A few days ago, we had looked into the subject of fats… We had talked about the differences between olive oil, butter, margarine and seen what is best to use for what purpose…
The time has come to cover another important chapter in both cooking and baking… and that chapter is all about flour!
White, yellow, whole wheat, soft, hard, oat flour, rye flour, type 00 and more!
There is a lot of information out there and it can be confusing. There is also celiac disease, gluten intolerance and other such issues that can confuse you even further.
Let me try to shed some light on things and sort them out for you.
Flour is made by grinding grains or other seeds. These grains or seeds can come from cereals like wheat, barley or oats but they can also come from other types of plants, such as plants from the legume family (chickpeas) or acorns and even locust seeds from trees.
So when we are talking about flour, we aren’t necessarily talking about wheat…
Let’s talk about seeds…
Plants reproduce mainly through seeds. At this point we need to clarify that seeds and fruits are two completely different things (and by fruit I mean either actual fruit, nuts or anything grown from a tree or plant). For instance, a peach is a fruit and its pit is the seed. For nuts the fruit is the nut enclose in a hard shell but the seed is the actual nut.
A grain or seed is made up of 3 primary parts;
the perisperm, the endosperm and the germ.
The perisperm or bran is a protective, thin layer around the grain. It doesn’t allow the air or water to come in contact with the internal part of the grain. It protects it and the embryo under difficult environmental conditions.
The endosperm is the grain’s storage room. Most plant’s seeds have an endosperm which stores energy and food so that the new can have enough to grow until its root is able to bring it sustenance.
The embryo or germ is that miniscule plant from which a whole tree can develop over the years. Because there is so much fat in the germ, we often remove it before milling or grinding when wanting to make flour.
Let’s talk about wheat now, which is where most of the flour we use comes from…
There are many different types of wheat grown all over the world. Each one adapts to the needs of each area it is grown in.
In Greece, soft and hard wheat is cultivated.
We get hard flour and semolina from hard wheat. A by-product of semolina is the yellow flour we use to make bread.
We get soft flour from soft wheat.
What is responsible for whether or not the structure of the dough holds together more or less, is the proteins in the wheat. The protein that plays the most significant role in this is gluten….
Hard wheat contains more gluten than soft wheat.
Keep in mind that the wheat that grows in one country in a particular climate has a different percentage of gluten than the same type of wheat that grows in another country. But this is something we would have to look for if we were buying wheat straight from an actual stone mill.
Companies that sell the flours they produce to supermarkets, which in turn sell the flour to us, have to follow the rules and use specific percentages for the ingredients in the flour. Gluten is one of these ingredients so we don’t need to worry.
What we need to be a little more careful with is the flour mixtures. It is very difficult to keep the quality levels stable. We may notice small changes or differences even in the same brand of flour we have been buying for years.
Using flour to cook….
Dough made with flour that has a higher gluten content is “better” or stronger, it gives a more compact result.
When making breads or sweet breads, we want to use flour that is richer in gluten to get a nicer texture and shape. This means that hard flour should be used for these recipes. There are even certain flours made with extra gluten especially for these types of recipes.
When making cakes or cookies, we need flour that has less gluten content, to give us an airy, light and fluffy result instead of something more compact. This is when we want to use soft flour.
Whole Wheat Flour
The germ (or perisperm of the grain) is removed whether making hard or soft flour. When making whole wheat flour, the germ is left intact and so is included in the flour. This type of flour is used to make any type of recipe that calls for whole wheat flour. The difference is not in the calories, because a loaf of bread made with whole wheat flour are the same as a loaf of bread made with white flour. The difference is in the nutritional value.
There are many vitamins, carbohydrates and natural fibers in grains, so it makes the flour much more nutritious. Eating whole wheat bread gives us a more “full” feeling that last longer than when eating white bread.
There are other types of wheat flour. Rye flour and barley flour can also be used for baking. Studies have shown that these types of flours add a great deal to our nutrition. Barley flour especially, is said to help in losing weight and is very good for diabetics. This particular flour has a very low gluten content. Oat flour does not contain any gluten.
Quite a few people suffer from coeliac disease and have a very serious intolerance to gluten. It is a hereditary condition that can show up at any time in your life without any previous symptoms. It can cause damage to the small intestine and should be dealt with immediately because the longer you leave it unattended the greater the damage can be.
The only way to deal with it is through proper nutrition.
Any types of food that contain gluten should be avoided, which means that wheat flour, which is rich in gluten should be avoided.
You can find special flour mixtures made for this reason. They are usually mixtures from corn flour, rice flour and potato starch…
It’s not easy to make a classic bread recipe with these types of flour mixtures. But there are so many recipes you can find that are gluten free or you can learn various ways of substituting wheat flour that are even more delicious.
It should also be understood that there is a huge difference between coeliac disease and simple intolerance to certain foods. It seems to have become quite fashionable to say that you have developed an intolerance to some type of food. If you do have serious symptoms, you should definitely find out why.
That’s all I have on flour! I hope you found it helpful!