White flour. Whole wheat flour. White whole wheat flour. And wait, what’s this … amaranth flour? Spelt flour? What’s that used for?
When it comes to flour, you may have thought that all-purpose flour would be useful for, well, all purposes! But there are many kinds of flour you can use in cooking and baking, and some pack more nutritional power than others.
Flour can be milled from a variety of ingredients: grains, seeds, nuts, rice. During the milling process, these ingredients are ground down into fine powder form that can thicken soups and fillings or be used for pancakes, noodles, breads and other baked goods. Sometimes the milling process can remove important nutrients or introduce additives that may make the flour less healthy. So, if you’re going to bake or cook with flour, it’s important to know your options so that you can make healthier choices.
“All flour is essentially refined and processed, but some contain more fiber and nutrients than others,” says Carole Bartolotto, a registered dietician for Kaiser Permanente regional health education. “In general, you want use of flours or flour alternatives that are made from whole grains and then ground into flour so they retain more of their vitamins and nutrients.”
Your choice of flour may depend on what you’re making, the texture and consistency you’re looking for and whether you need to be aware of particular food allergies or sensitivities.
“Some people are gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive and therefore need to use gluten-free flour alternatives such as those made from amaranth, almonds or buckwheat,” says Bartolotto.
To help navigate the many kinds of flour you can use, we’ve created this infographic that demystifies the world of flour and arms you with information to help you make healthier choices. Thinking of making pizza for dinner this evening? Blend in some whole wheat flour for extra fiber and protein. Craving pancakes for that upcoming brunch you’re hosting? Consider using buckwheat flour for a flavorful alternative.
Keep in mind that some flours absorb water more easily than others or have stronger flavors, like coconut flour and rye. And flours that are lower in gluten may not be as good for baking breads, for example, because the gluten traps the gases that help breads to rise. You may have to use a blend of different flours or adjust the liquids and other ingredients in your recipe to accommodate the flour you are substituting.
So go ahead and experiment a little with these various flours and see what you come up with! Not sure where to begin? Here’s a few Food for Health recipes you can try: