Flour – it seems like such a run-of-the-mill product and yet, it's one of the main ingredients in a huge range of recipes. That's because flour (finely milled wheat or grains) lends a stable structure to baked goods. But a savoury pie needs a different structure to a cake, and when you throw dietary requirements and allergies into the mix... well! Needless to say, there is a type of flour for every occasion, and we've outlined them below.
All-purpose flour, also know as plain flour, is the most common and recognised flour on the market.
Plain flour is the product of milling wheat. Specifically, the grains (the edible seeds harvested from cereal plants) are composed of three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The endosperm stores the equivalent of food for the plant. During the milling process, the three components are cleanly separated. White flour is made from the endosperm only.
You can use it in general baking recipes when you don't have to cater to allergies.
Whole-Wheat vs. White
Whole-wheat flour involves recombining the endosperm with the germ and the bran, once the germ is stabilised. Unlike the endosperm, the germ and the bran contain fats that spoil quickly, which is why whole-grain flours generally have a shorter shelf life than white or plain flour.
Whole-wheat flour often produces a heavier end-product in the kitchen, but it is higher in fibre and nutrition.
Bleached vs. Unbleached
All flours are technically bleached, but how flours are bleached is what sets bleached and unbleached flour apart. Bleached flour is treated with chemical agents to speed up ageing, while unbleached flour is bleached naturally as it ages.
Bleached and unbleached flour has a different texture and colour which will affect your cooking. Bleached flour is also generally softer, while unbleached flour is denser and grainer, so it's useful for baking structured goods like yeast bread.
Flours not suitable for low or gluten free recipes
The difference between bread flour and all-purpose flour is the protein content. Bread flour usually contains between 12 and 14% protein compared to an average of 8 to 11% in all-purpose varieties.
The higher protein content gives the light and elastic texture that you need to create good bread dough.
- When to use it: It's indicative in the name, but bread flour is better used for recipes where you want to create chewier results – like pizza dough.
Rye flour is milled from whole rye berries or grains from ryegrass. Rye flour is slightly heavier than all-purpose flours, so is useful for baking goods that require more structure like breads or sourdoughs. It has more fibre and less calories than standard white flour.
- When to use it: As a healthy alternative for white flour in pastas and breads.
This is a specially milled Italian flour. Also called Doppio Zero, meaning double zero, the grading system is 2, 1, 0 or 00 and indicates to how finely ground the flour is and how much of the bran and germ has been removed.
When to use it: 00 Flour is low in protein, starch and gluten, perfect for ciabatta and foccacia breads.
Flours suitable for low gluten recipes
Spelt is an ancient whole grain, which is considered a type of wheat, but different from the wheat used in all-purpose flour.
It is particularly high in gluten and carbs, but an excellent source of dietary fibre.
When to use it: If you're catering for people who need lower amounts of gluten. You can use it in combination with flour to reduce the overall amount of gluten in bread without sacrificing on the structure.
Flours suitable for gluten-free recipes
Almond flour is the most common type of nut flour, although you can flour made from nearly any kind of nut including chestnuts, hazelnut, macadamia, pecans, walnut, etc.
You can’t use nut flours as you would wheat flour. In baking, you can swap in up to 25% of the wheat flour for nut flour. Nut flours are low in carbohydrates, gluten-free, and high in fat and fibre.
When to use it: As a coating or crumb for frying and baking, or add to dishes for a crunchy topping if you're baking for people who are allergic to gluten.
Amaranth flour is produced by grinding seeds from the amaranth plant into a fine powder. It works as a good substitute for all-purpose flour, however, the overall texture of your baking make be affected with the substitution.
- When to use it: In gluten-free recipes as it is high in protein, which helps maintain structure.
Buckwheat flour is ground from buckwheat. Although treated as a grain, buckwheat is not a cereal or grass, but it is actually a seed related to fruit. Buckwheat does not contain sugar; instead, its carbs come in the form of healthy fibre.
- When to use it: For Japanese soba noodles, pancakes, or as a crumb or batter for frying foods.
Usually prepared from dried and ground barley, barley flour is low in gluten. It's got a natural malty flavour which is great any breads which need to sit overnight, as this makes the flour easier to work with and rounds out the flavours.
When to us it:
Rice flour is a form of flour made from finely milled rice. It is gluten-free, but contains a higher ratio of starch than that of white rice flour.
Oat flour, made from ground oats, is a useful gluten-free flour substitute. Many recipes are formulated for oat flour specifically, but if a recipe calls for all-purpose flour you can substitute oat flour for up to 25-30% the amount of regular flour in most baking recipes.
Buying wholesale flour
When you buy from a wholesale supplier or bulk retail store, you can pick and choose exact amounts of each flour you need for your pantry. This way, you don't need to waste any! Plus, you won't find some of the more unusual or uncommon flours in your average supermarket chain.