Flour Power

by Joanna

All-purpose, amaranth, wheat, soy, quinoa, cake, bleached, unbleached... are all different types of??  Flour!  And there are a good handful more than those I just listed.  What’s the difference between them?  Why use one over the other?  Is one better?  Let me try to break it down as best I can.  It’s a complicated subject, and not even fully understood by chemists. 

Different types of flour serve different purposes, and you shouldn’t simply swap one for the other and expect the same outcome.  Different flours have different protein levels.  When we talk about protein in flour, this means gluten.  Protein/gluten is what gives bread dough its strength and elasticity.  The more protein/gluten, the heavier and more dense the bread will be.

All Purpose Flour

The most common flour is all purpose flour, mostly because it’s cheap.  This flour has a protein content of 8-11%.  Why does it come in bleached and unbleached?  Good question.  With age (about 12 weeks), unbleached flour goes from a yellow-ish tint to white.  But, because we are impatient, the food industry throws in bleach in the form of chlorine dioxide, chlorine, and benzoyl peroxide (yes, the same stuff you use on your face) to make it white faster.  Bleaching also causes the flour to lose nutrients.  Some countries, including the EU, China, and Canada have banned peroxides to bleach flour because of health concerns.  Do yourself a favor and just don’t with the bleached flour.  If the label doesn’t specify, it’s bleached.

Bread Flour

You’ve probably also seen bread flour quite a bit in the stores.  King Arthur Flour, the cream of the crop of flours, so to speak (see what I did there?), has a protein content of 12.7%.  This will make for heavier and more dense bread, which is the main difference between bread flour and all-purpose flour.

Whole Wheat Flour

Whole wheat flour is less processed and has more vitamins, nutrients, and about 14-16% protein.   If you use whole wheat flour as a substitute for a healthier version of your favorite recipe, try letting the batter “rest” to hydrate the flour and turn out a more moist product.  I’m going to try this whole wheat banana bread recipe this weekend (minus the decorative bananas on top –  they remind me of pineapple.)

Cake Flour

I tried cake flour for the first time last year when using an Alton Brown recipe.  It specifically called for cake flour.  I bought cake flour and it made all the difference.  The protein content in cake flour is low, about 8-9% which means the end product will be light and fluffy.  At the same time, cake flours are typically used in things that maybe aren’t so healthy, so I just leave it at this: if the recipe calls for cake flour, use cake flour.

Soy Flour

Ground from roasted soy beans, soy flour is gluten free as soybeans don’t contain gluten to begin with (still confused about gluten?  Check out Coach Sarah’s blog with more info on gluten).  Soy flour is high in protein and iron.  And since there is no gluten, a general rule of thumb is to combine soy flour and wheat flour if making yeast breads (Bob’s Red Mill Soy flour says to replace 30% of the flour in your recipe with soy).  Also, lower the temperature of the oven by 25% or shorten the cooking time because soy flour browns more quickly.

Amaranth Flour

Another specialty flour is amaranth flour which comes from the amaranth plant, typically found in Mexico, Central America, and India.  Also a gluten free flour, you should use 1 cup of amaranth flour in place of 1 cup wheat flour.  Amaranth flour is the only grain to contain vitamin C, interestingly, and is high in calcium.  Want to experiment with this flour?  Try some Easy Amaranth Pancakes this weekend!  Amaranth flour also browns quickly to be watchful not to burn when cooking.

Quinoa Flour

Quinoa flour is packed with protein and high in potassium.  The seed (before grinding it into flour) can be added to a myriad of things like pastas, oatmeal, salads, casseroles, or swapped out for rice.  It’s not a grain so again, if using the flour for baked goods, replace 25% of your flour with quinoa flour for added nutritional benefits.

So there you have it.  Hopefully you’ve learned something new about flour.  The specialty flours can be pricier, but if you take only one thing away from this blog, it’s this: ditch the bleached, all-purpose flour.  It’s cheap for a reason.  If you’re looking for something other than all-purpose flour, try looking for either King Arthur Flour or Bob’s Red Mill flours.  Both can be found locally in the Eau Claire area at most grocery stores but you might have to ask where they are.  Give some of these flours or recipes a try and let me know how it goes!


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