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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

The term ‘flour’ which used to be spelled ‘flower’, originally meant the finest product (i.e. ‘the flower’) of the process of bolting meal from cereal grains. In modern times, when the term is used by itself, it is taken to mean wheat flour. There are, however, many other cereal flours (cornflour is one example) and also numerous kinds of flour made from nuts (e.g. chestnut flour) or starchy vegetables (e.g. cassava flour, potato flour) or pulses (e.g. besan flour).

In western countries the principal use of flour, understood as wheat flour, is in baking, especially bread. Numerous different grades of flour may be had for this purpose:

  • Wholemeal flour, which contains all the bran and germ, is therefore more nutritious than white flour, from which they have been removed.

  • Wheatmeal or brown flour is intermediate.

  • White flour which has had all the bran and wheatgerm removed but may be ‘enriched’ with synthetic vitamins to make up for the loss. White flours are differentiated by their hardness. In the USA there are three degrees:

    1. bread flour, which is made from blends of hard wheat only and contains 12 to 14 per cent or more of protein;

    2. all-purpose flour, made from a blend of hard and soft wheat, with 10 to 12 per cent protein; and

    3. cake flour entirely of soft wheat, with about 9 per cent protein. A high level of protein is associated with a high level of gluten. In Britain two grades only are normally available: strong flour, that is moderately hard bread flour; and flour just described as ‘flour’; which is nearly as soft as American cake flour. Usually soft flour is bleached and hard flour is left its natural cream colour. Hard flour has a distinctly gritty texture when rubbed between the fingers.

  • Self-raising (US: self-rising) flour contains baking powder. It has a limited keeping time because the baking powder absorbs atmospheric moisture, its ingredients react, and it loses its raising power.