Baking basics – Understanding Flour, Part 2

Here I made a list of various kinds of flours used in baking and pasta making. It is a very approximate summary, and I encourage you to do further research on each kind of flour to better understand their nutritional properties. Still, this list serves as a good sum-it-up to navigate the vast sea of baking ingredients.

The calorie amount indicated here is an approximate to get the idea of how the flours compare to each other. Always check the package you buy for the precise nutrient content. (I buy my flour from a local mill. Ha!)

GLUTEN FLOURS

White Wheat Flour
Kcal per 100g: 345
The classic white flour, which has been stripped of all nutrients. Its gluten content is optimal for general baking, but it can vary a lot depending on the kind of wheat, milling process, and many other factors. It can range from 7% protein content for cake flour, to 13-14% protein content for strong bread flour. See part 1.
Whole Wheat Flour
Kcal per 100g: 319
Whole wheat flour has a good percentage of iron, calcium, vitamins and fiber, as well as extra protein, all coming from the outer bran. the problem with whole wheat is that many manufacturers will sell you regular white flour with added bran, so make sure you buy flours obtained by milling the whole kernel, and from an organic source. Also, keep in mind that whole wheat is not like multigrain.
Farro Spelt Flour
Kcal per 100g: 335
Even though it is less rich in gluten than regular flour, it is really appreciated in all sorts of baking because of its nutty, delicate and pleasant taste. It is one of the best nutritionally: it contains precious B and other vitamins, easily digested proteins, as well as good minerals like manganese and magnesium, which help keeping healthy bones, a healthy intestine and ease premenstrual syndrome.
Oat Flour
Kcal per 100g: 385
Oat flour is very calorific, also thanks to its high protein content (16g against 10-11 in other grains). It contains, though, very little gluten and a lot of cellulose, Which makes it unsuitable for bread making unless combined with other flours in small percentages. It is, though, very rich in fiber, linoleic acid (a good fat), B vitamins and it is one of the cereals with the lowest glycemic index. It is known to reduce cholesterol and improve overall intestinal activity. Oat flour can also be found in gluten-free form.
Rye Flour
Kcal per 100g: 318
Despite its low gluten content, it is widely used for bread making and produces the thick, dense bread we all know (and probably like). Its high fiber content kind of makes up for the lack of gluten, absorbing water and holding everything together. It is a nutritionally precious cereal, as it is rich in vitamins PP, E and B and minerals. Rye is known to promote healthy bowels and elastic arteries, which helps a lot in the prevention of cardiovascular issues.
Barley Flour
Kcal per 100g: 357
Barley is also very low in gluten, but when mixed with other flours it produces a very good tasting bread. It has a low glycemic index, it is very filling and relatively low in calories, which makes it a great addition to most diets. It is very high in fiber.
Kamut® Flour
Kcal per 100g: 359
Kamut® is actually the name of the firm that first deposited the trademark for a kind of organic wheat called Triticum Turgidum ssp. Turanicum, which is cultivated in the United States. It is also known as Khorasan. Since it is organically cultivated and has never undergone any manipulation, it is known to have slightly better nutritional values than regular wheat and to be easier to digest.

Flours

From the left: chestnut, Farro, Chickpea, Brown Rice, Oat and Millet Flours.

GLUTEN FREE FLOURS

Millet Flour
Kcal per 100g: 373
Millet is a very nutritious grain loaded with magnesium, manganese and other minerals, which makes it helpful in the prevention of heart disease. It is also a good source of fiber.
Buckwheat Flour
Kcal per 100g: 330
Buckwheat is rich in flavonoids, antioxidants that make this seed helpful in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Much like millet, it also helps to keep a healthy heart and it has a good fiber content.
Quinoa Flour
Kcal per 100g: 390
Quinoa is a seed, surprising for its incredible nutritional value. It is one of the few plants which is complete of all amino-acids, therefore providing a rather high quality protein. It also contains healthy fats like oleic and alpha-linolenic acid, all heart-healthy monoinsaturated fats. Furthermore, it is a good source of Vitamin E tocopherols, folate, calcium, and antioxidants. Definitely go ahead and read more about this wonderful seed.
Amaranth Flour
Kcal per 100g: 360
Much like quinoa, amaranth has so many health benefits that I encourage you to further your search online. But to sum it up here: high vitamin (including B like riboflavin and folate) high minerals, and a protein profile very similar to that of quinoa.
Teff Flour
Kcal per 100g: 360
Coming from Ethiopia and Eritrea, Teff is a very ancient nutrient packed food. It is the leader in calcium content, and it is always whole as it is too small to process. Much like amaranth and quinoa, it is high in protein.
Sorghum Flour
Kcal per 100g: 360
Sorghum is an African plant that produces tiny grains and has a mild, bland flavor. It is relatively high in protein and iron, but its really high fiber content can actually make it a bit difficult to digest. In fact, sorghum absorbs an incredible amount of liquid, which could make its transition in the intestine a litte more difficult in high doses. Keep this in mind when using it in baked goods.
Corn Flour
Kcal per 100g: 354
Corn meal and flours have always been used by poor italian farmers to provide nutritious meals, often in the form of polenta. Same thing happened in other parts of the world – an example being American grits. The most finely ground is called ‘fioretto’ in Italy and is widely used in the north to prepare cookies and baked goods. Corn is a good source of iron, zinc and fiber. It also contains carotenoids, which break down in vitamin A and boost blood cells production.
Rice Flour
Kcal per 100g: 362
Rice flour can be found in white, brown and ‘glutinous’ forms (‘glutinous’ coming from ‘glue’, or sticky. It doesn’t mean it contains gluten). Sticky white flour is used for sweets and many asian desserts. Brown rice is a source of fiber, and rice bran has always been used in japan to help keep a soft, healthy skin. White rice flours are still going to be white flours stripped of all their nutrients, but the brown version still offers all of the benefits of a whole grain.
Soy Flour
Kcal per 100g: 367
Sure enough, soy is a food surrounded by a lot of controversial opinions. But soy flour is indeed rich in protein, iron and calcium. Some studies have shown that it can potentially reduce cholesterol levels and interact with the female body, helping pre-menopausal symptoms. It comes in full fat and de-fatted for, the latter containing slightly more protein and calcium.
Chickpea Flour
Kcal per 100g: 315
Chickpeas are a real power food, starting from their fiber content, which is about 12g per every 100g. They are, like other legumes, very rich in protein and iron, as well as manganese,magnesium and other minerals. They are also amongst those foods that can help reduce cholesterol thanks to their antioxidants, which include folates.
Chestnut Flour
Kcal per 100g: 325
Even though they classify as nuts, chestnuts are more similar to starchy foods like sweet potatoes. They are lower in fat, but, like their relatives, they are a good source of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C and folates. They are especially rich in oleic acid, a good fat known to aid lower cholesterol, and in fiber, providing about 8g per 100g.
Almond Flour
Kcal per 100g: 565
Almonds are just plain awesome: They have the highest protein content amongst nuts along with peanuts, they are full of vitamin E (which is why almond oil is used for pregnant women’s skin) calcium and magnesium. Their monounsaturated fats are the kind of healthy fat that help reduce cholesterol. Careful with the calorie count, though.
Coconut Flour
Kcal per 100g: 660
The calorie count might be high here, but coconut is indeed a great food. It has a skyrocketing vitamin E content, an antioxidant that can help keeping healthy hair, skin and heart. Its fat is mainly lauric acid, which is easily absorbed by the body, and is even present in mother’s breast milk. Coconuts are also known to be antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial.
Flax Meal and ground seeds
Kcal per 100g: 450
Flax meal is made of flax seeds ground into flour. When seeds are ground into meal, they become so water absorbent that they can be sometimes used as egg substitute in vegan baking. Only add a small percentage to your baked goods and consider that you might have to increase the water amount indicated in your recipe.
Flax seeds go through the intestine untouched in their whole form, so flax meal is a great way to benefit from the amazing nutrients of these seeds: They are high in fiber, protein, vitamins (especially all of the B family) and full of precious fats, especially Omega-3 Alpha Linoleic Acid, which, along with flax antioxidants, help prevent many kinds of disease. Definitely read more about these precious seeds!

STARCHES

Starch is a kind of glucose-rich carbohydrate. Starch is present in many foods, but in order to isolate it, it is necessary to get starchy foods through several chemical processes. This makes them, of course, foods with very poor nutrition. Forthermore, starches should not be eaten raw, as they are very difficult to digest. But starches can also be a good help in the kitchen, and small amounts can be used as thickening agents and in baked sweets to improve texture. Starch sugars and modified starches, though, are added to many processed foods and should be avoided as much as possible.

Starch can be extracted from:
Tapioca
Potato
Sweet Potato
Rice
Corn
Cassava
Taro
Arrowroot
Kudzu
Yams
And many other less common plants.

I strongly encourage everyone to deepen their knowledge about starches and their possible helath concerns. Avoiding any kind of starch in processed foods is a great start to improve overall health!

    • Thanks a lot! I figured it was important to clear up some confusion (especially considering that I was really confused myself in the first place)

      :)

  1. I just stumbled upon these two posts, and they are terrific!

    I live in India, and our semolina is traditionally made from soft wheat unlike durum wheat semolina. I’m very keen to make fresh pasta at home and I was wondering if there are any alternatives. We are strictly vegetarian, and that means no eggs! I’m also very keen on making this a healthy meal. I’m really hoping you can help me with a combination of flours.

    Also, LOVE the blog design. It’s classy and understated.

    • Hi Sneha, thank you so much for your comment! What a pleasure to know you want to try making pasta all the way from India! :D
      So, if your semolina is made from soft wheat, it could be a problem…have you ever had Japanese noodles? The result would be similar.
      My suggestion is to try and make it with your semolina and be careful with how much water you need. You could mix in 30% of another flour – I am thinking besan, since you are in India. Weigh how much flour you want to use, and add water little by little as you knead, until the dough is soft but not sticky. If it is tough, add a liiiiittle more water. You will have to knead for 5 good minutes before you know if the water was enough. What other flours do you have access to? Maybe I can help more! :)

  2. Hi Valentina,

    I tried your method – I used a combination of soft wheat semolina and besan, adding tiny amounts of water till the dough came together. The result was certainly much better than my previous attempts. However, when cooked, the pasta turned out a liiiiittle (for lack of a better word) gooey. Tried adding a flaxseed meal, adjusted the water content, played with the combination of flours but the result was always good but never mind-blowing.

    I then began my research – I read about the origins of wheat in India, the types of wheat grown in different parts of the country. Turns out, we grows a considerable amount of durum wheat in Northern India and parts of Southern India (where I live, so yaay!). Turns out most of this wheat is directly exported to Italy, where it is processed, and shipped back to India (eventually) as boxes of dried pasta. I tracked down and spoke to a few farmers, and you’ll never believe this, WE HAVE BEEN USING DURUM WHEAT IN INDIAN FOOD FOR AGES! Except it’s recognized only by the local name. I got hold of a batch, made the pasta from scratch and it was DIVINE!

    Italy and India share so many similarities. As a culture, we’re also big on family and community. We’re equally passionate about food, with each region having a rich and diverse culinary history.

    So, I wanted to thank you for unknowingly egging me on.

    I want to leave you with another question. I’ve been reading up on the Piadina. Traditionally, the recipe requires lard, and as I’m vegetarian, can I use vegetable oil instead? Piadinas are also typically made from all purpose flour, and honestly, I’m not a big fan as it’s stripped off all nutrients. Is there a healthier alternative?

    Eagerly waiting,
    Sneha

    • Hi Sneha,
      Wow, thank you SO much for this comment! This is really interesting! You know, I LOVE indian food and culture, and I saw several cooking videos in which the cooks were using durum wheat flour. I can imagine how good the pasta made with that flour was! By the way, mixing low-gluten wheat flours, as the ones that are produced outside of Italy, and gluten-free flour doesn’t really produce a great dough… :/
      As for your piadina question, yes, of course you can use oil! In fact, there are two distinct kinds of piadina you can find at restaurant or in supermarkets: traditional and olive oil piadina. In fact, most people buy piadina made with olive oil. I am amazed that someone who has naan available would want to make piadina, but let me know how it goes if you try it out! :D

  3. Hi Valentina,

    I tried out the piadina recipe with white wheat flour and olive oil, and it was delicious! The whole family loved it (this coming from people who LOVE their naan!). However, I’d really like to make a healthier alternative considering white wheat flour has essentially no nutrients. Can I use durum wheat? What about millet flour?

    I also stumbled across an interesting recipe that called for carbonated water in the piadina dough along with yeast and some plain water. I expect this will make the flatbread light and airy. Do you think this might be a good idea to explore?

    Eagerly waiting (as always),
    Sneha

    • Hi Sneha! Glad to hear from you again! :D
      I strongly encourage you to make piadina entirely with whole wheat flour – it’s becoming pretty common around Romagna, too! Another flour that is very commonly used for piadina nowadays is ‘farro’, or spelt flour. It’s my favorite flour, because it’s quite mild and similar to wheat but much more flavorful and wholesome. You can also substitute no more than 30% of the total weight of the flour with any gluten-free flour of choice (like millet or chickpea flour).
      As for carbonated water, yes, it is usually added to ‘flat’ preparations (in crepes, too!) to make them a little fluffier, so to speak. Definitely go ahead and try!
      You know, in northern romagna they make a kind of piadina that is much thicker, and is kind of reminiscent of naan! I love both <3

  4. Hi Valentina,

    I just spent the last few hours trying to figure out what spelt or farro flour is called locally in India. You’re not going to believe this but it’ called “samba” or “khapli” and I’ve been eating it MY WHOLE LIFE. So naturally, I have some in my pantry. The similarities between India and Italy just don’t seem to end :D

    I can’t wait to try out the recipe! Will let you know how it turns out.

    Also, have I told you how awesomely helpful you are? :)