Baking Aisle Flour

• Recognize different types and qualities of wheat flour before you buy. Whole-grain flour contains more fiber than refined wheat flour because the bran layer of the grain is still intact; that's where most of the fiber comes from. Whole-grain flour also contains the germ layer, which provides many vitamins and minerals. See "What Is a Whole Grain?" in chapter 6.

Refined flour, used in about 80 percent of baked goods, including most white bread, is made only from the endosperm of the grain. While the flour has a snowy-white appearance, almost all of the fiber and many of the vitamins and minerals are lost. Refined flour may be bleached or unbleached. Bleaching simply whitens the somewhat yellowish unbleached flour. From a nutritional standpoint, bleached and unbleached flours are almost the same.

When flour is enriched, four nutrients that were lost in processing—thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron— are added back. The amounts of these nutrients compare to those of whole-grain flour. Enriched flour also is fortified with folic acid; whole-wheat flour may or may not be folic acid fortified.

The label also may describe the flour as "all-purpose," "bread," "cake," or "self-rising."

  • All-purpose flour is a mixture of high-gluten hard wheat and low-gluten soft wheat.
  • Bread flour is mainly high-gluten hard wheat, suitable for yeast bread.
  • Cake, or pastry, flour made from low-gluten soft wheat has a finer texture that makes pastry and cakes more tender.
  • Self-rising flour is all-purpose flour with baking powder and salt added for making quick breads. Although bread can be made with only 100 percent whole-wheat flour, the result will be a dense, heavy loaf. For a lighter texture, use a combination of whole wheat and refined white flour.
  • Look for other types of whole-grain flour in the supermarket and specialty stores: barley, buckwheat, corn, oats, brown rice, rye, and triticale. Triticale flour, with less gluten than all-purpose flour, makes a denser bread; triticale is a blend of wheat and rye flour. To lighten the texture of baked goods, go "50-50" with triticale and bread flour. Corn flour, made from the whole kernel, is finely ground cornmeal; masa harina is a specialty corn flour used to make tortillas. Yellow corn flour—and other yellow cornmeal—have more vitamin A than white corn flour.
  • Try other types of flour, such as corn and rice flours, especially useful for people who have a wheat allergy or are sensitive to gluten. See "Gluten Intolerance: Often a Lifelong Condition" in chapter 21.
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