier crust.

 

Use of: All types of yeast dough - bread, pizza dough pretzels and bagels.

 

4 Cake flour

Cake flour is milled from soft winter wheat and is very finely ground.

Cake flour contains about 5-9% of protein and is finer, lighter, and softer than all-purpose flour. Cake flour is also bleached, so it is lighter in color and not as dense as other types of wheat flour.

The soft, delicate texture of cake flour absorbs liquid and sugar better - that's why the cakes are more "moist".

Less protein means that when the dough is kneaded, less gluten is formed, and the final product has a softer and more delicate texture.

 

Use of: For making sponge cakes, cupcakes, muffins, and layer cakes.

 

5 Pastry flour

Pastry flour is even lower in protein than cake flour (about 8%) and is mainly used for a soft, crumbly, or flaky texture.

 

Use of: For cookies, crackers, croissants (puff pastry dough), pies, and tart bases.

 

6 Self-rising flour

Self-rising flour is finely ground soft wheat with added yeast - baking powder and salt.

Self-rising flour contains about 9 percent protein. They are used to bake high-quality, light cookies.

It should be noted that self-raising flour cannot be used instead of other types of flour, since the added ingredients can significantly change the appearance and taste of the final product.

 

Use of: For cookies, pancakes, scones.

 

7 Instant flour

It is a finely ground low protein flour that has already been pre-cooked and dried - so it dissolves instantly and does not form lumps when added to hot liquids.

For this reason, it is ideal for making various sauces.

They are also used to get a crisper crust and a more layered structure, for example, when breading vegetables or fish.

 

Use of: For breading and making sauces.

 

8 Semolina flour

Semolina flour is made from solids (durum) for wheat. They have a high protein content, close to that of bread and wholemeal flour, around 12 to 13 percent.

This flour is yellow in color and has a nutty taste.

The gluten content of this flour is ideal for creating a dry, elastic dough that holds its shape during cooking.

Even if you have never used semolina in your kitchen, you have definitely eaten products made from it, such as pasta and couscous.

 

Use of: For pasta dough, Eastern desserts, puddings.

 

Amount of nutrients in the most common types of wheat flour

 

Calories (kcal)

Protein (gluten)

(g)

Carbohydrates

(g)

Fat

(g)

Fiber

(g)

Whole wheat flour, not enriched

370

13 – 16.7

71,2

2,5-3,7

8,9-11,4

All-purpose flour, unenriched, unbleached

362

10,5-13,5

74.6

1,5-2.3

2,7-3,4

Bread flour, enriched, unbleached

363

13,3-15,2

72.8

1,6-1.8

 

Pastry flour, unenriched, unbleached

359

8,06-9,19

77.2

1,55-1,7

 

Source: USDA

It should be noted that the amount of nutrients in flour depends on the variety of wheat, the place and time of its harvesting.

You can find a complete nutrient list for most commonly used flours HERE.

 

9 Rye flour

Rye flour is quite similar to wheat flour, with the difference that it has less gluten and protein and more soluble fiber.

Less gluten means a denser texture and they also have a characteristic nutty taste.

Rye flour comes in different varieties, from light to dark, and has its own subcategories, such as pumpernickel flour (coarser and unbleached) and white rye flour (finely ground and bleached), which differ in the intensity of taste and texture.

Rye flour products have a much longer shelf life. For example, rye bread can be stored for months instead of days or weeks like bread made from other grains.

 

Use of: For bread, pie bases, cookies.

 

10 Oat flour

Oat flour is naturally gluten-free whole grain flour.

Oat flour is milled from whole grains and gives baked goods a more pronounced flavor than, for example, all-purpose wheat flour, but its texture is not as crumbly and easy to chew as wheat flour products.

Since oat flour does not contain gluten, it cannot be used as a substitute for other flours in breads that need to rise, such as baking yeast breads.

Other flours should not be replaced with oat flour by more than 25 percent of the amount indicated in the recipe, with a slight increase in the amount of yeast to help the bread rise.

Oat flour is best used in yeast-free doughs such as cookies.

You can get oat flour very easily at home - by grinding oat flakes into powder.

 

Use of: In gluten-free products, yeast-free breads, pancakes, muffins, brownies, cookies.

 

11 Barley flour

Although historically an important food source, barley has been replaced by wheat and rice over the past 200 years.

Today, barley is mainly used in animal feed, malt production and as an ingredient in some food products such as breakfast cereals and baby food.

Barley flour contains a lot of fiber and little starch, so its glycemic index is one of the lowest.

Barley flour has three times more soluble fiber than oat flour and is versatile enough to replace all-purpose or whole wheat flour.

Barley flour is sometimes added to wheat flour to obtain a combined flour (with a high fiber content). Bread baked from such flour has a darker color and a different taste.

Barley malt flour should be separated individually. This flour is ground from sprouted barley and contains diastase enzymes. Malt flour is used as a diastatic additive to bread flour to increase the activity of yeast (the dough rises better) and improve the color and taste of the final product.

 

Use of: For bread and as an additive to noodles and pastries, etc., to improve their nutritional value..

 

12 Buckwheat flour

Buckwheat flour is milled from buckwheat, is naturally gluten-free, and has very good nutritional value.

The flour has a distinct flavor that can become a little bitter (in a good way!) and works equally well in both savory and sweet dishes.

Since buckwheat does not contain gluten, the amount of wheat flour indicated in the recipe cannot simply be replaced with buckwheat flour. You can try adding buckwheat to bread in the amount of 15 percent of what is indicated in the recipe, to other products up to 25 percent.

Buckwheat affects both the taste and texture of pastries - it adds spiciness and slight bitterness and creates a moister and slightly more tenacious texture. 

 

Use of: For gluten-free products, soba noodles, pancakes, scones, and waffles.

 

13 Corn flour

Corn flour is ground from whole grains of corn. Flour does not contain gluten and is considered whole grain flour because contains the husk and the germ and endosperm of the grain.

Corn flour is usually yellow, but it can also be white or bluish, depending on the variety of corn used. The texture is fine and smooth, similar to whole wheat flour.

Corn flour is popular for its grainy texture, versatility, and pleasant taste. Raw corn flour does not taste very good, but thermal processing brings out its specific sweet taste.

Like other gluten-free flours, corn flour does not give pastry the same rise as gluten-containing flours.

 

Use of: For baking bread, gluten-free products, muffins, pancakes, scones, tortillas, waffles, etc.

P.s. Do not confuse this flour with corn starch.

 

14 Rice flour

Rice flour is finely ground white or brown rice. Rice flour is a common substitute for wheat flour in gluten-free products.

They are also used as a thickener in products that are refrigerated or frozen because they prevent liquid separation.

Rice flour is loved for its neutral taste, as well as its ability to add a light, crunchy (harder) texture.

However, they must be combined with other flours when baking bread, as they do not absorb liquid well, and using only rice flour will give a dense, grainy texture.

 

Use of: In gluten-free products, for making cakes, pasta, and some types of buns, pancakes, as a thickener and, similar to powdered sugar, also for sprinkling pastry.

 

15 Pea flour

Pea flour is a gluten-free flour obtained from dried chickpeas. Also called Gram or Bezan flour.

There are two types of pea flour:

  • Ground from Kabuli chickpeas (yellow-brown, slightly larger and fluffy flour);
  • Ground from Desi chickpeas (darker, finer, and denser flour).
 

Pea flour is high in protein and is one of the few gluten-free flours that bind well when mixed with water. Therefore, they can be used as a thickener or binding agent for doughs.

Pea flour is a traditional ingredient in Indian cuisine and is also becoming increasingly popular in the West as an alternative to wheat flour.

The flour has a neutral taste - so it is suitable for both sweet and savory dishes because the dishes prepared with it get their taste from spices, oils, fats, and other food ingredients, and not from the pea flour itself.

 

Use of: As a binder for doughs when combined with other gluten-free flours to prepare bread, cookies, and muffins, as a thickener for sauces, soups, and stews, doughs for frying products, flatbreads, pancakes, waffles...  

 

16 Almond flour

Almond flour is made by finely grinding blanched almonds.

In most cases, wheat flour can be completely replaced with almond flour in a 1:1 ratio. It is only necessary to take into account that almond flour may require more eggs (binder) and during baking (especially in recipes without yeast) the lack of gluten will affect the shape of the final product - it will rise less and flow more.

Still, it's worth a try because the almond flour gives the product a nice almond flavor and moisture (thanks to the natural fats found in the nuts).

 

Use of: For baking bread, yeast doughs and cookies.

 

17 Coconut flour

Coconut flour is a soft and fine powder obtained by grinding dried coconut pulp.

Coconut flour has more calories than traditional grain flour and is a good source of protein, fat, fiber, and minerals such as iron and potassium.

Unlike cereal flour, coconut flour contains a significant amount of saturated fat and is also rich in antioxidants that have antimicrobial properties.

Coconut flour has a mildly sweet taste that is suitable for making cakes, cookies, and other pastries.

Coconut flour absorbs a lot of liquid, so it's mostly used in dishes that use eggs to maintain moisture and texture, such as muffins.

When replacing wheat flour with coconut flour, replace about 1/4 of the amount of wheat flour in the recipe with coconut flour, and the remaining 3/4 with another type of flour. And since coconut flour requires more liquid when baking bread or pastries, add 1 egg for every 32 grams of coconut flour.

 

Use of: For pastry products – cakes, cookies and muffins.

 

18 Potato flour

Do not confuse it with potato starch. Potato flour is made by grinding boiled and then dried potatoes.

Because of the natural starch in potatoes, potato flour helps retain moisture when used in traditional baked goods and creates a softer, crumbly texture when used in gluten-free recipes.

 

Use of: For flour mixes (both without and with gluten), sauces, pancakes, soups and waffles.

 

19 Tapioca flour

It is a light powdery flour extracted from the starch of cassava roots.

Tapioca flour is an invaluable addition to gluten-free flour mixes, it absorbs water very well, which helps to build the structure of baked goods. Tapioca flour is also used as a thickener in pie fillings and sauces and can help baked foods get a nice, crispy, golden-brown crust.

Using only tapioca flour will give the pastry a thick, sticky texture, so it is usually combined with other types of flour.

 

Use of: In gluten-free baking mixes, deep-frying breading, thickening pie fillings, and sauces.

 

Storage of flour

It is best to store flour in a cool and dark place, ideally in an airtight container, to avoid the "invasion" of insects.

Ordinary wheat flour can be stored in the pantry for at least one year.

Wholemeal and nut flours contain natural oils that can go rancid - so it's best to use them up within a couple of months or store them in the fridge.

 

In conclusion

As you can see, the range of flour is very large, each type has a unique taste and a different amount of nutrients. Every year there are more and more types of flour. There are also various types of fruit and vegetable flour that will give us new flavors and textures.

Each type of flour has its own application - you don't want to eat toast that is soft like a cake, or pizza that crumbles like cookies.

Experiment. This is the best way to find the best combinations of flavors and textures.

 

Don't be afraid of flour products.

Choose whole grain and coarse flour and eat deliciously!

 

Sources:

USDA

Barley for food: Characteristics, improvement, and renewed interest

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