Did you know there’s a National Flour Month? Probably not. And follow-up question: Did you know it’s right now? Well, it is. All of March is dedicated to that deceptively simple little powder that binds together so many of our dietary staples. It may sound silly to devote an entire month just to the product of grinding grain, but once you start really looking into how many different kinds of flour there are, it starts to makes sense.
It’s more than just all-purpose and whole-wheat—there’s a whole range of flours out there, each suited for its own type of recipes, taste preferences, and dietary needs. Here we’re going to introduce (or reintroduce) you to all of them so you know which to reach for the next time you’re at the grocery store.
THE OLD RELIABLES
This is the flour that appears in the majority of cookbook recipes, and consists of a blend of hard wheat, which is high in gluten, and soft wheat, which is finer and lower in nutrients. It’s a combination that makes it highly adaptable to many baking needs. It can also be either bleached, unbleached or organic (if the preparation adheres to USDA standards).
Cake And Pastry Flour
As you can imagine by the name, cake flour and pastry flour are most often used in baking. They’re both made from soft wheat, which makes for a fine powder that’s high in starch and low in protein. Most importantly, cake flour is chlorinated, which bleaches the flour and gives it its ability to more evenly distribute fats in a batter, leading to the smooth, more consistent texture that you look for in a cake. Pastry flour has less gluten content than most flours, making for a flaky, crumbly finish. It’s great for pie crusts!
This granular flour was devised to dissolve quickly in liquids, whether cold or hot, which makes it ideally suited as a thickening agent for sauces or gravies.
Another form of flour whose name helpfully tells you what it does! Self-rising flour is pre-mixed with salt and baking powder to assist in the baking of quick-breads like biscuits.
Whole Wheat Flour
Whole wheat flour is low in gluten and so-called because it uses the entire kernel of wheat, making it more rich in fiber and nutrients than all-purpose flour.
For those with Celiac disease, a sensitivity to gluten, or self-imposed dietary restrictions, there are plenty of gluten-free substitutes for traditional flour. With a few exceptions, essentially any nut, seed, or grain can be dried and roasted and ground into a gluten-free flour, including almonds, coconut, oats, buckwheat, quinoa, chickpeas, millet, corn, rice, soy, and ancient grains like teff and amaranth.
The opportunities are nearly endless! Just bear in mind that nut flours have a high oil content, meaning they spoil faster than other flours, so remember to stash them in the freezer to extend their shelf-lives.
And even if you aren’t trying to steer entirely clear of gluten in your diet, there are still low-gluten options that are great substitutes if you’re looking to limit wheat intake. Flours made from barley, spelt, and rye are all low in gluten but high in nutrients, and have a rich, nutty taste. Hard to go wrong.
Who knew there were so many different types of flour out there? You do now, so get to cooking!