Different Types of Flour & Uses: Flour 101

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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There are many types of flour from a wide variety of nuts and grains that can provide different nutrient benefits and flavors, depending on what you’re preparing.

Different Types of Flour

While most people are familiar with common, all-purpose flour, there are many different types of flour you could keep in your pantry to increase your cooking options. While wheat-based flours certainly dominate the list of flours used in baking, they are far from the only option, as there are also nut-based and gluten-free flours that not only provide an alternative for those with certain food allergies but also offer unique flavor profiles with which you can experiment.

Some of the most common types of flour include all-purpose flour, bread flour, pastry flour, almond flour, coconut flour, flaxseed meal, and tapioca flour, among others.

All-Purpose Flour

This is a flour you can find in almost every kitchen and is also called “white flour” in many places. It is a combination of hard and soft wheat, which is defined by the level of protein found in those particular flours. This is a neutral basic flour that is great for use a filler, in many different baking settings, and the creation of sauces and soups, just to name a few. More than 50% of all flour used in cooking is represented by this simple, all-purpose variety.

Bread Flour

As mentioned above, the hardness of wheat is determined by its protein content, and bread flour is slightly higher than all-purpose flour, which is partially why bread has a denser and more stable feel when it’s cooked. This composition is important for the bread to rise, as the additional protein allows more air bubbles to be captured when the dough is kneaded before baking.

Cake Flour

On the opposite side of the spectrum is cake flour, made primarily from “soft wheat“, meaning that it has a lower protein content—about half of what you would find in bread flour. This type of flour is also bleached, which alters its acidity and prevents the cakes from collapsing, despite the significant levels of sugar. Furthermore, the low protein content helps to keep cakes and other baked goods light and fluffy, and far less dense than baked bread.

Different types of flour on wooden spoons and their source

Almond Flour

This gluten-free flour is produced by grinding blanched almonds (without the skin) into a fine powder. The benefit of this type of nut flour, aside from being ideal for those with Celiac disease, is that it’s quite low in carbohydrates and contains omega-6 fatty acids. The slightly sweet flavor also makes it a favorite for certain skilled bakers looking for a unique alternative.

Self-Rising Flour

This functional flour is actually a combination of all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt, and is commonly found in recipes for biscuits, pancakes, cakes, and brownies. This is a rather specific type of flour and should only be used when called for, and not as an alternative for other flour types, due to the other ingredients it includes.

Coconut Flour

Another gluten-free flour option is coconut flour, which is high in protein and fiber, but notably low in carbohydrates. Those who are looking for low GI foods or a boost in their digestive and metabolic health should try this flour, not to mention its uniquely sweet flavor. Coconut flour is produced by grinding the remaining coconut meat after coconut milk has been extracted. There is a moderate amount of fat in this type of flour, which isn’t present in common flours.

Whole Wheat Flour

Unlike all-purpose or white flours, whole wheat flour is made by grinding entire wheat kernels, which includes the bran, endosperm, and germ. This means that whole wheat flour contains higher levels of protein and fiber than regular white flour and is considered a healthier option. This flour can be more complicated to cook with, as it tends to be denser, and may have an earthier taste.

Tapioca Flour

This special flour variety is made from the cassava root, and is a staple form of flour in many countries of the world, particularly in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Cassava is very high in carbohydrates but low in protein, fiber, minerals, and other nutrients. However, as a calorie-dense flour, it is excellent as a filler in recipes, particularly for people with nut or gluten allergies.

Flaxseed Flour

One of the most popular seed-based flours, flaxseed meal is made by grinding flaxseeds into a powder; the high level of oil found in these seeds makes working with this flour a bit challenging, but it can partially replace eggs or other liquids in a recipe and can be mixed in with other flours to change the consistency or make vegan recipes!

How to Use Flour?

For many of the flours listed above, their use is implicit in the name, but there are also a few clever tricks that you can use with these different types of flour to take your cooking game to the next level.

Cake flour: Since some people struggle to get their consistency right when working with delicate cake flour, mixing in a bit of cornstarch or corn flour can also help improve the texture!

Almond flour: Cracker and cookie recipes can be improved by switching to almond flour. It will contribute a sweeter flavor and denser texture to many meals, but due to the high oil content, be sure to reduce the butter content and increase the sugar levels in the recipe!

Self-rising flour: If you don’t have this type of flour on hand, it’s easy to make at home. Simply mix 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of table salt and 1 cup of all-purpose flour! Voila, you have homemade self-rising flour for your biscuits and gravy recipe!

Coconut flour: Although this flour can make for some incredibly tasty dishes, it is not an easy flour to substitute for other more common varieties. Sticking with established recipes is your best bet unless you’re truly a daring chef!

Whole wheat flour: Cinnamon rolls and whole wheat pancakes are two of the most delicious options for this versatile flour, particularly because you can cover the earthy flavor with sweet toppings!

Tapioca flour: This carb-heavy flour is excellent for making waffles, crepes, flatbread, pancakes, and pretzels, provided you don’t mind a bit of sweetness!

Flaxseed flour: This flour can be used in many different ways, from mixing it into your morning smoothies to thickening up soups and salad dressings. It is packed with nutrients and is a great vegan alternative to eggs in some baking recipes!

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, and publisher who earned his English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign, Urbana (USA). He is the co-founder of a literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and calls the most beautiful places in the world his office. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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