Monday, 21 September 2009 | Tags:

A versatile ingredient in all cuisines, there are more types of flour available at the grocery store than ever before. Here's what we've learned about flour in our research for Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag.

The Basics

  • Flour is a powder made from cereal grains, other seeds, or roots. It’s the main ingredient in bread and pasta, which are both staple foods in many countries.

  • Wheat flour is the most popular in Europe, North America, the Middle East, and North Africa. Maize (corn) flour is important to Mesoamerican cuisine.

  • In broad terms, wheat can be classified according to hardness:

    • Durum is the hardest, which means it has the most protein. It is most often used for pasta. Coarsely ground durum is known as “semolina”.

    • Hard wheat flour is best for making bread because it gives structure and holds its shape.

    • Semi-hard wheat flours are used as general purpose flour.

    • Soft wheat flours are used for making delicate baked items like cakes and biscuits.

General Tips

  • When buying flour, look for tightly sealed bags or boxes.

  • Flour in torn packages or in open bins are exposed to air and insect contamination.

  • Only purchase in quantities to last you two to three months.

  • All flours, even white, have a limited shelf life. Millers recommend that flours be stored for no more than 6 months. The main change that occurs is the oxidation of oils when flour is exposed to air. The result is rancid, off-tasting flavors.

  • During hot weather, store flour in the refrigerator.

  • Whole wheat flour should be kept in the refrigerator year around as natural oils cause it to turn rancid quickly at room temperature.

    • Other flours should be stored, covered, in a cool and dry area. This prevents the flour from absorbing moisture and odors and from attracting insects and rodents.

  • Freezing flour for 48 hours before it is stored will kill any weevil or insect eggs already in the flour.

  • Don’t mix new flour with old if you are not using the flour regularly, since your old flour may be close to spoiling.

  • Do not store flour near soap powder, onions, or other foods and products with strong odors.

  • If freezer space is available, flour can be repackaged in airtight, moisture-proof containers, labeled. Flour stored like this will keep well for several years.

  • Throw away flour if it smells bad or changes color.

  • Always put your flour in a sealed container, since it is a prime target for bugs and moths, which can spread to other products in your pantry.
  • Put a bay leaf in the flour canister to help protect against insect infections as bay leaves are natural insect repellents.

Baking Tips

  • Proper measuring of your flour is important, as too much flour will result in a tough and/or heavy baked good.
  • When measuring flour, spoon it into a measuring cup and then level off the cup with a knife – do not pack it down.

  • Flour gets compacted in the bag during shipping, so scooping your flour right out of the bag using your measuring cup will result in too much flour.

All-Purpose Flour (aka Plain Flour)

  • All-purpose flour contains 10-12% protein and is made from a blend of hard and soft wheat.

  • In the UK and Europe, you may see all-purpose flour referred to as “plain flour”. This is to differentiate it from cake flour, which has had a rising agent added. 
  • It may be bleached (chemically-treated) or unbleached (flour that bleaches naturally as it ages).

  • Bleached flour has less protein than unbleached and is best for pie crusts, cookies, quick breads, pancakes, and waffles.

  • Unbleached flour is better in yeast breads, Danish pastry, puff pastry, strudel, Yorkshire pudding, éclairs, cream puffs, and popovers.

Cake Flour

  • Cake flour has 6-8% protein content and is made from soft wheat flour, which is better for delicate baking. It’s also chlorinated to further break down the gluten, helping to make a smooth, velvety texture.

  • It’s best for making cakes, biscuits, and cookies where a delicate texture is desired.

  • If substituting cake flour for all-purpose flour, add 2 extra tablespoons of cake flour for every cup of regular.

  • If you don’t have cake flour and a recipe calls for it, you can make your own by sifting 3/4 cups of bleached, all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.

Pastry Flour

  • Similar to cake flour, pastry flour has not been chlorinated. It has an 8-10% protein content and comes from soft wheat flour.

  • It is also velvety soft and ivory in colour and is best for making pastry, pies, and cookies.

  • If you don’t have any, you can make your own by sifting 1 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour with 2/3 cups of cake flour.

Self-rising flour

  • This flour has 8-9% protein and as baking powder and salt added. Many people don’t use this type of flour because they prefer to add their own salt.

  • Another drawback of this flour is that if it’s stored too long, the baking powder loses its strength and your baked goods won’t rise properly. 

Bread flour

  • Bread flour has 12-14% protein content and comes from hard wheat flour. Its high gluten content allows it to rise.

  • It is available in white, whole wheat, organic, bleached and unbleached.

Fine Durum Wheat Semolina

  • This flour is also known as Italian Flour, ’00’ or dopio zero.
  • It is grown especially to make pasta products and specialty breads because it produces the best flavour, colour, and texture.

  • Durum wheat semolina is an amber-colored, high protein, hard wheat.

  • It holds is shape when cooked and will not disintegrate into a starchy paste.

Whole-Wheat vs. Wheat Flour

  • Whole-wheat flour is the gold standard in bread because it contains the entire grain (bran, germ and endosperm), which means you get all the health benefits that are naturally part of the grain.

  • Wheat flour doesn’t contain the bran or the germ, so it’s less nutritious than whole-wheat flour.

  • Enriched wheat flour is enriched with nutrients that are lost during processing (e.g. thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D, iron, folic acid and calcium.) Even though these nutrients are added back, the flour still doesn’t contain the bran or the germ and isn’t as good for you as whole-wheat flour.

  • Stone-ground just describes how the flour was milled, and it’s basically the same as wheat flour. It’s nowhere near as good for you as 100% whole-wheat flour.

Gluten-Free Flour

  • Gluten-free flour is usually a combination of a number of flours made from rice, potatoes, beans, or nuts, with natural thickeners like xanthan gum or guar gum added.
  • More about gluten-free flours
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