With so many different types of flour to choose from, it can be difficult to decide what kind is right for you. Whether you’re baking breads, cakes, or pastries, or using it as a thickening agent in casseroles or gravy, selecting the right type of flour is essential to your success.
To find the best flour for your cooking needs, use this guide. Check out the glossary for helpful information on deciphering what terms like ash content, pH level, and brominated mean.
Ash content is determined by exposing a sample of flour to high heat until all of the moisture and organic materials have burned away, leaving only ash (the non-combustible, inorganic minerals) and revealing the amount of bran contamination in the flour. The more ash there is in a type of flour, the darker the color of finished products. For example, whole wheat flour has a high ash content while white flour has a much lower ash content.
Bleached flour is a type of refined flour (flour that has the germ and bran removed) that has had a whitening agent added to it. This type of flour is artificially aged using a bleaching agent, maturing agent, or both. Potassium bromate, benzoyl peroxide, ascorbic acid, and chlorine gas are the four most common bleaching/maturing agents used in the U.S.
This type of flour contains potassium bromate, a chemical oxidizer that works as a dough conditioner. It can enhance the appearance of your baked goods by allowing them to rise higher and display a finer crumb. However, it is important to note that if bread made with this type of flour isn’t baked long enough or at a high enough temperature, potassium bromate can have harmful effects.
Enriched flour undergoes a process meant to replenish essential nutrients such as iron, B vitamins, and even calcium that have been lost during the manufacturing process. Enrichment is necessary, especially for white flours, in order to restore the flour to its original, unrefined nutritional status.
Gluten is a protein composite found in foods manufactured from wheat that gives elasticity to dough, enabling it to rise and keep its shape during the baking process. The more refined the gluten is, the chewier your products will be (think pizza and bagels) while less refined gluten yields soft baked goods such as pastries.
Hard flour, also known as bread flour, has a high gluten content, which makes it tougher. Products made with hard flour will hold their shape well once they are baked.
Grains that were soaked in water until they began to sprout, but were stopped from germinating further by being dried with hot air. This process, known as “malting,” develops the enzymes required to break down the grain’s starches into sugars as well as the enzymes that break down proteins so they can be used by yeast. High-protein forms of malted barley are often an ingredient in flours used to bake yeast breads and other baked goods.
To determine the moisture content of a type of flour, a sample of flour is heated in an oven and the amount of weight loss that occurs during this process is measured. This number (expressed as a percentage) is the moisture content. This percentage can be an early indicator of flour quality and storability. Flour with a high moisture content (above 14.5%) supports mold and bacteria growth as well as insects. Flour with a low moisture content is less prone to deterioration and will be more stable during storage.
Patent flour is a pure, high-quality flour made from the center part of the endosperm. The amount of straight flour that patent flour contains determines whether a bread flour is short patent (70-80% straight flour), medium patent (80-90% straight flour), or long patent (90-95% straight flour).
pH level is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. Pure water has a pH of 7. Solutions with a pH less than 7 are said to be acidic (such as lemon juice, which has a pH around 2) while solutions with a pH more than 7 are said to be basic or alkaline (such as ammonia, which has a pH around 11).
The protein content of a particular type of flour impacts the structure and texture of your final baked good. Flours with higher protein content are harder and stronger and will produce crusty or chewy breads. The lower the protein content, the softer the flour will be, making it perfect for cakes, cookies, and pie crusts.
Great for your patrons following a gluten free diet, rice flour is naturally gluten free and easier to digest than wheat flour. Made from ground white rice, this soft rice flour adds a light, sponginess to baked goods and other desserts. It’s also commonly used in Asian cuisine.
Soft flour, which is often divided into cake flour and pastry flour, is low in gluten and will give products a finer texture than baked goods made with hard flour.
Flour in which 100% of the wheat kernel has had the bran and germ removed.
Unbleached flour is flour that has been aged naturally, which gives it its pale, off-white coloring. It has a denser, more grainy texture to provide more structure in baked goods.