Whole-Grain Flour Guide

Trying to reduce refined grains in your diet? Use our whole-grain flour guide to replace white flour with high-quality, nutritious alternatives.

| January/February 2014

  • As a rule of thumb, replace half of the white flour called for with a combination of various whole-grain flours.
    Photo By iStockphoto
  • Reduce refined grains in your diet by replacing white flour with high-quality, nutritious alternatives.
    Photo By Digital Vision/Jupiter Images

As science learns more about the makeup of a healthy diet, one fact has become clear: Refined grains are bad for our health—and our waistlines. Saying that a grain is “whole” means that it has three essential parts: the endosperm, the bran and the germ. Unlike the refined white flour in processed food and in most of our pantries, in which the nutritious bran and germ have been removed, whole-grain flours contain plenty of fiber, vitamins and minerals, plus healthy plant compounds such as lignans, phytoestrogens and phenolic compounds. These important nutrients can help us maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of numerous diseases, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, respiratory dysfunction, gout, osteoarthritis and some cancers.

Which Wheat?

There are more than 30,000 varieties of wheat, yet the options for highly nutritious flours—even if “whole”—are not numerous. Donald R. Davis, a former nutrition scientist at the University of Texas, has researched wheat nutrition extensively, and found that over the last 50 years, as farmers have shifted to industrial systems that have increased yield, wheat has declined in a number of nutrients, including minerals, protein and antioxidants. Some of today’s varieties have half as much protein as earlier varieties.

A few intrepid artisan companies are bucking this alarming trend. Wheat Montana Farms, for example, is one of the few companies where you can buy wheat directly from the farmers who grow it. Their two special varieties, Prairie Gold and Bronze Chief, were selected for superior protein content. Similarly, Pleasant Hill Grain and The Urban Homemaker, which sell whole, unmilled grains for home grinding, source high-quality grains that are always free of genetic modification—and many are organically raised. You might also find a local source of quality grain via any bakery near you that turns out wonderful breads: Ask them where they buy their flour—many small mills will accommodate special orders.

How to Store & Measure Whole-Grain Flour

Whole-grain flours contain a small amount of fat in the germ. This oil is responsible for the superior flavor and nutrition of whole grains, but it also means the flour can actually go bad, whereas refined white flour never will. Unmilled whole grains such as wheat, spelt or rye berries can be stored almost indefinitely, but once they are ground into flour, they must be kept in the refrigerator or freezer. The flour should smell fresh, nutty and mild—never sour or rancid.

Whenever possible, flour and all other baking ingredients should be weighed rather than measured out with volume measuring cups and spoons. Food scales that give gram and ounce measurements are inexpensive and well worth the money, especially when it comes to baking. If you must bake without one, do as the King Arthur Flour expert bakers do when measuring flour: Use a fork to vigorously fluff up the flour in your bag or container. Then use a spoon to dip the now-aerated flour out of the container and into your dry measuring cup until it’s completely full or even overfull, but do not pack it in. Use the edge of a knife to scrape excess flour off and level it at the top of the measuring cup.

Types of Flour

All of the following flours are exceptionally nutritious (and many are low-gluten or gluten-free—see key later in this article). To reap the biggest dietary benefits, try to incorporate a number of them into your cooking rotation. But remember to buy only the quantities that you have room to store in your fridge or freezer.  

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