Flour 101

Choosing the right flour can make all the difference when trying to successfully bake bread, pasta, cookies, cake, and pizza.  Protein content is the primary difference in various flours.

High-protein wheat varieties have 10-14% protein and are classified as “hard wheat.”

Low-protein wheats have 5-10% protein and are known as “soft wheat”.

The more protein a flour has, the more gluten it has, which equals more strength.  Doughs made with high-protein flours are more elastic (stretchy) and hold their shape better.

Unless labeled “whole-wheat”, all of these flours are white flours, which means they were milled from the starchy, innermost part of the wheat kernel known as the endosperm.

All-Purpose Flour

  • Milled from a mixture of soft and hard wheat, with a moderate protein content in the 10-12 % range.
  • Most versatile of flours.
  • Sold bleached and unbleached.

Cake Flour

  • The flour with the lowest protein content (5-8%).
  • Ideal for baked goods such as cakes, biscuits, muffins and scones.
  • Cake flour is typically chlorinated (a bleaching process that further weakens the gluten proteins and alters the flour’s starch to increase its ability to absorb more liquid and sugar, resulting in moist cake).

Pastry Flour

  • An unbleached flour made from soft wheat with protein levels between cake flour and all-purpose flour (8-9%).
  • Great for pies, tarts and many cookies.
  • Available in whole wheat (with bran and germ).

Bread Flour

  • Bread flour is the strongest of all flours with a protein content of 12-14%.
  • This is very important in yeasted breads where high gluten is required to contain the CO2 gases that are produced during fermentation.
  • Bread flour can be found in white, whole wheat, bleached or unbleached.
  • Great for pizza dough and pasta.
  • The gold standard of pizza and pasta flours is Caputo 00

Self-Rising Flour

  • Flour that had baking powder and salt added during milling.
  • Made from a low-protein wheat traditionally grown in the South.
  • Great for biscuits, muffins, pancakes and some cakes.

Whole Wheat Flour

  • During milling, the wheat kernel is separated into the endosperm, the bran, and the germ.  In whole wheat flours, various amounts of the germ and bran are added back into the flour.
  • Whole wheat flours tend to be high in protein, but its gluten-forming ability is compromised by the bran and germ, this is why baked goods tend to be heavier and denser.
  • In most recipes, whole-wheat flour can be substituted for up to half of the all-purpose flour.

White Whole Wheat Flour

  • White whole wheat flour is milled from the hard white wheat berry (as opposed to traditional red wheat berries).  It contains the entire wheat berry (endosperm, bran, and germ).  This yields a flour with more fiber and nutrients.
  • Typically, you can substitute all-purpose flour with white whole wheat flour cup for cup.  To be safe though, start off by substituting white whole wheat flour for only half of the all-purpose flour in a recipe and work up from there.

Semolina Flour (aka Durum Wheat)

  • The hardest of all wheats with a higher protein level than other types of wheat (nearly 13%).
  • When durum wheat is milled, its endosperm is ground up into what is called semolina flour.
  • Can be substituted for some or all of the all-purpose flour called for in a recipe.
  • Often used to make breads, couscous, pasta, and pizza.
  • Can be used as an alternative to corn meal.

Which Flour is the Healthiest?

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that at least half of all grains consumed should be whole grains (Grains that keep all three of parts of the original grain kernel — germ, bran and endosperm — in their original proportions after being milled into flour, are called whole grains).
  • Although most refined wheat is enriched with iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid before being made into food, many of the vitamins removed are not returned and neither is any of the dietary fiber, which is essential for good health.
  • The healthiest flours are whole wheat bread flour, whole wheat flour, and white whole wheat flours.  Which one you choose depends on the type of baking you will be doing.