“Flour” is basically the ground meal of any grain. While wheat is most common, oats, corn and rice (among others) are also available. Wheat flours are the classic choice for most baked goods and also tend to have the greatest variation. Types will differ by the coarseness of the grain, amount of gluten (a protein with elastic “chewy” properties), and the presence of any additional ingredients.
Types of Wheat Flours
All-purpose (AP) – A combo of both hard and soft wheat with a moderate amount of gluten. Since the milling process has stripped most of the nutrients, AP flour is “enriched” with B-vitamins and iron. AP flour is also available bleached and unbleached but either can be used in recipes (they look slightly different but taste the same). This is the most generic flour out there; it’s good for cookies and cakes.
Whole Wheat – Processed in a less aggressive fashion than AP flour, whole-wheat has the nutrient-rich germ and bran left intact. This whole-grain flour has a nuttier flavor and coarser texture. For baked goods, a combo of both whole-wheat and AP flour is ideal for a balance of texture and nutrients.
Bread – Bread flour is high in gluten with a touch of malted barley flour to help activate yeast. Bread flour is perfect for yeast breads, focaccia and pizza dough.
“00” – A special grade of flour, typically used in pasta dough. Its fine texture and low protein content make it better for pasta than baked goods, but it can be used from everything from pizza dough to pastries.
Cake or Pastry – Made from predominantly soft wheat, this delicate flour has a high starch content making it perfection for pastries and cakes. To increase the nutrient content in your favorite recipe, swap out half of the flour for whole-wheat pastry flour, like in this muffin recipe.
Self-Rising – A pre-mixed formulation of AP flour, salt and baking power. This flour is a one-stop shop for sweet or savory quick breads – just make sure to omit the salt and baking powder from the recipe if you use it in place of plain AP flour.
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Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana’s full bio »