As one of the staple cereal grains alongside rice and oats, wheat has permeated food in such a way that it is ever present in day to day eating. One of the most common variations of wheat is flour. Milled into a fine powder, flour can then be used for an assortment of purposes: baking, thickening, batter for deep frying and more. Here, we will looking specifically at wheat flour, the different varieties of it and what they’re best used for.
Growing on stalks in groups called heads, each head of wheat is made up of a number of kernels. A single wheat kernel is made up of 3 sections: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. Bran is the hard covering that protects the insides and is high in fibre and nutrients. The germ is much like the yolk in an egg, it is a nutrient dense embryo that will sprout and grow into a new wheat plant. Lastly, the endosperm is the largest section of a kernel, and consists of mostly starch. Wheat flour can come in three different types, each using a different ratio of the parts of the wheat kernel. White flour is the most common type of flour, and is made by milling only the endosperm. Brown flour uses the endosperm with a little germ and bran added. Whole wheat flour, as the name suggests, makes use of the entire wheat kernel. Naturally, whole wheat flour contains the most nutrients, but at the same time has the coarsest texture due to the myriad of materials milled.
Whether white, brown or whole, wheat flour comes in two categories, soft and hard. Soft flours are the result of milling wheat with a low gluten content, which translates to a finer, crumbly texture when cooked. Cake flour is the softest wheat flour, and is what gives cakes their iconic light spongy texture that readily crumbles away in the mouth. Pastry flour is the next softest flour, and contains a slightly higher gluten content which makes it more suitable to baking other soft treats.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, hard flours are flours with a high concentration of gluten. Because of the way gluten binds food together when cooked, acting as an edible glue of sorts, foods made with hard flours are usually chewy, and elastic, making them better suited to making bread and noodles
Now, wheat flour comes in a huge range of varieties, each suited to a specific task but the most commonly found varieties are all-purpose, bread, cake and self-rising. As the name would suggest, all-purpose flour is good for baking most things, thanks to its medium gluten content. Bread flour and cake flour occupy opposite ends of the spectrum. Bread flour possesses a higher gluten content while cake flour is a soft flour with its low gluten content. Lastly, we have self-rising flour. Ultimately a tool to simplify the baking process, it is a combination of all-purpose flour with baking soda and salt.
Hopefully you’re now feeling confident to head out and explore the realm of baking, armed with new knowledge about one of the fundamentals of baking. Maybe try this delicious recipe for fantastically appetising muffins!