Get to know Flour
Is organic better?
Short answer? Yes. Organic flour has a few different benefits but basically you ingest chemicals like fertilisers and pesticides when you eat non-organic flour and when you use chemicals on crops, there is residual chemicals that run off the soil into creeks and river systems, causing wide spread pollution and soil degradation.
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Wheat Flour can be altered by the way it is refined or what type of wheat is used. The higher amount of protein in the wheat, the ‘harder’ it is, and the more gluten it will have. The amount of gluten will affect the texture and behaviour of what you are making, so depending on what you are baking, different grades of wheat flour can be used. Hard flour is best for crunchy bread, sourdough, and proofing with yeast while soft flour is best for cookies, pie crusts, pastries and cakes.
If you’ve heard the term ‘Australian Prime Hard’ or ‘Australian Standard Noodle’ in passing conversation and thought 'that's a bit X-rated!', you can find out about the Australian wheat classifications here.
Wholemeal vs White
Wholemeal flour is made from wholegrains that have been milled to a fine texture, giving a plain brown appearance. Wholemeal flour contains more fibre than white flour. White flour is milled from wheat grains that has had the outside seedcase removed. It is finer in texture than wholemeal.
Bleached vs Unbleached
Technically, all flours are bleached. Bleaching refers to the process of aging the flour, however ‘bleached’ flours use chemicals like benzoyl peroxide and chlorine gas to speed up the aging process while unbleached flour ages naturally through exposure to oxygen. This is why unbleached flour using has an off white colour in comparison to the bright white colour of chemically bleached flour. Unbleached flour takes longer to produce and is usually more expensive than bleached flour because of the increased labour used.
Plain vs Self-raising
Simply, self-raising flour is plain flour that has a raising agent, usually baking powder, added for the convenience of the baker. Perhaps true to the Australian stereotype of being laid back and taking short cuts, self-raising flour seems to be a local invention. Folks in the USA simply add their own!
Like much of the produce grown, there is a trend to preserve and grow heirloom or ancient varieties. Ancient grains like spelt, an ancient wheat grain, can be used like normal wheat flour but have a nuttier flavour and boasts a range minerals and vitamins like calcium, selenium, vitamins B1, B6 and E, as well as being high in fibre. About 80% of the protein in spelt is gluten, so it is best used as a substitute as hard flour. It does behave a bit differently than white flour so best to read some tips for cooking with spelt here.
Khorasan wheat, like emmer/farro, einkorn, and spelt, is an ancient variety of wheat, meaning that it has been largely unchanged by breeding over the last several hundred years. It is sweet, nutty, and has a buttery ﬂavour that makes the flour attractive for pasta makers and bakers.
Spitfire Wheat Flour
Spitfire is a wheat variety that is becoming popular in Australia due to its ability to grow in a short season which is aligned to seasonal changes that have been noted in wheat growing regions. Spitfire is high in protein and is perfect for baking bread, specifically it is a favourite to use for sourdough.
Rye Flour (extract from BBC Good Food)
Rye flour contains enough gluten to make a yeasted loaf on its own, and tends to produce dense, dark, richly flavoured bread. It's often mixed with wheat flour to produce a lighter style of loaf. Rye flour's intensely fruity flavour is delicious incorporated into fruited cakes and sweet quickbreads such as scones. There are not many uses for wholegrain rye, although kibbled rye makes a good addition to multi-seeded loaves. Rye flakes are good added to muesli.
Buckwheat Flour (extract from BBC Good Food)
This is flour milled from buckwheat, a cold climate plant from the same family as rhubarb, sorrel and dock. Buckwheat’s pointed, triangular seeds resemble cereal grains, and the fine-textured flour is grey-ish, speckled with black. It has a strong, distinctive, slightly sour and nutty taste and is rich in vitamins and minerals and low in calories. It’s also gluten-free, so it can be used by those on a special diet.
Buckwheat Flour recipes – check out the chocolate biscuits!
Millet Flour (again taken from BBC Good Food – it’s a handy website for those wanting ingredient specific info)
This is made from finely milled small grains of the sorghum plant, which grows in hot climates. There are three main varieties. There is the bland, sweetish, white millet flour, which is pale yellow in colour. Black millet flour, sometimes made from sun-dried millet, is dark grey, with a distinctive, nutty flavour and a slightly bitter aftertaste. Fine-textured, red millet flour is brown, streaked with red, and has a bland, nutty flavour.
Millet flour contains very little gluten, so is often combined with wheat flour, cornflour or tapioca starch before use. In Europe, Eastern Europe and China, it is made into porridge, unleavened breads and tarts. In India, all three varieties are used in making flatbreads.
Tapioca flour is an alternative to traditional wheat flours and starches. It is a popular ingredient for recipes that do not contain gluten, particularly helping to improve the structure and texture of baked goods. Here are all the things you need to know about this essential baking ingredient!
Tapioca Flour is derived from the starchy vegetable called cassava root. The root is finely shredded, washed and dehydrated. The dried pulp is then ground into a flour.
You can use tapioca flour for baking, it makes a fluffy and light sponge cake, but you will need a few tips on how to bake with it.
Besan Flour, also known as gram flour or chickpea flour
Besan flour is made from ground pulse. Its gluten free and a great substitute for plain flour for those who can’t eat wheat. Besan flour is ideal to use to make batter, use as a binding agent or a thickener.
Is popular for those after low carb diets and is high in protein. It’s a great replacement for wheat flour in sweet baked goods, however the ratio to liquid is quite different, so make sure you check quantity needed before putting too much in!
In addition to its impressive nutrition profile, coconut flour may offer several benefits. These include promoting blood sugar stability, better digestion, heart health, and even weight loss.
Brown Rice Flour
Ground brown rice makes a fine flour that can be used for baking or as a thickening agent. It is gluten free and has a nutty flavour, and is surprisingly delicious in sweet goodies.