The baking aisle at your local supermarket has grown to include a wide variety of flours. Flour is the finely-ground, sifted meal of grains, nuts, seeds, legumes or certain vegetables—each kind of flour has a different nutritional profile. The cooking and baking properties will vary by the type of flour you are using. The most common flours are milled from wheat, a Nebraska agriculture commodity. But today there are so many other choices.

This article will explore the variety of wheat flours to learn how to use them to maximize their nutritional makeup and baking qualities. A future article will delve into non-wheat flours.

The “big” difference between many of these flours is the protein content. Proteins interact with each other when mixed with water forming a gluten structure. This elastic framework allows the dough to stretch and expand when leavening is added producing a gas. The protein content of a flour affects the strength of the dough. The different wheat flours contain varying amounts of the gluten proteins.

All-Purpose Flour – This flour is a blend of hard and soft wheat which includes the endosperm of the wheat plant. This flour has a 10.5% protein content making for a strong elastic and porous baked product. Bleached and unbleached all-purpose flours can be used interchangeably.

Whole Wheat Flour – This flour is made by grinding all three-parts of the wheat (the bran, the germ, and the endosperm). Whole wheat flour typically had darker flecks but that is no longer always the case. A variety of white whole wheat flour is now available and looks more like unbleached all-purpose flour. Whole wheat flour is more flavorful, and more nutritious. It does have a coarse texture and is more absorbent than all-purpose flour, requiring a higher liquid ratio.

Cake Flour – This flour is made from soft wheat and has a less expansive gluten structure, creating a crumblier texture. All-purpose flour can be substituted for cake flour by following the guideline below. The final product will not have the same texture as one made with cake flour.

Bread Flour – This flour is highly desirable for breadmaking it has a high proportion of gluten, containing about 12% protein. Bread flour is used for yeast breads because it produces a greater gluten structure, allowing for a light high-volume texture to breads. 

Self-Rising Flour – is a mixture of all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt.

Substitutions – When baking, the following are basic flour substitutions that can be followed for success.

  • ½ cup Whole Wheat Flour plus ½ cup All-Purpose Flour can be substituted for 1 cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup minus 2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch can be substituted for 1 cup Cake Flour.
  • 1 cup minus 1 teaspoon All-Purpose Flour plus 1½ teaspoon baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt can be substituted for 1 cup Self-Rising Flour.

Flour and Food Safety – Flours used in home baking and cooking are made directly from raw grains and are considered a raw food. It should be handled like any other raw food. The grains the flour is ground from are grown in fields and may be exposed to a variety of harmful bacteria like Salmonella and pathogenic E. coli. .Processing these grains into flour does not kill these harmful bacteria. Protect yourself and your family by following these steps when handling and baking with flour. Cooking is the only way to be sure that foods made with flour are safe. Never eat or taste raw flour, dough, or batter.

For more information, contact your local Nebraska Extension Office or on the web at: Nebraska Extension In Our Grit, Our Glory.