WHEN I was little, my duty was to sift the flour whenever my mum baked a cake. It wasn’t exactly my favourite chore (like any child, I would have rather gone off to play), but the anticipation of the wonderful aromatic cake that would pop out of the oven in time for tea kept me in full obedient mode.
Back then, all I knew was regular wheat flour and self-raising flour.
But now, you’d be spoilt for choice with the different flours available in the supermarket or organic health store.
Even I am trying to learn how to use some of these flours in different recipes and dishes. The beauty about having all these different flours is that they add to our nutritional choices as different flours contain various vitamins and minerals.
A flour is formed when a grain, nut, legume, seed or even vegetable is finely-ground into a powder. Depending on their source, each type of flour will vary in taste, flavour and colour.
One of the most common grain that has traditionally been made into flour is wheat. Wholewheat flour is made when the entire wheat grain is milled and ground.
On the other hand, refined flour (what we usually call white flour) has the hard, outer layer known as the bran removed. The bran is essentially where most of the fibre is — hence wholewheat flour has more fibre than refined flour.
Apart from fibre, wholewheat flour naturally has other important nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium and magnesium.
Because refined flour has lost most of its important nutrients due to being processed, flour manufacturers will usually add back the B vitamins and iron, something that is known as “enriching” a product in the food processing industry.
There are many foods that are made from flour such as breads, cakes, pastries, noodles, pasta, crackers and biscuits.
Flours are also used as thickening agents in other food products such as soups, sauces and in meatballs.
Here’s a look at some of the various flours you may come across in the supermarket:
This flour is milled from durum wheat and is commonly used to make spaghetti, pasta and puddings.
Self–raising flour :
Flour that has been added with salt and baking soda. If you store self-raising flour for too long, the leavening action of the baking soda can be affected.
Cake or pastry flour:
Refined flour that is delicate in texture and milled from soft wheat.
Bread flour :
Also a refined flour but from hard wheat. It may also contain barley flour. It’s high gluten content gives bread that springy texture.
This is milled from entire corn kernel, whereas “corn starch” is milled only from the endosperm part of the corn grain. It is commonly used to thicken sauces and soups in Chinese cooking.
Made from grinding white rice grain. It is often used to make biscuits and pie crusts because of its flaky texture. A half cup of white rice flour has about 2g of fibre.
Brown rice flour:
Made from milling unpolished brown rice grain. It has twice the amount of fibre compared to regular rice flour. A 1/2 cup serving has approximately 4g of fibre.
As the name implies, it is milled from whole dried potatoes. It is high in fibre; a 1/2 cup has 5g of fibre. It is a good binder ingredient when making meatballs or even breads.
Flaxseed flour :
You get this flour when whole flaxseed is milled finely. It’s a great way to add healthy omega-3 fat to your foods. It is impressively high in fibre. Just two tablespoons of flaxseed flour gives you 4g of fibre.
Soya flour: This high protein flour is milled from soya beans. You can get 20g of protein from a half cup of soya bean flour and 3g of fibre. It also contains calcium, magnesium and iron. Apparently, less oil is absorbed when you deep fry foods coated with batter or dough that is made with soya bean flour.
These are just a few of the various types of flours. Different ethnic cuisines around the world use other types of flours, native to their flavours and recipes.
I highly urge you to be a food explorer and open up your palate to try new foods to reap the full nutritional benefits Mother Nature has to offer.
WHOLEGRAIN VS REFINED FLOUR
A wholegrain is grain that has all three main layers still intact.
The bran layer is the coarse outermost part. It’s where most of the fibre is and is rich in B vitamins, antioxidants, phytonutrients, iron, zinc, copper and magnesium.
The endosperm is the large middle part. It contains most of the carbohydrate and protein.
The germ is the inner core. It provides antioxidants, vitamins B and E and healthy oils.
When the wholegrain is milled and made into refined flour through the milling (for example when whole wheat is made into white flour), those highly nutritious bran and germ layers get discarded. It’s such a waste as that is where most of the nutrition goodness of the wholegrain is.
* Indra Balaratnam is a consultant dietitian who believes in simple, practical ways to eating well and living healthy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org