Flour vs. Flour

Posted by Roger Baronat, August 21, 2011, 4:43 pm


Do you ever eat anything made with flour? Do you know anyone who does? Do you think it’s safe to eat stuff made with flour? These seem like silly questions, don’t they?

Well, here’s the nub of it. Flour is no longer the simple thing it once was. Just like buttermilk is not what buttermilk used to be and just like what we know as currants are no longer really currants but rather plain old Nantes grapes. But we can look at those last two items in another article, or another two articles, or another . . . you get the idea. So let’s concentrate on the first item: flour.

Turns out what we call flour can be all sorts of stuff. To make it more identifiable, we have to place some sort of descriptive identifier in front of it. Such as the following: rye flour, barley flour, buckwheat flour, acorn flour, rice flour . . . all right, enough of this. All these flours are just ground up other stuff added to something else. In some of those cases, if the stuff we’re adding has any nutrition whatsoever, it should be a good thing and, therefore, safe.

But when most of us think of flour, we don’t think of those flours, do we? No. Because those flours will not puff up into what we call bread. They’ll just lie there like lumps that we would call rocks because we’d break all our teeth on them if we tried to eat them.

So what DO we think of when we think of flour? We think of wheat flour, of course. The powder that comes from grinding up those little beige-colored grains attached to three-foot high stalks of grass that wave around in the wind until somebody comes along with a sickle (these days, a threshing machine) and chops them down to collect the little . . . ok, so now we know what the topic is. Or do we?

Wheat flour can be a confusing thing. And for a small portion of the world population, the gluten in wheat flour can be very, very unsafe. But for the rest of us the confusing part is problem enough. Wheat flour can be all-purpose wheat flour, bleached wheat flour, unbleached wheat flour, bread wheat flour, bromated wheat flour, cake wheat flour, instant wheat flour, pastry wheat flour . . . it never ends does it? Well, actually it does, but not all that soon. So let’s stop here and save ourselves the aggravation.

Besides, it’s more important to consider the fact that all these wheat flours have been stripped of their germ and bran! And for good reason, too. (Didn’t expect that, did you ?) How can germ and bran be bad, you ask? Well, here’s the answer.

Wheat germ goes rancid really fast, especially if you leave it at room temperature for any reasonable length of time and the wheat bran is nearly impossible to chew (depending on the percentage of dentures in your mouth). Of course, this means that all that’s left of the little beige grain we started out with is the starchy stuff scientists call the endosperm. If we could just chop up the bran a little finer, it would be easier to chew and we’d get a lot of good fiber out of it. And if we could just stick flour in our freezers, we could eliminate the germ going rancid. Then we could use up the whole little beige grain and that would probably be a whole lot better. But what if it’s not? Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Let’s think positively.

Keeping all the parts of the little beige grain together after it’s all ground up would give us “whole wheat flour.” Wow! That’s got to be good, right? Well, maybe. Let’s not forget the little beige grain has many types. Nothing is simple, is it? According to the wikipedia definition of the word, “wheat,” there’s . . .

Durum – Very hard, translucent, light-colored grain used to make semolina flour for pasta.

Hard Red Spring – Hard, brownish, high-protein wheat used for bread and hard baked goods. Bread Flour and high-gluten flours are commonly made from hard red spring wheat.

Hard Red Winter – Hard, brownish, mellow high-protein wheat used for bread, hard baked goods and as an adjunct in other flours to increase protein in pastry flour for pie crusts. Some brands of unbleached all-purpose flours are commonly made from hard red winter wheat alone One variety is known as “turkey red wheat”, and was brought to Kansas by Mennonite immigrants from Russia.

Soft Red Winter – Soft, low-protein wheat used for cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, and muffins. Cake flour, pastry flour, and some self-rising flours with baking powder and salt added, for example, are made from soft red winter wheat. It is primarily traded by the Chicago Board of Trade.

Hard White – Hard, light-colored, opaque, chalky, medium-protein wheat planted in dry, temperate areas. Used for bread and brewing.

Soft White – Soft, light-colored, very low protein wheat grown in temperate moist areas. Used for pie crusts and pastry. Pastry flour, for example, is sometimes made from soft white winter wheat.

Great information if you plan on baking your own bread. But try finding out which of the above wheat grains is in your local supermarket bread and you will not succeed. Try calling up the company that makes the bread and you still will not succeed. I guess the only answer is to bake your own breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, popovers, pies, pastas, and anything else made with flour.




[ Photos: Courtesy of www.goldstarflours.com, http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/k3607-20.html ]

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