Flour: It's More Than Just Powdery Goodness!
Welcome to my six-part series on flour. We will dip into nut, rice, alternative, ancient, specialty flour, and flour blends. First are the common flour types found in most United States grocery stores.
Have you ever walked into the baking aisle at the grocery store and felt overwhelmed by the different types of flour on the shelves? Well, fear not, my baking-enthusiast friends, because I’m here to demystify the world of flour for you!
There are many types of grains that can be used to make flour, each with its own unique properties and characteristics. Here is a list of some of the most commonly used grains:
- Wheat: Wheat is one of the most commonly used grains for making flour. It is a staple food in many cultures and is used to make a wide range of products, including bread, pasta, and pastries.
- Corn: Corn is another popular grain used to make flour. It is often used in making cornbread, tortillas, and other traditional dishes.
- Rice: Rice flour is made from ground rice and is often used in making Asian foods, such as rice noodles, rice crackers, and rice cakes.
- Oats: Oat flour is made from ground oats and is often used in making baked goods like cookies, muffins, and bread.
- Barley: Barley flour is made from ground barley and is often used in making bread and other baked goods.
- Rye: Rye flour is made from ground rye and is often used in making bread and other baked goods.
- Millet: Millet flour is made from ground millet and is often used in making flatbreads and porridge.
- Sorghum: Sorghum flour is made from ground sorghum and is often used in making gluten-free bread, muffins, and cakes.
- Buckwheat: Buckwheat flour is made from ground buckwheat and is often used in making pancakes, noodles, and other baked goods.
- Quinoa: Quinoa flour is made from ground quinoa and is often used in making gluten-free bread, cakes, and muffins.
How It's Made
Commercial flour growing and making involves the large-scale production of grains and other raw materials for the purpose of milling them into flour. The process typically involves the following steps:
- Growing and harvesting: The grains, such as wheat, are grown on large farms using specialized equipment and techniques. They are then harvested using combine harvesters, which separate the grains from the straw and other plant material.
- Transport and storage: The harvested grains are then transported to storage facilities, where they are stored in silos or other containers until they are ready to be processed.
- Cleaning and conditioning: The grains are then cleaned to remove any foreign materials, and conditioned to ensure that they have the correct moisture content for milling.
- Milling: The grains are then milled into flour using specialized equipment, such as roller mills, hammer mills, or stone mills. The flour is then sifted to remove any impurities or coarser particles, and graded according to its protein content and other characteristics.
- Packaging and distribution: The finished flour is then packaged in bags or other containers and distributed to customers, such as food manufacturers, bakeries, and grocery stores.
Commercial flour growing and making is a complex process that requires specialized knowledge and equipment. It is an essential part of the food industry, providing the flour used in a wide range of products including bread, pasta, and baked goods. The quality of the flour produced through commercial milling can be influenced by a number of factors, including the quality of the raw materials, the milling method used, and the storage conditions.
Flour vs. Meal
The difference between flour and meal is the coarseness of the grind. Flour is ground more finely than meal accounting for its texture. Meal generally refers to a coarser grind of grains, often corn, with a more substantial texture and distinct flavor. The distinction between flour and meal can vary depending on regional usage and the type of grain being ground.
White vs. Whole Wheat
The grinding process for flour and whole wheat involves converting entire grains into finer powder that can be used for baking and cooking. The process starts by selecting high-quality grains, such as wheat, corn, or barley, and cleaning them to remove any impurities or contaminants. The grains are then passed through a series of rollers, which break down the kernels into smaller and smaller pieces. This is done several times until the desired texture is reached.
For whole wheat flour, the entire grain is used, including the bran, germ, and endosperm, which gives it its distinctive nutty flavor and more nutrients than refined flours. On the other hand, the bran and germ are removed for white flour, resulting in a finer texture, lighter color, and lower nutrient content.
In the final stage of the process, the flour is sifted to remove any remaining impurities or debris, and the resulting product is packaged and sold. The grinding process is designed to preserve the quality and nutritional content of the grains while also ensuring that the flour is safe and suitable for use in various baked goods and cooking applications.
Protein & Gluten
The protein content in flour affects the gluten formation in the dough. Gluten is a protein that gives dough its elasticity and helps it to rise. When flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form long, stretchy strands that give the dough its structure and texture.
The amount of gluten formed depends on the protein content of the flour. Flours with a higher protein content, such as bread flour, will form more gluten and result in a chewier, denser texture. Flours with a lower protein content, such as cake flour, will form less gluten and result in a lighter, more delicate texture.
In summary, the protein content of flour is important because it affects the gluten formation in the dough, which in turn affects the texture and structure of the finished baked goods. Different types of flour with varying protein content are used for different purposes in baking to achieve the desired texture and flavor.
Bleached vs. UnBleached
Bleached flour is treated with chemicals such as benzoyl peroxide, chlorine dioxide, or nitrogen dioxide to speed up the aging process and improve the flour’s texture and appearance. This process can change the flour’s flavor, texture, and nutritional profile, so some bakers prefer to use unbleached flour made from flour that has not been treated with any chemicals and is allowed to age naturally. The nutritional content and flavor of bleached and unbleached flour can be similar, but unbleached flour may have a slightly more robust flavor and retain more nutrients.
Next, we have whole wheat flour, which is made from the entire wheat berry, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Because of this, it packs a protein punch containing 14-16%. Whole wheat flour is a good source of fiber, protein, vitamins B and E, and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc. It is also a good source of antioxidants. It’s made from hard wheat, is great for hearty bread, and gives baked goods a nutty flavor.
White Whole Wheat
Whole wheat white flour, also known as white whole wheat flour, is a type of whole wheat flour that is made from white wheat instead of traditional red wheat. It has a lighter color and milder flavor than conventional whole-wheat flour made from red wheat. White whole wheat flour still retains all of the health benefits of whole wheat flour, such as high fiber content and being a good source of protein and vitamins. White whole wheat flour is a good source of fiber, protein, vitamins B and E, and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc, like traditional whole wheat flour.
White whole wheat flour can be used in various recipes, including bread, pancakes, muffins, and more. It’s a great option for those who want the health benefits of whole wheat flour but prefer the lighter color and milder flavor.
The main difference between white whole wheat flour and traditional whole wheat flour is the type of wheat used. White wheat has a milder flavor and lighter color, while red wheat has a stronger, nuttier flavor and darker color. The milling process is the same for both types of flour, with the bran, germ, and endosperm all being included, making them whole-grain flour.
Pastry flour falls somewhere in between all-purpose and whole wheat flour in terms of protein content, clocking in at 9-10%. This flour is made from soft wheat and is perfect for delicate pastries, pie crusts, and cakes that need a tender crumb. Pastry flour has a lower protein content compared to whole wheat flour, but it is still a good source of fiber and vitamins B and E.
Whole Wheat Pastry
Whole wheat pastry flour is a hybrid made from soft wheat but still retains some of the bran and germ found in whole wheat flour. It has a protein content of 9-10%. This flour is perfect for delicate pastries and baked goods that need a tender crumb but still want the nutty flavor of whole wheat flour. Like whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour is a good source of fiber, protein, vitamins B and E, and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Cake vs. Pastry vs. Whole Wheat Pastry
Cake flour: Cake flour is a very fine-textured flour that is made from soft wheat. It is lower in protein than other types of flour, which helps to produce a tender, delicate crumb in cakes and other baked goods. Cake flour is often used in recipes that call for a light and fluffy texture, such as sponge cakes, angel food cakes, and chiffon cakes.
Pastry flour: Pastry flour is a slightly coarser flour than cake flour, but still finer than all-purpose flour. It has a protein content that is lower than all-purpose flour but higher than cake flour. Pastry flour is often used in recipes for pie crusts, tarts, and other pastry doughs that require a delicate and flaky texture.
Whole wheat pastry flour: Whole wheat pastry flour is made from soft wheat, just like cake and pastry flour, but is ground from the whole wheat kernel. This means that it contains more fiber and nutrients than regular cake or pastry flour. Whole wheat pastry flour is often used in recipes for muffins, scones, and other baked goods that require a delicate texture but also have a more wholesome flavor.
In general, the choice of flour will depend on the specific recipe being used and the desired texture and flavor. Cake flour is the best choice for cakes and other baked goods that require a light and fluffy texture, while pastry flour is a good choice for pie crusts and other pastry doughs that require a delicate and flaky texture. Whole wheat pastry flour is a good choice for baked goods that require a more wholesome flavor and texture, but still need to be delicate and tender.
Bread flour, made from hard wheat, is the heavyweight champion of the group, with a protein content of 12-14%. This flour is ideal for, you guessed it, bread! Its high protein content means it can handle the rigors of kneading and rising, producing a chewy, crusty loaf of bread that’s the stuff of dreams.
All-Purpose Baking Mix
Bisquick is an example of a pre-mixed baking mix that can be used to make various baked goods, including pancakes, waffles, and biscuits. It was first introduced in the 1930s and has become a staple in many kitchens. Bisquick is made from a blend of wheat flour, leavening agents, and vegetable shortening.
One of the biggest advantages of baking mixes is their versatility. Not only can they be used for pancakes, waffles, and biscuits, but also as a base for casseroles, dumplings, and more. Additionally, the premixed blend saves time in the kitchen, making it a popular choice for busy families and those who enjoy cooking.
In terms of nutrition, they are not the healthiest option, as they are high in calories, carbohydrates, and fat. However, low-fat versions are available for those watching their calorie intake.
Last but not least, we have self-rising flour, the overachiever of the group. This flour is all-purpose flour with baking powder and salt added, making it perfect for quick bread, biscuits, and other baked goods that need a little extra lift. Self-rising flour is typically enriched with iron, niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin, and also contains added baking powder for leavening.