* We sometimes use affiliate links, so we may receive a commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Check our disclosure for more info.
Flour is found in SO many foods. There’s the foods you know have flour, baking for example, and foods you wouldn’t straight off the bat be sure did, like some sauces. So I thought it would be useful to talk about the different types of flour and their uses.
When we started Clean eating, one of the main things I knew I’d have to make sure I knew about was what flours to use and when to use them. My kids loved baking. They loved it, and I loved that they did because it meant we usually had homemade baking treats in the kitchen. I didn’t want to take away something they loved doing, I just needed to find work arounds.
For a number of years, I’d pick up a bag of Wholemeal flour in the supermarket and mentally pat myself on the back, job done, healthy eating accomplished. And while Wholemeal flour IS preferable to a regular, popular bag of white flour, there’s additives that are used to ‘improve’ the flour, and depending on where you live, you’ll get different additives. Crazy, right?
So, take Potassium Bromate, just one of the additives sometimes found in flour. Learning about this makes for some scary reading.
If you live in some countries around the world like European Union, China, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Peru and Columbia, these countries have banned the use of Bromate in flours. Great.
However, the US and India decided not to ban it, although many bakeries voluntarily stopped using it. This just blew my mind. You can eat it in the US and it’s approved for human consumption, but fly to Australia and it’s banned.
If you’re interested in why it’s added to flour, it’s to improve the rise and help prevent falling bakes, and helps the stretch of the gluten in flours. I should point out that Bromate, when it is added, is intended to leave no trace in the finished, cooked food. Because, you know, lots of people (who know what they’re talking about!) consider it unsafe.
What if it’s not cooked properly, or too much has been added and it’s still there when you eat it? And why have some countries banned it? Arghhhh…….
Bromate is not the only additive added to some of the world’s best selling, used all the time flours, I’ve just picked on it. It’s a rabbit hole once you start reading about it and to be honest, I was more concerned about which flours we could eat. I don’t want much, just a flour I can use in my cooking and baking, that the kids would eat, and didn’t have ingredients I hadn’t heard of and didn’t understand. Shouldn’t be that hard, right? :)
The Difference Between Flours
The main difference in the flours that most of use regularly today is the protein content. The protein content determines how much gluten the flour will form. Flours with high protein produce denser, stronger bakes (think bread flour) and flours with less protein will give you an airy, lighter bake (think sponge cakes).
You then choose your flour essentially by additives and flavor. Self-raising flour has had baking powder added to it. You’d use this for anything you want to rise. Cakes, scones etc…The flavor of the flour depends on the wheat grain used to mill it. Spelt flour has a nutty taste, as well as being one of the flours many countries don’t insist additives are added to. Yay! As well as this grain being similar to wheat, it’s slightly higher in protein, so is a good biscuit flour.
Most flours have a description of the flour on the back. It’ll often tell you if the taste is nutty etc…so you can pick one that will suit your cooking.
All-purpose, or plain flour has no baking powder added so you’d use this for sauces, biscuits etc…(here’s an easy way to check if your baking powders gone bad or good to use!).
If you’re eating Clean, the difference between flours comes down to how Clean the flour is. I want a flour that gives the right texture, with as few additives as possible. None, if I can find it.
Now I’ve said all that, I’ll also say that some additives are not always a deal breaker for me or my family. We’re not so strict with Clean eating that I’ll refuse anything with additives. We have to make this work, you know. But, I do try and research and find the best flours I can, the Cleanest ones possible. You can read about one of my favorite Clean flours here. It was a game changer finding this little beauty!
The Main Types Of Flour
The main types of flour for us can be broken easily down into two categories. Wheat and non-wheat. I use non-wheat flours quite a lot. I find it’s easier to know exactly what’s in them, and they’re easier to get hold of. Some I often make myself, like Almond flour.
My local store doesn’t stock the flour I use the most and while I stock up when I’m somewhere that does sell it, of course, I run out at times. I use this flour like an all purpose flour really. I add baking powder if I need it and not if I don’t. There’s no a lot it doesn’t work with.
In case you’d not guessed it, these flours are all made from wheat (!). This is purely the difference between how the wheat is milled and the type of wheat used. There is no distinction made here about the additives used in flours.
Many food manufacturers are not required to tell you what additives they add to their goods, which makes it really hard to make an informed choice. My bag of Wholemeal flour, under ingredients, says 100% Wholemeal. While not all the required by law additives are bad (iron, for example) some are, and anyway, I’d like to know!
Because all countries have their own rules and regs, I can’t say what’s added to the flours in your particular country. BUT…..you can check the World Heath Organisation here to find out what the rules are in your country, check labels, and if all else fails, Google it!
All purpose flour
Globally, this is the most common flour used. This flour is a blend of hard and soft wheat: so a medium protein flour giving it the name all-purpose. The wheat is stripped of the bran and germ and milled with only the endosperm, giving you a not especially good for you flour that’s had the goodness stripped out, but does have a longer shelf life. This flour’s handy, I get that, but there’s got to be a better alternative. (Hint, there is!).
100% Wholewheat flour
This flour does just what it says and uses the wholegrain when milled. That’s the bran, the germ and the endosperm. So it’s healthier than all-purpose flour and has a higher fibre content because it used the wholegrain. The color is darker because of this, and baked goods will be a little heavier.
White Wholewheat flour
White Springwheat gives you white wholegrain flour, as opposed to red wheat. It’s identical to red wheat, but the resulting flour is lighter coloured. The flour is Wholemeal and so contains a higher fibre count, the only difference is the wheat used and the resulting color.
The time of year the wheat is sown has an effect on the protein content of the milled flour from that crop. Crops sown in the winter (hard winter) tend to have a higher protein content than summer crops, making the flour better for making bread as it’s stronger. The gluten content is high.
Non Wheat Flours
Being a type of cereal grain from the vena sativa plant, Oat flour isn’t subject to the same additive requirements as wheat, and if you buy Organic oats you can be pretty sure you’re just eating oats. I make Oat flour. It’s really as simple as putting your oats in a blender and pulsing until fine. Many times I don’t even pulse, as we like the texture of oats.
This flours pretty amazing: I have no idea why it’s not more widely talked about and used. It’s a ancient grain and has NO ADDITIVES! The milled flour works cup for cup (usually!) the same as all purpose flour and is light enough to bake well. The ever so slightly nutty taste is very mild and if you’re baking, the flavor can hardly be detected at all. There’s nothing about this flour I don’t like. Except the fact that it’s not widely available where I live. And when you ask in the store for it, they look at you as if you’re speaking another language. Apart from that, I LOVE this flour.
Where I love, Spelt flour’s stayed off the list of foods requiring additives, and so I usually have a bag of this in my kitchen. This ancient grain is a close cousin of wheat and has many of the same characteristics. Spelt is actually higher in protein than wholemeal flour, and light enough to not weigh down baked goods.
Made entirely from the dried meat of a Coconut, this gluten free flour is often used in baking. The high fat content can keep the flour from drying out, although it’s high absorbent, so it’s not usually a straight one for one flour exchange in a recipe! You can easily make your own coconut flour by blitzing shredded coconut in a blender.
Dried almonds, blitzed into a flour. I really like almond flour. Firstly, the taste is amazing. Almond flour can give you a Frangipane, marzipan sort of flavour when used in desserts, it is moist, sweet, and it’s got no additives if you pick an Organic pack. Secondly, it’s easy to get hold of, whether that be whole Almonds or a bag of Almond flour.
Oatmeal, blitzed in the blender. We eat our way through a fair amount of Oatmeal, be that in Porridge, breakfast slices, snacks or anything else. I plan to one day get ahead of the game and keep a jar of this stuff, ready turned into flour, in my kitchen. One day…..