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Flour

An ingredient used in many foods, flour is a fine powder made from cereal grain or other starchy food sources. It is most commonly made from wheat, but also corn, rye, barley and rice, amongst many other grasses and even non-grain plants.

Flour is always based on the presence of starches, which are complex carbohydrates.

Usually, the word "flour" used alone refers to wheat flour, which is one of the most important foods in European and American culture. Wheat flour is the main ingredient in most types of breads and pastries. Wheat is so widely used because of an important property: when wheat flour is mixed with water, a complex protein called gluten develops. The gluten development is what gives wheat dough an elastic structure that allows it to be worked in a variety of ways, and which allows the retention of gas bubbles in an intact structure, resulting in a sponge-like texture to the final product.

Wheat Flour

The vast majority of today's flour consumption is of wheat flour.

Wheat varieties are typically known as "hard" or "soft", depending on gluten content. Hard wheats are high in gluten, and soft wheats are low. Hard flour, or "bread" flour, is high in gluten and so forms a certain toughness which holds its shape well once baked. Soft flour is low in gluten and so results in a finer texture. Soft flour is usually divided into "cake" flour, which is the lowest in gluten, and "pastry" flour, which has slightly more gluten than cake flour.

In terms of the parts of the grain (the grass seed) used in flour -- the endosperm or starchy part, the oil-containing germ or protein part, and the bran or fiber part -- there are three general types of flour. "White" flour is made from the endosperm only. "Whole wheat" flour is made from the entire grain. A "germ" flour may also be made from the endosperm and germ, excluding the bran. The germ is sometimes sold by itself, as "wheatgerm".

  • Whole wheat flour (or wholemeal flour) contains everything.
  • Graham flour is a white flour with coarsely ground bran and wheatgerm mixed back in. It thus contains all three parts of the wheat kernel as whole wheat flour does, but it has a different texture.
  • Cake flour is a milled bleached flour containing a low amount of protein, and therefore bakes with a fine texture.
  • All-purpose flour is a blended white flour containg a medium amount of protein (around 10%).
  • Self-rising flour is an all-purpose flour that has a leavening agent such as baking soda or baking powder already blended in. Care must be taken not to confuse self-rising flour with "normal" flour (generally known as all-purpose flour), or the recipe can fail to rise or over rise. All-purpose flour is generally preferred, because the amount of leavening can be precisely controlled within each recipe.

Other Grains

  • Corn flour is an ambiguous term that can mean cornstarch or finely ground cornmeal. Cornmeal which has been leached with lye is called corn masa (masa harina) and is used to make tamales and corn tortillas in Mexican cooking.
  • 100% rye flour is used to bake the traditional sourdough breads of Germany and Scandinavia.
  • Rice flour is of great importance in Southeast Asian cuisine.
  • Spelt flour is an alternative to wheat flour. Note: although some people with wheat allergies can tollerate spelt, other wheat-allergic patients have adverse reactions to spelt flour as well. Spelt also has less gluten than wheat, but it is not gluten-free.

Legumes, tubers, etc.

  • Chickpea flour (besan) is of great importance in Indian cuisine
  • Flour can also be made from soybeans, arrowroot, potatoes, taro root, and other non-grain foodstuffs.

Flour Products

Some of the many foods made using flour are:

  • bread
  • pasta
  • pastry
  • cake

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