Have you ever taken a moment to think about flour?
True, it’s far from the most fascinating element, but now that Pesach is gone and we can once again use flour in our homes, stop for a moment to read about this essential ingredient.
The word “flour” was originally written as flower, meaning “blossom,” or “the finest,” as flour resulted from the elimination of coarse matter from the grain during the milling process. The milling or grinding of wheat to make flour is as old as history itself. Until as recently as 150 years ago, each family ground their own as needed because once ground, the flour began to turn rancid and would not last long. The reason for the limited shelf life is the fatty acids found in the germ of the wheat kernel. These fatty acids begin to break down the moment they are exposed to oxygen.
During the Industrial Revolution, agricultural experts came up with a method of removing the germ. Without the germ, flour cannot become rancid. Soon all flour production was done commercially.
Today, the variety of flours available is amazing. There are lots of options, each offering different gluten or protein levels making each suitable for varied baked goods. Other grains will also produce flour, offering a choice to people who cannot tolerate the gluten that is found in wheat flour.
Bleached flour is any flour with a whitening agent added and is referred to as refined flour.
Unbleached flour is simply flour that has not undergone bleaching and therefore does not have the color of “white” flour.
Cake flour is high in starch and low in protein and allows cakes and to set faster, rise better, the fat to be distributed more evenly, and there is less prone to falling in.
All-purpose or plain flour is appropriate for most baking. Cookies and one bowl cakes are usually prepared using this type of flour.
Self-rising flour contains leavening agents to produce lighter and softer baked products.
Enriched flour: During the process of making flour, nutrients are lost. Some of these nutrients are replaced during refining and the result is “enriched flour”.
Bread flour is white flour made from hard, high-protein wheat. It has more gluten strength and protein content than all-purpose flour. It is unbleached and sometimes conditioned with ascorbic acid, which increases volume and creates better texture. Bread flour has 12% to 14% protein (gluten). This is the best choice for yeast products.
Pastry flour is made with soft wheat and falls somewhere between all-purpose and cake flour in terms of protein content and baking properties. Use pastry flour for making pie crusts, brownies, and torts. Pastry flour makes a tender but crumbly pastry. Do not use it for yeast breads.
Semolina flour is used in making pasta. It is made from durum wheat, the hardest type of wheat grown. The flour is highest in gluten, resulting in chewy pasta.
Whole-wheat flour is made from the whole kernel of wheat and is higher in dietary fiber than white flour. It does not have as high a gluten level, so it’s sometimes mixed with all-purpose or bread flour when making yeast breads or challah.
White whole-wheat flour is milled from soft spring wheat as opposed to hard winter wheat, resulting in whole wheat flour that is lighter in color. Use is just as you would use regular whole wheat flour.
Spelt flour is one of the most popular and widely available non-wheat flours. Spelt has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor similar to that of whole wheat flour. It does contain gluten and is a popular substitute for wheat in baked goods.
Flour should always be kept in a cool dry place. All flour has a limited shelf life. Because of oxidation when exposed to oxygen in the air, the natural oils in flour will turn rancid.
If you will not use white flour within a month or two, place it in an airtight container and store it in the freezer — especially during the summer months. Whole wheat flour should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer year round — it will last longer.
You can also place a bay leaf in your flour to ward off insect infestation.
Many ingredients are prone to infestation. Please consult a local Rav for specific guidelines on how to avoid transgressions related to insects.
Readers may submit questions to the Culinary Connoisseur, c/o Hamodia, 207 Foster Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11230 or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. This weekly column has been brought to you by The Peppermill, the world’s first kosher kitchenware store, located at 5015 16th Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. (718) 871-4022. You can also read a selection of previous columns in their comprehensive cookbook, The Culinary Connoisseur, available now at your local Judaica and kitchenware stores. Jam-packed with delicious recipes, insightful food information and helpful cooking tips, this book is certain to become your constant companion in the kitchen.