5  Flour types

In this chapter we will have a closer look at different flour types and their respective categorization. We will also look at common ways to distinguish different flours of the same type, this way you can more confidently purchase the flour you need.

The most basic flour type is a whole grain flour, in this case the whole seed has been grounded to smaller pieces. Sometimes, depending on what you want to bake, the hearty taste of the bran might not be desired. In this case you can use whiter flours. Together with sieves, mills remove larger parts of the seed’s hull. The seed already contains a pre-built germ from the plant waiting to be activated. The whitest flour you can get is mostly just the starch part of the seed. Depending on which layers are still present, different names are used to describe the type of flour.

USA UK Germany France Italy
Cake Soft flour T405 T45 00
All purpose Plain flour T550 T55 0
Bread flour Bread flour T405 or T550 T45 or T55 00 or 0
T812 T80 1
T1050 T110 2
Whole Whole Vollkorn T150 Integrale
Table 5.1: A comparison of how different types of wheat flour are labelled in different countries.

In Germany, the ash content is used to describe the flours. The lab will burn 100 g of flour in the oven. Then afterwards the remaining ash is extracted and measured. Depending on the quantity the flour is categorized. If the flour is of type 405, then 405 mg of ash have remained after burning the flour. The more hull parts the flour has, the more minerals remain, therefore the higher the number, the closer the flour is to whole flour. The numbers are slightly different between each grain type. Generally though, the higher the value, the heartier the taste is going to be.


Figure 5.1: An overview of a wheat kernel together with its content [18].

If you compare different grain types, there are grains with high gluten, low gluten and no gluten. Gluten is what enables bread to have its fluffy consistency. Without gluten the baked goods wouldn’t have the same properties. Managing gluten makes the whole bread-making process more complex as more steps are involved.

A dough without gluten doesn’t have to be kneaded as the role of kneading is to create the gluten bonds. The more you knead, the stronger they become. With low-gluten and no-gluten flours, you only have to mix the ingredients together, making sure you properly homogenize everything.

During fermentation the gluten degrades as the microorganisms metabolize it. When too much gluten has been converted your dough will no longer have the wheat-like structure previously described. For no/low gluten flour your main focus is managing acidity, you do not want the final bread to be too sour. Conversely you do not have to worry about the gluten degradation, removing a huge headache from the equation.

Grain type Homogenize Knead Stretch & Fold Shape
Spelt, Wheat (> 70%) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Rye, Emmer, Einkorn, Rice, Corn Yes No No No
Table 5.2: An overview of different grain types and the steps involved in the respective bread making process.

Because gluten has a special role, the rest of this chapter is dedicated to having a closer look at different gluten flours and how to distinguish them. Like wheat spelt contains significant amounts of gluten, so the same characteristics hold true.

Several recipes call for wheat bread flour, but bread flour can refer to different types of flour. It could be a T405 or a T550 in Germany—this is very often classified incorrectly—the terms strong or bread flour in this case refer to the properties of the flour. A bread flour is considered to have a higher amount of protein and thus gluten. This flour is excellent when you want to make a sourdough bread as your dough allows for a longer leavening period. As described earlier, the gluten is consumed by your microorganisms. The more gluten you have, the longer your dough keeps its integrity. If you wanted to make a cake, you might want to use a flour with less gluten. The gluten binding properties might not be desirable since the final cake could have a chewy texture.

In conclusion, not every T405, T45 or T00 flour is the same. Depending on the properties of the plant they come from, the flours will have different properties. For that reason some countries like Germany have introduced additional scales to evaluate the quality of the wheat. The category A refers to good quality wheat that can be blended with poorer qualities to improve the flour. The category B refers to average wheat that can be used to create different baked goods. Category C is used for wheat that has poor baking qualities. This could happen, for instance, if the wheat already started to sprout and thus lost some of its desirable baking properties. This type of wheat is typically used in animal feed or as fermentable biomass for generators. Category E refers to Elite wheat. It’s the highest quality of wheat. This kind of wheat can only be harvested when the wheat has grown under optimal conditions. You can compare this to a winery that uses only the best grapes to make a reserve wine. Unfortunately, this is usually not printed on the packaging of the flour that you buy. You can look out for the protein value as a possible indicator. However, large mills blend flours together to maintain quality throughout the years. Blended flour is also not listed on the packaging. It might be that bakeries extract gluten from some flour and then mix it in order to create better baking flours.

In Italy the so-called W-value has been introduced to better show how the flour will behave. A dough is made, and then the resistance of this dough to kneading is measured. The more gluten a flour has, the more elastic the dough is, and the more it will resist kneading. A higher W flour will have a higher gluten content and allow for a longer fermentation period. But at the same time, it is also harder for the microbes to inflate the dough as there is more balloon material. To make an excellent fermented product out of a high W flour you will need to have a long fermentation period. The long fermentation period also means that your microbes will enrich your dough with more flavor.

W-Value Hydration (%) Uses Fermentation time
0–150 50 Cookies Very short
150–250 50–60 Cakes, Bread, Pizza Short–Medium
250–350 60–70 Bread, Pizza Long
350+ 70–90 Bread, Pizza Very long
Table 5.3: An overview of different levels of W-values and the respective hydrations and fermentation times.

Generally, when aiming to bake free standing sourdough bread, aim for a higher protein content. If the gluten value is relatively low, your bread will collapse faster. Baking bread is still possible, but it might be easier to use other techniques such as a loaf pan, to consider skillet bread or flatbread.

An additional, rarely considered characteristic of good flour is the level of damage to the starch molecules. This is a common problem when you are trying to mill your own wheat flours at home. The chances are that your home mill is not able to achieve the same results a larger mill can. The damaging of the starches is essential to improve the properties of the dough. You will have better gelatinization and water absorption with properly damaged starch [12]. As more starch is damaged, the surface area increases. This improves how water interacts with the flour. This also provides a larger surface that your microbes can use to attack the molecules and start the fermentation process.

I am still yet to find a good way of milling my own wheat flour at home. Even after trying to mill the flour 10 times with short breaks, I was not able to achieve the same properties as with commercially milled flour. The doughs I would make felt good, maybe a bit coarse. However, during baking the doughs would start to de-gas quickly and turn into very flat breads. I have had great success though when utilizing home-milled flour together with a loaf pan or as a pan bread. If you have found great ways to work with home-milled flour, please reach out. The potential of using home-milled flours is huge. It would enable even distant communities to grow their own wheat and be able to produce amazing freshly baked bread.