Types of Wheat Flour

From All-Purpose to Pastry Flour

All-purpose Flour
All-Purpose Flour, Unbleached. Photo: Diana Rattray

Because all-purpose flour is the most common flour listed in recipes, we may not realize how many different wheat flours there are. What you are making will determine the type of flour needed, from semolina to bread flour to cake flour. Understanding what each flour is as well as its purpose will help you know if you can substitute one for another in a recipe. Some flours, like all-purpose, cake, and pastry flours can be and are used for the same products; the choice is based mostly on individual taste.

All-Purpose Flour

This ubiquitous flour is a mixture of high gluten hard wheat flour and low gluten soft wheat flour. Because it is a mixture of the two, it can be used to make a variety of foods, including breads, cookies, cakes, and pastries. It's also used to thicken sauces and gravies and as a coating or breading for fried or sauteed foods.

Whole Wheat Flour 

This flour is ground from the whole grain, without the bran being removed first. Not removing the bran can interfere with gluten development, so sometimes additional gluten is added to this flour.

Semolina Flour and Durum Flour

Both of these flours are made from hard durum wheat with a high gluten content. They are used to make pasta, noodles, couscous, and cereals.

Bread Flour

Because this type of flour contains more hard wheat flour, it also contains more gluten, which makes it excellent for making breads, particularly yeast-risen breads.

Cake flour

This finely textured low gluten flour is made from soft wheat. It has a high starch content and is used for cakes and pastries. You can make your own cake flour by removing 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour from 1 cup and replacing it with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.

Pastry Flour

Pastry flour has more hard wheat flour than cake flour, but less than all-purpose flour.

It is a high starch flour like cake flour, but it has a bit more gluten and is suitable for cookies and crackers and biscuits. 

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour 

This low-protein flour is produced from soft wheat and has a fine texture and a high starch content. Some of the bran and germ portions of the wheat kernel are left in.

Self-Rising Flour

Considered a convenience flour, self-rising has the correct proportions of baking powder and salt already mixed into it so that the user does not have to add those two ingredients separately. One cup of self-rising flour contains 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. 

Graham Flour

This coarsely ground whole wheat flour is, as you might expect, used to make graham crackers, and is used in baking. Whole wheat flour can be substituted, but the texture will be changed.

Bolted Flour (Reduced-Bran Wheat Flour)

Nearly 80 percent of the bran has been removed from this type of flour, making it a bit lighter than a hearty whole grain. It is ideal when the cook wants a nutritious flour without all the heft. 

Enriched Flours

Enriched flours are simply processed flours that have had nutrients such as vitamins and minerals (like B vitamins and iron) added back into them to replace those lost in processing.

Although healthier than regular white flour, enriched flours do not have as much fiber as whole wheat flour.

Gluten Flour

This type of flour has been produced from hard wheat that has been treated to remove the starch. As you might expect, gluten flour is high in gluten and is sometimes added to other flours to increase their gluten content.

Stone-Ground Vs. Steel-Ground

If  your flour is not labeled "stone-ground," then it is probably "steel-ground." Although there is considerable disagreement on the issue, some people believe that grinding flour with steel rollers generates heat which is destructive to the wheat germ and causes the flour to lose many vitamins and enzymes. They say that the cooler stone-grinding process allows the flour to retain more of the germ and nutrients.