Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Notes About Different Kinds of Flour

Ever wondered what was with all the diffrerent kinds of flour? And I don't mean just different grains or beans. There are a seemingly endless amount of wheat flours. What are they? What makes them different? Are some better than others? I have put together the most common wheat flours I could find. Let me know if I missed any.

Whole Wheat Flour-In Whole Wheat Flour, all three parts of the seed are finely ground: endosperm, bran and germ are all included. Whole wheat flour is the most nutritious of all the wheat flours.

Brown Flour-Some sites said 85% of the germ and bran are left in the final product. But the miller I buy from tells me their variety is about 50%. I imagine there is a wide variety.

White (or Refined) Flour-In Whie Flour, all the bran and germ have been removed and only the endosperm remains. The endosprem is then finely ground. Much white flour on the market has been bleached to make it whiter than it is in nature, but not all. Do not be fooled by anyone trying to sell you a 'health food' item: when it comes to flour, the terms white, refined and all purpose all refer to the EXACT same kind of flour.

Enriched Flour-As I mentioned yesterday, much of the nutrients of wheat seeds are lost in white flour when the bran and the germ are removed. Enriched Flour is White Flour to which synthetic vitamin supplements have been added. The US Government does not require white flour to be enriched, but much of it is. However in order to be called 'enriched flour' the FDA says that every pound of enriched flour should contain 2.9 milligrams of thiamin, 1.8 milligrams of riboflavin, 24 milligrams of niacin, 0.7 milligrams of folic acid and 20 milligrams of iron. Enrichment is a process which adds synthetic nutrients back to the flour that have been lost when the germ and bran are removed. This is not to be confused with 'fortification' where nutrients are added that were never there in the first place.

Durum Flour-Durum is a kind of wheat, and very hard or high-protein kind of wheat. It is best used in applications like bread and pasta.

Semolina Flour-Semolina Flour is a coarsely ground hard wheat flour. I used to work at a bakery that made a wicked good semolina bread covered in sesame seeds.

Cake or Pastry Flour: Whether Whole Wheat or White Pastry Flour, all cake or pastry flours are simply made from a variety of wheat that has a lower protein content. The result flour yeilds baked goods that are more tender which is good for sweeter softer items.

Sprouted Flour-This is flour where the whole grains have been soaked in water and allowed to sprout before they are ground. I have found some websites that state that allowing the seeds (grains) to sprout changed most of the starch in them into vegetable sugars thus making them much easier to digest. I have started to see sprouted flours and products made from them popping up everywhere.

Vital Gluten Flour-This is a flour that is very very high in gluten, the compound found in the endosperm that makes bread springy. My biggest complaint about completely whole wheat anything is that it crumbles apart. White flour has a higher gluten ratio so it naturally sticks together and doesn't crumble. Vital Gluten Flour can be added to a whole wheat recipe to help it hold together better. It is not for those with Celiac Disease. I bought some this weekend and I am anxious to try it the next time I make whole wheat beet muffins.

Processed foods most often make use of white/ refined flours or enriched flours. Whether or not they are labeled as organic is of no importance to nutrition, there is little if any additional nutrition in an organic white or refined flour. (BTW-I am well aware of recent studies that have found organic produce and plants to be more nutritious than their conventially grown counterparts. However in the case of wheat, there isn't much nutrition found in the endosperm regardless. Now if you want to talk about an organic germ or bran layer versus conventional, now there would be a conversation!) While it is always good to treat the land well, and organic wheat has that going for it, the term 'organic' does not give white flour any additional health benefits. Look for 'whole' flours. I definitely am limiting them for myself to once a day or not at all if I am able, but sometimes it seems that flour and baked goods of some kind are omnipresent.

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