Types of Flour – Understanding Different Wheat Flours

Types of Flour :: Five Little Homesteaders

photo via david pacey on flickr

I’ve been confused lately.

It started long ago, in my early twenties, when I learned that there are significant differences between “all purpose” and “whole wheat” flour.  It seems like eons ago since I was confused about the simple differences in theses types of flour.  Fast forward to now and I’m confused all over again when it comes to buying wheat berries for my grain mill.

Can you relate?  If so, I’ve got the post for you.

Types of Flour

It turns out that the United States is unique in that it produces several hundred varieties of wheat.  Most countries who produce wheat grow just a few varieties.

There are a total of 6 classes of wheat:

  • Hard Red Winter (dominant class) (buy it here – http://amzn.to/1eCpVpR )
  • Hard Red Spring (highest protein) (buy it here – http://amzn.to/1f7JgvH )
  • Soft Red Winter (buy it here – http://amzn.to/1eCqJL9 )
  • Durum (used for making pasta) (buy it here – http://amzn.to/1gOEEKw )
  • Hard White Wheat  (newest class) (buy it here – http://amzn.to/1dEEc1B )
  • Soft White Wheat (buy it here – http://amzn.to/NHsxbd )

From these “classes,” all of the types of flour (wheat) that we consume is produced.  When wheat is harvested, a “berry” or “kernel” is separated from the wheat stalk.  These berries are then ground up for flour.  You can also buy bags of wheat berries to grind your own flour.  We have recently started doing this.

Types of Flour :: Five Little Homesteaders

wheat berries via jarkko laine on flickr

All Purpose Flour

This is the flour that we are all probably MOST familiar with.  It is usually made up of a combination of hard and soft wheat grains.  All purpose flour is your basic white flour aka refined flour.  It is usually enriched – meaning that vitamins have been added back in.  And can come in bleached or unbleached varieties.

Allow me to step into a little biology 101 class for you.  The wheat berry has three parts: the germ, the endosperm and the bran.  I found this graphic – http://www.conejobread.com/wheat_kernel.htm to be very helpful.

  • The endosperm makes up a large portion of the interior space of the wheat berry.  This is the part of the wheat berry that makes up white/all purpose flour.
  • The bran is the exterior portion/lining of the wheat berry.
  • The germ is the embryo or section of the berry that will sprout if planted.

As mentioned above, all purpose flour is made up entirely of the endosperm section of the wheat berry.  The bran and germ have been stripped away and separated to make white flour.

Whole Wheat Flour

Of all the types of flour, whole wheat flour is what we predominantly use in our house.   Whole wheat flour contains the germ and the bran, in addition to the endosperm.  Nothing is separated out when milled.  It is higher in fiber and nutritionally superior to all-purpose/white flour.

Of special note, I want to mention one thing to look out for when checking the ingredient lists of products you buy at the store.  Lately I have noticed more and more that “wheat flour” is listed as an ingredient.  DO NOT BE FOOLED.  Wheat flour is NOT the same as whole wheat flour.  Wheat flour is just white flour.  If you are looking for whole grain products, it must say WHOLE WHEAT not just WHEAT.

White Whole Wheat

I think it is worth mentioning white whole wheat in a separate category from just whole wheat.  White whole wheat IS the SAME as whole wheat, as far as nutrition but is simply milled from a different wheat berry.

Traditional whole wheat flour is usually milled from a hard red winter wheat, whereas white whole wheat is milled from a hard white wheat berry.  I’ve seen it referred to as an “albino wheat.”  The bran, germ and endosperm are all there.  The color is just lighter.

The nice thing about white whole wheat is that it can help with picky eaters who are opposed to the color of traditional whole wheat bread or bread products.  It also has a slightly milder taste.

The King Arthur Company makes a wonderful white whole wheat – http://amzn.to/NHsDzr that we use in our house when we are using pre-ground flour.

Types of Flour :: Five Little Homesteaders

photo via tonyparkin67 on flickr

Other Types of Flour:

So much to know!  Here are just a couple others you might run across:

  • Pastry Flour – http://amzn.to/1hcgCtN – generally made from soft wheat berries
  • Bread Flour – high gluten content flour
  • Cake Flour – also made from soft wheat and has a lower gluten content

Did you learn anything new about the types of flour from this post?  What more were you hoping to learn?


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  • 8 thoughts on “Types of Flour – Understanding Different Wheat Flours

    1. Rebecca | LettersFromSunnybrook

      I think my brain just grew a little. The concise, clear way you explained the differences was very helpful! Before discovering I had food allergies, I didn’t worry about these things, but now I have to understand as much as possible to stay healthy. Thanks!

    2. Eric

      You should pick a little garden spot in which to grow wheat. If you take good care of it a 3’x3′ section would make something like a pound of wheat. That’s a fair amount of food when you consider that most other things you’d harvest (fruits, vegetables, etc.) from a garden are mostly water. You might also be interested in Gene Logsdon’s book Small Scale Grain Raising. I’d also recommend finding a better source for the additional wheat you buy. If you read the product description carefully, you’ll see that what they’re selling as organic wheat isn’t actually organic. Unless you’re dealing directly with farmers you can personally trust, the only label that means anything is USDA certified organic — everything else is a really meaningless marketing gimmick — and even USDA organic has a very limited definition which leaves out whole categories of important questions about how our food is grown and leaves plenty of loopholes for the limited territory it does cover. If you believe in what you’re doing for yourself, consider how you can pay someone else to farm with that same kind of personally defined integrity for the food you buy. It might take years or decades to reform your whole food supply, but just because a food like wheat ships and stores well is no reason to abandon it to the system of agriculture defined by big corporations.

    3. Thalia M

      Very helpful article. I’ve been hearing of the benefits of sprouted breads and hope to try my hand at it soon. I already make my own bread from unbleached flour. Thanks to this explanation, I now better understand the differences in flour.

    4. Lyn Ennis

      What kind of flour mill do you recommend? I sprout my wheat and dry it then I grind it. I have been using a coffee bean grinder but over the past couple years I have gone thru 4 of them! I need something sturdy!

    5. Sara

      Really great information! I’ve often wondered what the differences were but never took the time to research it. Thanks!


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