I had a request from a friend to share some information on the different types of flours and when to use each. This will not be an exhaustive list, just the ones I frequently use.
I want to preface this by saying that I think it’s much more important to just start baking and cooking at home rather than worrying too much over using the “right” or most “healthy” flour. You are making MAJOR improvements to your health just by cooking and baking at home rather than buying packaged foods or eating out. Take a look at the muffins below. I snapped a picture of the ingredients while at the store the other day. Sugar is the FIRST ingredient. That means there is more sugar in these than any other ingredient. I wouldn’t want to send my boys to school having eaten more sugar than anything else that morning. I’ll let you read for yourself the rest of the ingredients. I don’t know about you but I don’t regularly cook with all those chemicals listed. They just aren’t necessary but food companies use them to make cheap food that will last a long time on the shelves.
Let’s take a look some of the different types of flour:
All Purpose Flour: AP or white flour is a processed flour that is made from refined and processed wheat grains. Basically, its nutrients have been stripped to make it more palatable. It has less fiber and vitamins than a whole grain flour. If you do buy all purpose flour try to buy unbleached all purpose flour. This is just all purpose flour that has not gone through the bleaching process (which is totally unnecessary and done with chemicals) to make it more white. The only time I use AP flour is when I’m making a special dessert like a birthday cake or cupcakes. Sometimes I use a little in our pizza crust.
WHOLE GRAIN FLOURS
Whole grain flours have not been stripped of their nutrients. They have more fiber and vitamins than white flour. Although all wheat based foods will cause your blood sugar to rise, whole wheat flour causes a slower rise in blood sugar and is less likely to cause you to be hungry soon after eating the way white flour does.
Whole Wheat Flour: Whole wheat flour is probably the most popular whole grain flour. You can use it in most recipes calling for flour. I honestly don’t use this flour much. I think it’s heavy and just not as good as the other whole grain flours. Whole wheat flour can be used in any recipe that calls for all purpose or whole wheat flour.
White Whole Wheat Flour: Even though you see the word white this is still a whole grain flour, but lighter in color (because it’s made from a lighter variety of wheat), and won’t make your baked goods quite as dense as regular whole wheat flour. I use this in homemade pizza dough, muffins, breads, waffles, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, healthier sweet treats, and in many other recipes. You can use it in any recipe that calls for all purpose or whole wheat flour.
Whole Wheat Pastry Flour: This is whole grain flour that is great in quick breads that use baking soda or baking powder: muffins, pancakes, waffles, etc. Since it doesn’t have as much gluten it isn’t good for baking a regular loaf of bread. I also use it in the occasional treat that I’m trying to keep healthier (like cookies, brownies, etc.)
Spelt Flour: This whole grain flour is an ancient form of wheat. It has a lower gluten content and higher protein content and is lighter in baked goods. I use it in pancakes, waffles, and muffins. The great thing about spelt flour is that the higher protein content makes it less of an issue with your blood sugar. The negative is that it’s a little more expensive.
Oat Flour: Oat flour is a flour made from ground oats. You can buy it or grind it yourself in your food processor. It is usually mixed with other flours when used in baking. If you use it alone the baked goods won’t really rise or hold together very well. You might see oat flour in the ingredient list of muffins, breads, waffles, healthy treats, etc.
GRAIN/GLUTEN FREE FLOURS
The nice thing about grain free flours is that they don’t cause the blood sugar spike that you get with wheat flours and are easier on those with gluten intolerance.
Almond Flour: Almond flour is just ground blanched almonds. It has a kind of cornmeal consistency. You will find it in the ingredient list of many “paleo” and gluten free recipes. I’ve used it in muffins and waffles and recipes that call for bread crumbs (such as meatballs.)
Coconut Flour: Coconut flour is another grain/gluten free flour. I looked it up and found out it’s actually the by-product of coconut milk manufacturing that has been ground into flour. Like almond flour, you will see this in the ingredient list of many “paleo” and gluten free recipes. I don’t like to use it alone because you need a lot of eggs with coconut flour and I’m not a fan of the texture. But I do have some recipes I like that use both coconut and almond flour. Coconut flour can be used in muffins, waffles, sweet treats, etc. I keep both my coconut and almond flour in the fridge since I don’t use them all that often.
There are many other gluten free flours. But since I don’t bake gluten free very often I don’t have a lot of experience with them.
So where do you start?
If you are brand new to using flours other than all purpose I’d suggest starting by replacing half of the flour in a recipe with white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour. Then you can eventually switch over to 100% whole grain flour once your family is accustomed to any change in taste or texture. Once you’ve switched over to 100% whole grain flour you can begin trying out some of the other types of flours listed.
Two things to note:
1. When you see the words “wheat flour” in the ingredient list of bread, pasta, crackers etc. that really just means white flour. If you are looking for a whole grain flour it will say “whole wheat” or “whole grain.” If you are looking for a totally unrefined product it should say “100% whole grain.”
2. Many people avoid grain based flours all together for health reasons. Some have found great success in weight loss and/or control of blood sugar issues by eliminating all grain based flours (and other carbs.) For me, personally, I do limit my wheat intake, even whole wheat flours. I have definitely not eliminated them all together but I do try to be mindful of how much I eat. I feel better and don’t get hungry as quickly afterwards when I make sure to have a balanced diet. Instead of having spaghetti and rolls (both made from wheat) I’ll make whole wheat spaghetti and serve it with broccoli. Instead of having two pancakes at breakfast I’ll have one whole grain pancake and some eggs or fruit. At lunch I often just have a salad and skip breads and heavy carbs. It’s all about balance!