Can you really imagine a world where there were no cookies, no muffins, no cakes? It would be a pretty boring world.
Flour is needed to make these delicious treats, although as we’ll come to see, there are many exciting variations of flour to choose from.
What is flour?
Simply put, flour is just another food that has been ground up. While wheat is the most common source, you can also find flour made from corn, nuts, and seeds.
What is the purpose of flour?
Flour is usually used in baked goods and it provides the structure to what you are making. Without flour, you would have a runny mess of eggs and butter, instead of delicious cookies.
What are the different types of flour?
If you’ve ever purchased flour before, it’s probably been all-purpose flour. As its name indicates, this is a general flour that can be used for most home baking, including muffins and cookies.
All-purpose flour has a protein content of 10 to 12 percent and will help with fluffy results in your baking.
The less protein content you have in flour, the fluffier your baking will be. Cake flour has a protein content of just 5 to 8 percent, making it excellent for those soft, moist cakes you want to create.
If you want to really perfect your pie crust, then use a specific pastry flour. It has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour, coming in at 8 to 9 percent.
The result of using pastry flour is a flakier curst, although in a pinch it can also be used for baking cookies, muffins, and even cakes.
To make the perfect loaf of bread, you need a heartier flour with a protein content of 12 to 14 percent. Bread flour has a stronger gluten content than all-purpose flour, so it will help your bread rise and create a chewier texture.
Gluten-containing Flours – Wheat Flour
Inside wheat flour is certain proteins. Once they interact with water, they form gluten which stretches and rises.
Common Wheat Flour
Wheat flour, also known as whole wheat flour, uses an extra part of the wheat plant. While white flour only uses the inside, endosperm part, whole wheat flour also includes the germ and bran part.
The result is both a light brown color and more nutritional benefits, including a higher protein content, around 14 percent. Whole wheat flour creates a stickier dough, due to its gluten structure, and is more perishable, lasting on average just 3 months.
White Whole Wheat Flour
Yes, this is a tricky term but we’ll try to break it down for you. White whole wheat flour is made from whole wheat; however, it is white in color.
Basically, while common wheat flour is made from one variety of whole wheat, white whole wheat flour is made from a different variety of wheat.
Both flours have the same nutritional value but white whole wheat flour has a paler, white color along with a more subtle flavor.
If you’ve ever checked the ingredients list on your pasta, chances are it was made from semolina flour. This type of flour is coarsely-milled and very high in gluten.
Semolina flour is made from durum wheat flour and in addition to being used for pasta, it can also be used with couscous and gnocchi.
Many people are now turning towards gluten-free flours. This could be either because of allergies or sensitivities, or a desire to find more nutrient-dense ingredients.
Because gluten-free flours don’t have gluten, most of these flours are unable to make their baking rise, unless used in combination with other rising agents. Instead, they are denser in texture.
This flour is made from amaranth seeds that are finely ground. It is a great source of complete proteins and has a nutty flavor that is a bit sweet.
Amaranth flour is usually used in baked goods, although should only make up about 25 percent of the total flour content. It can also be used to thicken soups and sauces.
The kernels found inside oats are called oat groats. It is these oat groats that are ground up and turned into oat flour.
Oat flour has a nutty taste to it and a denser texture. It is used in baked goods, although because it is so dense, it needs to be combined with other flours that will rise.
While buckwheat flour has an earthy taste to it, it can be used with other whole grains, especially in breads and pancakes.
If you don’t want to use whole buckwheat flour, which has a stronger taste to it, you could use white buckwheat flour instead. However, it does have fewer nutrients in it.
Crushed peanuts are ground up and turned into peanut flour. This flour has a high protein content, as ¼ cup has 8 grams of protein.
Because it is so dense, peanut flour is used to thicken soups and sauces. It can be used in baking, as long as it is paired with a lighter flour.
Brown rice flour
As its name suggests, brown rice flour is made from brown rice. Unlike white rice, brown rice flour has a higher fiber content and a nuttier flavor.
Rice flour is commonly used in gluten-free baking as it can be substituted for white flour, although it does have a grittier texture.
Like so many gluten-free flours, this one is made from whole-grain barley that has been ground to a fine powder.
While barley flour has an excellent amount of fiber in it, and can be used in baked goods, it does not provide a rising action on its own. Barley flour can also be used to thicken gravies and stews.
Don’t let the number confuse you. 00 Flour refers to the texture of this gluten-free flour, and means that it is incredibly fine.
It is also known as Italian-style flour and has a high protein content of 11 to 12 percent. 00 Flour is best used for baked goods that need to be thin, such as pasta, crackers, and thin crust pizza.
To create almond flour, almonds are needed. The nuts are blanched to remove their skin, and then they are ground into a very fine fiber.
Not only is almond flour high in fiber but is also low in carbohydrates. However, because almond flour is quite dense, you will need to add extra rising agent in your baking, such as baking powder or baking soda.
Flaxseed is highly nutritious as it is loaded with omega-3s. Using this whole grain flour in any baked good will quickly elevate its nutritional content.
Flaxseed flour is made by grinding whole flaxseeds. It is often used in baked goods, but as an egg or fat substitute, rather than a substitute for other flours.
To make bean flours, start with dried whole beans. Bean flour is incredibly high in protein and fiber and a great addition to baking if you want a nutritional boost.
While you could use bean flour in baking, such as yeasted breads, it does have a rather strong taste. Instead, most people use it for soups or gravies, and even in veggie burgers.
Potatoes prove to be incredibly versatile as they can even be used to make flour. Whole, dried potatoes are used and the result is a flour that is high in fiber and potassium.
Potato flour is often used in bread as it has a high starch content. The result is bread that is moist and fresh.
Different parts of corn are used to make different types of flour. In this case, corn flour is made from the whole corn kernel.
Corn flour is best when blended with other types of flours and can be used to make dough or batters.
Unlike corn flour, which uses the whole corn kernel, cornstarch only uses the endosperm part of the kernel.
While you wouldn’t use cornstarch as a substitute for regular flour, it does have many uses. It is commonly used as a thickening agent for sauces or soups, and interestingly is used to make corn syrup.
To make cornmeal, start with whole corn that is dried. Then, it is ground into a very coarse consistency.
Cornmeal is often used in muffins and pizza dough. If you grind cornmeal further, it will then turn into corn flour.
What is the best type of flour?
As long as you are okay with gluten, then your pantry should contain a bag of all-purpose flour. It gets the job done and while other, specific flours may be slightly better, you can still use it for baking cookies, muffins, cakes, and all your other favorite treats.
For gluten-free flours, rice flour is the most versatile. It is still a bit grittier than regular white flour, but it is able to rise and therefore can be used in most baking.
As cooking become more diverse, so too are the ingredients.
Even if a recipe calls for flour, you now have more options than ever to substitute, whether it be for food allergies or nutritional reasons.