Common flours and flour types
Made from the fleshy root of the tropical arrowroot plant. It is very finely ground and easily mistaken for cornflour and used the same way. Normally used as a thickening agent, its main advantage over cornflour is that it does not alter the colour of the sauce etc. If the sauce is over thickened however, it turns to a slime texture and cannot be diluted again.
Made from very finely ground barley, it is rich in protein, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and B vitamins.
Bean / Legume flours
Made from ground beans of all types. Used to enhance the flavour and add health benefits to breads, soups, etc.
Made from the seeds of a plant originating in Asia, it has an earthy, slightly sour flavour that is usually tempered in commercial products by the addition of a wheat flour. Used for the production of soba noodles.
Made from dried, ground chestnuts and usually sold in ethnic markets
Cornflour / cornstarch
A finely ground corn/maize product that is gluten free. Mostly found bleached white, but also available with a yellowish tinge to it. Mainly used as a thickening or binding agent, but can be used in a limited way for baking also.
Mix two parts water to one part cornflour to make a slurry or slake, this can be stirred or whisked into liquids for thickening.
Rice flour is primarily made from polished broken rice and is therefore usually whiter than wheat or rye flour, it is usually ground more finely also.
There are essentially two sorts of rice flour: one is made from the type of rice most often cooked at home and one from glutinous rice. The glutinous rice flour has a swelling property that results in a slightly rubbery texture to doughs and therefore ideal for the Asian pork dumplings etc. They freeze well because unlike other starches / flours, it does not separate and lose moisture when thawing.
It cannot however be used in baking; although rice flour contains a high starch content, it does not have the protein called 'gluten' of wheat flours.
Made from a small round grain resembling mustard seed, (often used for bird seed) it has a slight nutty flavour
Oat flour is a fine flour ground from dried oats, has a characteristic nutlike flavour. Due to its lack of gluten it is best used in combination with wheat flour.
Potato flour / potato starch
Also known as 'fecule'. This is a gluten-free flour is made from cooked, dried and ground potatoes. Mostly used as a flavourless thickener for sauces, soups and stews etc
Ground grains of rye grass, that is a close relative of wheat but gluten free. It has a slightly sweet-sour flavour and due to its lack of gluten it is best used in combination with wheat flour.
Seven-grain flour is a commercial blend commonly made up of millet, rye, corn, wheat, barley, oats and flax or triticale. Can be purchased in health-food stores.
Soya flour is high in protein and is usually mixed in with whole grain flours in recipes.
This flour is lighter in protein and more easily digested than regular wheat flours. This flour is sometimes known as Farro and was the typical flour used by ancient Romans
Triticale is a hybrid cross of durum wheat and rye grains. It is high in protein, and is excellent for making bread. But it will take longer to rise than regular wheat breads.
Made by blending in a certain amount of the brown skins of the bran with white flour.
Made from the whole of the wheat berry: the endosperm, the bran and the embryo
- Weak flour (also known as soft flour or hi-ratio flour) has a low gluten content of approx. 8% and is therefore ideal for delicate cake and sponge production
- Medium flour (also known as all purpose flour) is produced so that it is suitable for products that have to be chemically aerated. It is weak enough to stop toughening but strong enough to stand the pressures of the gases resulting from the use of baking powders etc. It is also a good all round flour for bread-crumbing, batters, scones etc
- Strong flour has a high gluten content, that makes it ideal for yeast products, breads and puff pastry
- Durum wheat flour (also known as Durum flour and semolina flour) this is specially produced for the production of pastas.
Plain white flour
Milled from the endosperm of the wheat berry only; it has the bran, embryo and germ removed. It is graded as to its strength depending on its gluten content: weak, medium and strong.
The strength of a flour maybe tested by squeezing the flour in the hand;
- a weak flour will cling together when the hand is open
- a strong flour will crumble to flour again
Self raising flour
This is simply a convenience product; a medium strength flour with the addition of baking powder: 500 gm flour to 10 gm baking powder. This flour has a short shelf life due to the addition of the baking powder, it becomes less effective as the baking powder breaks down.
As an addition note, baking powder should be bought in as small a quantities as possible, it has a short shelf life and it becomes less effective as the baking powder components breaks down. It is simply made up of two common culinary chemicals: baking soda (bicarbonate of soda and tartaric acid), stable when apart but break down and cancel each other out over time once mixed.
Fresh baking soda can be made by sifting together one part baking soda to two parts tartaric acid.