Nutrition Tip of the Week

Author: Nadea S. Minet, MS, RD, LD

Week of November 5, 2012

More than All Purpose

When I was growing up, we had one type of flour stocked in our house at all times.  After all, it was “all purpose”. Today, a saunter down the supermarket’s baking aisle reminds us there are more than a few kinds of flour to choose.

To decide which type is best for you and/or for the recipe you are making, it helps to understand that flour is made up of carbohydrates (or starch), proteins, and a bit of fat (in the case of whole-wheat flour).  Of these three nutrients, protein matters most to the baker.  The proteins in wheat are gluten-forming proteins and the quantity and quality of these proteins determines how the flour will perform in the kitchen. A higher percentage of protein means a harder (stronger) flour best suited for a chewy, crusty bread and other yeast-risen products.  Less protein will produce a softer flour, which is best for tender and chemically leavened baked goods, like piecrusts, cakes, cookies, and biscuits.  Since the protein content of wheat can range from 5% to 15%, the flour industry has established labeling standards that help us find the right flour for our needs.

Why is Flour Important?

It’s important to know that flour forms the structure for baked goods, and that depending which flour is used, the texture of the final product might be affected. Flour contains proteins which, when water is added, grab onto each other and form strong, elastic sheets of gluten. Through mixing and kneading, higher protein flours, such as bread flour, can develop even longer and stronger chains of gluten.  More or less gluten is desirable for various baked goods. High protein flour is not used in pastries, piecrusts, biscuits, or quick breads, because the extra gluten that develops can make them tough and chewy. Lower protein flour yields piecrusts that do not shrink and with soft, tender, pastries and non-yeast breads.

Let’s investigate the types of flour and in which baked goods they are best used.

All-Purpose Flour: This is the most common flour in the conventional American pantry. Brands normally have an 11%-12% protein content which make them perfect for baking quick breads, cookies, biscuits, and cakes.  Flour can vary in protein content by brand as well as regionally.  Southern brands are made from a soft winter wheat and Northern brands from harder wheat, meaning the protein content can range from 8%-13%. If you prefer a more tender, finely textured result, try using flour that is milled from Southern wheat.  All-purpose flour that bleaches naturally as it ages is labeled “unbleached”; flour treated with chemical whiteners is labeled “bleached” and contains less protein.  Stored away from light, all-purpose flour will remain fresh for one year.

Cake Flour: Cake flour has a lower protein content and hence a lower gluten content after baking as compared to all-purpose  ~6%-8%, although it is wheat-based as is all purposed flour.  It is chlorinated to break down the strength of the gluten and it is very finely ground, yielding tender cakes with a fine, delicate texture. It measures differently than all-purpose flour; 1 cup of all-purpose flour is the equivalent of 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour.  Cake flour should not be substituted with self-rising cake flour, which contains baking powder, as this will affect the recipe measurements. Like all-purpose flour, cake flour is refined of all wheat germ and bran. Stored in a dark place and an airtight container, cake flour will last up to a year.

Whole Wheat Flour:  Of the wheat-based flours, whole-wheat flour is the roughest and is considered unrefined. Containing the entire wheat kernel, whole-wheat flour is rich in fiber as well as important nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, and selenium. Whole-wheat flour is typically used for breads, although refined versions may be used for muffins, scones, and other similar baked goods. Because of the oil content naturally present in bran and wheat germ, whole-wheat flour will turn rancid unless kept in a fridge for up to a month, or frozen for up to a year.

Amaranth Flour: Amaranth Flour is a protein rich flour made from a spinach-like plant found in the Far East, yet it is gluten-free. Amaranth is a leafy plant that produces grains, which are then ground into flour. It has a high level of complete protein, including lysine. Because of its high protein content, Amaranth flour is excellent for baking. It’s most typically used for up to 25% of the flour content in baked goods and is an excellent thickener for sauces, gravies, and soups.  It does have a slightly sweet nutty flavor so make sure you take this into consideration when baking.  It can be found in natural food stores or Indian grocery stores. However, do not attempt to substitute all-purpose flour with Amaranth flour.

Bread Flour: Bread flour is an unbleached, high protein white flour made from hard, high-protein wheat. It has more gluten strength and protein content than all-purpose flour.  The elasticity of the gluten gives the bread its ability to retain gas as the dough rises and bakes, making it chewy.  Bread flour has 12%-14% protein (gluten). It is sometimes conditioned with ascorbic acid, which increases volume and creates better texture.  This is the best choice for yeast products.  Substituting all-purpose flour for bread flour will result in a chewier product.  Bread flour will last several months in a cool, dry cabinet/pantry when stored in a sealed container and up to one year in the freezer.

Almond Flour: Grinding sweet almonds, with or without their skin, makes almond flour. Blanched almonds, which have been peeled, form the basis for Almond Flour, while whole almonds are used to make Almond meal, which is darker. Almond flour and Almond meal, both of which have a consistency similar to cornmeal, have a rich nutty taste ideal for pastries, tarts, pies and cakes. Almond Flour can be mixed with other flours to give low-carb dishes a nutty flavor. It is low in carbohydrates and high in protein.  It is not meant to replace flour in yeast or quick breads and the shelf life is quite short.  It can be found in natural food stores.

Soy Flour:  Soy flour is made from roasted soybeans that have been ground into a fine powder, and it is high in quality protein, lower in carbohydrates when compared to all-purpose.  It is a good of calcium and an excellent source of iron and magnesium.  Soy flour can be used as a thickener for sauces and gravies, or as a wheat flour substitute in quick breads and cookies by using 1 part soy flour to 3 parts all-purpose flour.  It adds a pleasant texture and flavor to a variety of products and it adds a protein boost to home baked goods.  Because soy flour adds moisture to baked products, it can also be used as an inexpensive and cholesterol-free egg substitute in certain foods. Replace one egg with 1-tablespoon soy flour and 1 tablespoon water.

Rice Flour:  Rice flour is a fine flour made from ground rice and is very commonly used in gluten free baked goods to give them structure and substance.  It is also a popular addition for non-gluten free baked goods because of its unique and slightly sandy texture, which can make the end product extra tender and crumbly, with a melt-in-your-mouth type of feeling.  Rice flour can add heartiness to yeast breads when added in small amounts since it doesn’t contain gluten.  It can also be used as a thickener in sauces and as a base for various baked goods. It’s available in white, which is made from polished white rice, and in brown, which is made from whole grain brown rice. Both types of flour work very nearly the same way in a recipe, but have slightly different flavors and colorings. Brown rice flour can take longer to cook when it is in noodle form since brown rice takes longer to cook as compared to white rice.

Some flours can be substitute for one another in certain recipes.  Here is a basic guide for flour substitutions if you find yourself in a pinch because today, every purpose has a flour and every flour has a purpose.

Flour Substitutions:

  • 1 cup cake flour= 2 tablespoons of cornstarch + 7/8 cup all-purpose
  • 1 cup self-rising flour= 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder + ½ teaspoon salt +1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup pastry flour=1 cup minus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour = 1 cup + 2 tablespoons cake flour

To sum up flour, the main difference among the different types is in the gluten content, which varies depending on whether the flour is made from a hard wheat or a soft wheat. Gluten is the protein that helps yeast stretch and rise.  To achieve the best baking results, it’s best to use the type of flour a recipe specifically calls for so you can Celebrate your weight loss success.

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.