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When you’re in a pinch (of sugar) or the kind of bind only gluten can relate to, any flour just might do. Whether you’re baking bread, making pizza, becoming the next best pastry chef, or whipping up a gourmet meal, you’ll reach for any flour you can get your hands on if you’re short on available options. However, not all flour is created equally, and when you have the luxury of choice, it’s worth finding the very best flour base for the best outcomes. Because, you see, “baking is a science,” while “cooking is an art,” so the flour you choose really does have an impact on how good your end result is.
Do you want your bread to be chewy and toothsome? Your biscuits flaky, scones crumbly, or your cakes cloudlike? The flour you use will contribute to all of the above and more. So, we’re providing our best recommendation for whatever science project your kitchen lab is destined to “proof” next.
Here are the best flours for your specific baking needs.
Best Overall: King Arthur Organic Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
This flour just hits a lot of checkboxes, both in terms of ethical, conscious consumerism and material quality. Employee-owned? Check. Organic? Check. Minimally treated? Diligently sourced? American to its core? Service-oriented? All yesses. As for performance, the brand prides itself on having a precisely calibrated, right-in-the-middle formula, which means that every bag in every batch will have the same exact 11.7 percent protein content and same soft and hard wheat proportion. This, in turn, means that your perfected recipe will never go awry as long as you stay loyal. Consistency, thine name is King Arthur All-Purpose, a flour that truly lives up to its multitasking claim.
Best Budget: Gold Medal Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
This supermarket staple brand is consistent in its right-in-the-middle 10.5 percent protein content, and its original blue-label bleached version is readily available pretty much anywhere. A very neutral blend, the slight hint of pleasant nuttiness that shows up in crunchy bakes is what edges it out over other easy-to-access, affordable lines. If you can, always choose the less-processed unbleached version because the color of the flour doesn’t matter in cooking, and bleaching can sometimes mar what you make with a slight metallic taste you might recognize from flours that sit in your pantry for too long.
Best Whole Wheat: Arrowhead Mills Organic Whole Wheat Flour
Whole wheat flour, with its naturally more nutrient-dense profile, nuttier taste, and heartier feel, shines when made into rustic bread, provided it’s not overworked to toughness. Be careful not to knead it more than you “knead” to. It also does well in earthier applications, such as carrot cake, gingerbread, muffins, dinner rolls, crackers, zucchini bread, and the like.
Arrowhead Mills’ stone-ground, organic, non-GMO whole wheat flour is a good choice for any of these projects, with a milder nuttiness than others, such as the high 14.5 percent Great River organic whole wheat flour—a top contender for this category title. As with any whole-wheat flour, though, be sure to add a little extra water to your recipe—it has a thirsty character that performs better when slaked.
Best White: King Arthur Organic White Whole Wheat Flour
White wheat flour is a milder hard wheat, but still one nonetheless. What we normally prescribe to whole wheat is red wheat, which has a stronger flavor and tannins that are not present in the white variety. What this means is that you get all the benefits of using whole grains with a less pronounced flavor difference. You can spring for the organic, but the conventional version is no slouch, either.
The regular white wheat used by King Arthur for the latter is certified and traceable from seed to field to flour; the brand prides itself on its “identity-preserved” practices. Either way, the protein content for both sits pretty at 12.2 percent, making it highly versatile. However, the brand’s pros recommend swapping this for a third of regular all-purpose to make the switch seamless.
Best Gluten-Free: Cup4Cup Gluten-Free Wholesome Flour
Baking is already so precise that introducing conversions to make a recipe gluten-free can sometimes be a real head-scratcher. Well, as promised by the name, Cup4Cup takes all the guesswork out of it. Developed by the legendary Thomas Keller, this custom blend for Williams Sonoma swaps in corn, white and brown rice, milk powder, tapioca, potato, and xanthan gum to work its magic. There’s a multipurpose option, but we like that the Wholesome Flour blend adds a heartier texture by way of golden flaxseed and rice bran, and takes away the smoothing dairy and tuber elements to make it a great substitute for the satisfying nature of whole wheat.
Protein, not varietal—like hard, soft, red, or white—is how we categorize flour in America. Why? Because gluten. This much-maligned protein varietal is what gives flour-based goods the springy, toothsome, or crumbly texture we love. It’s formed when gliadin and glutenin bond to one another with the addition of liquid; the more bonds that form, the more structure your project will have.
The difference in percentages may vary by as little as 5 to 10 percent... but when we’re talking about microscopic molecules, it makes a major difference. In the middle, all-purpose blends offer 8 to 11.25 percent, depending on the brand.
Best Keto: King Arthur Keto Wheat Flour Blend
Almond and coconut flours are tremendously popular for keto dieters, but King Arthur has achieved the unimaginable: a one-to-one nut-free flour that brings net carbs down to an amazing 4 grams per serving! This is fantastic news for those unable to consume nuts and for folks who just can’t quit grain. Its applications include baked goods like breads, muffins, and pizzas, as well as cooking and dredging the same way you would with all-purpose.
Because of its very high protein content, be cautioned not to work your dough hard and to increase the amount of liquid the recipe calls for.
Best Self-Rising: White Lily Unbleached Self-Rising Flour
Typically a blend of hard and soft wheats, baking powder, and salt, self-rising flour proportions vary from brand to brand. But if you want height and want it light 100 percent soft winter white blend is the way to go, especially since it’s now available in unbleached form. You’ll need 2 tablespoons extra of this flour per cup to make up for its all-soft composition, but that additional calculation is worth the result—taste tests have concluded that it enhances butter and salt flavors in baked goods noticeably, making it the number one choice of Southern bakers for biscuits for generations.
While we don’t recommend using this for bread, it will gift your non-yeasted baked goods with airy oomph and anything you should make with it a soft, smooth texture. However, if you use it, do it within six months to get the most out of the baking powder in it.
Best for Bread: Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour
On the far side of the spectrum lies bread flour, which has a 12 to 14 percent protein level for a strong gluten network once activated. This results in more structural integrity, which means greater heft, chew, and density. Another attractive side effect is more browning in the crust and bigger open crumbs—the better to melt butter into. Bob’s Red Mill’s Artisan Bread Flour is ideal for bread of all types, including sourdough, baguettes, and rustic loaves, as well as pretzels, bagels, and more, because of its high protein content.
Every package’s exact percentage varies based on its source but has been tested to typically scale on the higher range. Its wheat is also mixed with a little malted barley as an added bonus—this ingredient helps yeast breads rise.
Best for Pizza: Caputo Il Mulino di Napoli Chef’s Flour Tipo 00
Pizzaiolos chasing after the Neapolitan standard and that perfect leopard-spotted thin crust will often proudly boast of their use of 00 flour. And for good reason! This extremely fine-ground soft wheat flour has a 12.5 percent protein content that lets the pizza dough stretch to remarkable, pliable, and appropriately cheese-pull lengths for optimal results. Those serious about their pizza should opt for this 00 by Caputo, a third-generation miller right in Naples that has been trusted since 1924 to help create pizza crust perfection using a blend of meticulously sourced wheats from Italy and northern Europe. It doesn’t get more authentic than this.
Best for Pasta: Caputo Semola Di Grano Duro Rimacinata
Many chefs and pasta makers are happy to use the same 00 flour for stretchy noodles as they do for their pizza crusts, but for that lovely pale yellow color, a superior nutritional profile, and high protein/gluten elasticity, durum wheat semolina flour can’t be beaten. It’s the hardest of all U.S. wheat varieties and comes in a coarser grind, which makes it more nutritionally dense, nuttier tasting, and naturally firmer, thus holding on better to the shape you will it to take.
All of the above is why dry semolina pasta has been a supermarket mainstay for national brands in the U.S. for decades. But anything they can do, you can do better—make your own authentic fresh pasta with this imported flour from Naples and capture the true taste of Italy for dinner.
Best Asian Flour: Erawan Thai Rice Flour Essentials Pack
For lack of a better category name, we just wanted to point out that if you’re looking for flour in non-wheat territory, Erawan is the brand to buy next time you’re confused at an Asian market’s wealth of rice and tapioca starches. This line is made by Sun Wah Foods and trusted by Asian chefs around the world, making it consistent and accessible.
Best for Cakes: Swans Down Cake Flour
For anything that remotely resembles cake, to get the most delicate, airy crumb, you’ll want to go with low-gluten cake flour. Whether you’re making angel, layer, pound, pudding, sheet, cup-, pan- or any other type of confection that ends in “cake,” this retro-looking box of flour has been proud to be the brand of choice since 1894, particularly in the American South. What makes it so special is that it’s sifted repeatedly for a grain that’s “27 times finer than all-purpose flour,” which helps create a moisture-holding, tender crumb, and a fluffy rise perfect for any application that calls for light flavor and low density.
Best for Cooking: Heckers Unbleached All Purpose Flour
For a roux or bechamel, grainier flours don’t smooth out as well and may get too dark. Whole-grain flour, like brown rice, has its bran intact, which makes it thirstier (and in the case of a roux or fried food, thirsty for oil, negating your best intentions). Plus, its density will make your breading heavier, too. Reach a happy medium by mixing it with all-purpose Heckers, which has been grinding since 1843, if you don’t want to go all white. However, for best results, keep it simple with just this bag.
The brand prides itself on being “Unbleached Forever!”—a pro since it helps you avoid the additives and chemicals required to get it to that snowy hue. After all, if you’re cooking with it, color really doesn’t matter, and you don’t actually need an additional lift.
Best for Cookies: Arrowhead Mills Organic Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
Pastry flour creates a lighter, softer cookie, while bread flour results in a denser finished product with crunchy edges and more chew. However, the perfect cookie ought to have elements of both, which makes this hard winter wheat blend just right. Cookies made with this flour retain their size and shape well, spreading just enough to create a crisp circle without becoming an amorphous blob. Tests have noted that a slightly sweet quality enhances vanilla flavors particularly well with this flour, making it even more of a stronger pick for cookie time.
Best Bleached All-Purpose: Martha White All-Purpose Flour
For when color—or lack thereof—does matter, this bleached flour is a great choice. Instances of when you might want bright white flour are for projects like pillowy dumplings, pierogies, mantou for bao, and cakes such as angel food, white, or ones where you want added dye colors to really pop. Beyond aesthetic, this flour undergoes a bleaching process that speeds up the flour’s aging process, breaks down gluten, and creates a softer flour for more volume.
This makes bleached all-purpose popular among Southern bakers, and this Nashville brand is a longstanding favorite. How long? The mill that produces this brand was founded in 1899, and the brand has literally written the book on Southern baking.
For those who don’t want to stock their pantries with several different types of flour, you can’t go wrong with King Arthur Organic All-Purpose Flour (view at Amazon), which is extremely versatile and will provide consistent results. On a budget? Opt for Gold Medal Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (view at Amazon).
What to Look for in Flour
If you are going to bake cookies, muffins, and brownies, you will want a good, all-purpose flour that ranges in the 10 to 12 percent protein range. If you're going to make sturdier products, such as bread, pizza, and pasta, you'll look to semolina, tipo 00, whole-wheat and/or bread flours. (These flours have a higher protein content than all-purpose flour). Finally, for cakes and delicate pastries, you'll look for pastry and cake flours.
You may have seen words such as bleached, unbleached, bromated, and pre-sifted on bags of flour before. These words will give you a clue as to how the flour will look and taste once it's used and baked. Seek out those that are marked whole grain, stone-ground, and/or unbleached if you prefer products that are as wholesome and unprocessed as possible. If you can find locally or regionally milled flour, it will taste even fresher, and that will be evident in your baked goods—especially when it comes to homemade bread.
Don't buy more flour than you need. If you find yourself in a situation where you can buy some good local flour and you want to stock up but you're not sure how quickly you'll go through it, you can always freeze flour. Freshness is especially important if the flour is whole grain. They still contain the bran of the grain and will therefore go rancid faster than all-purpose white flour.
What is self-rising flour?
Self-rising flour isn’t a magically levitating substance—all it means is that salt and baking powder have been added to it already in all-purpose proportions. However, because the rise is the highlight of this flour, it’s typically made with a lower protein base for a more tender result. To make your own, choose a soft wheat flour and add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to every cup.
How long does flour last?
Well, it all comes down to protein and storage. If kept airtight and away from light, the average all-purpose flour can sit in your pantry for around eight months from opening with no difference in taste or quality. The reason for this is that the printed date is typically “best by” not “use by,” which automatically gives you some wiggle room. Lower-protein flours like cake or pastry will last longer; higher-protein ones like whole wheat may start getting musty after six months or so. The exception to the rule is self-rising types—the baking powder in it will lose potency at around the same rate as the hard wheat. But across the board, if you refrigerate it, you can buy yourself up to two whole years.
How do I tell if my flour’s gone bad?
As with most food, the nose will know. If your flour smells off in a rancid, sour kind of way, chuck it—it’ll affect the flavor of what you make with it, and the last thing you want to do is suffer through a hard-won carb instead of enjoying it. And of course, if you find weevils, larvae, moths, or other types of ick in it, it’s time to restock. You can kill the eggs and bugs by freezing the flour to reduce the risk of infestation in the trash, but into the garbage it should absolutely go.
What is 00 flour?
In short: 00 flour (or double zero flour) is the silkiest, softest, finest ground flour you can get, prized by pizza makers and pasta slingers from Naples to New York and everywhere in between for the strength and elasticity of its meager gluten. Typically, this beautiful, powdery ingredient is imported, hence the 00 designation, which is rated according to Europe’s grind level ranking system versus American protein percentage categorization. What this means is that although 00 flours may have varying levels of protein (8 to 12 percent), they’ll all have in common low levels of germ, bran, and gluten and high levels of satisfying chewiness.
What’s the difference between hard and soft wheat?
Hard wheat, such as durum or winter-planted white and red is higher in protein and therefore has a hardier molecular structure. Because of that, it doesn’t break down as easily and has a more granular texture and a coarser grind. Soft wheat can also be red or white and is planted in the spring. It’s more tender because it blooms faster and younger, and can be milled to a softer, more powdery feel that's great for lower-gluten, less-structured baking projects.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Su-Jit Lin has over a dozen years of experience in food writing and research and three times that in eating and comparing it with zeal. Her extensive travels have led her on singular scavenger hunts for the best and most authentic regional baked goods around the world, from the typical like croissants in Paris, pizza in Naples, and scones in Dublin to Sacher tortes in Vienna, pistachio paste cookies in Rome, pineapple buns in Hong Kong, and rusks in Cape Town. She’s a food science enthusiast and as such, an avid collector of ingredients known among friends to overflow her long-suffering pantry with things like single-purpose flour. She is not against gluten.