Alternative Wheat Flours

— Written By Meghan Lassiter
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For most of us, all-purpose wheat flour will work for most baking situations. But you don’t have to stick with this basic flour. There many new (and old) flours available that can add variety and nutrition to your baking and meals. 

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we make at least half of the grains we eat whole grains. One way to do this is with whole grain flours. Due to less processing and refining, whole grain flours are a great source of antioxidants, vitamin B, magnesium, iron and fiber.

Buying whole wheat flour is a start to adding more whole grains to your diet. But unfortunately, you can’t just substitute whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour in baked goods. It is wise to start with smaller percentages of whole grain flour and increase in small increments – perhaps substituting one-fourth whole grain flour and increasing it to as much as one-half. If a recipe calls for 4 cups all-purpose flour, start with 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 3 cups all-purpose flour. It’s trial and error to see what you like, the more whole grain the denser the structure of the bread.

Looking to increase the servings of whole grains in your diet but don’t want the strong flavor that comes with whole wheat flour? Try white whole wheat flour. This flour is milled from 100% hard white wheat and has the same nutritional value as traditional whole wheat but is lighter in color and flavor. It has a softer feel and sweeter taste. White whole wheat is missing the pigment that makes the outer layer of bran the traditional reddish color. It’s this pigment that contains an acid which pigment causes the stronger, astringent taste of whole wheat.

White whole wheat flour can be substituted 100% recipes calling for whole wheat flour. Go with 50% in any recipe calling for all-purpose flour and 25% in light-colored baked goods like cake and bread.

There are other grain-based flours in addition to wheat that can add nutrition, flavor and interesting textures to baked goods. These include rye, barley, spelt, emmer (an ancient grain), einkorn and triticale (this is a cross between durum, rye and red winter wheat). Like wheat, these grain flours are available as refined or whole grain flours. While these grain-based flours contain protein and the gluten protein, they are low in gluten. To be successful in baking, they need the help of wheat flour or other ingredients to give them structure that is usually provided by gluten. 

For more information on how to add or substitute these flours in baking, check out the Iowa State University AnswerLine blog.

A note on storing different types of flour:  all-purpose flour can be kept in a cool, dry place like your cupboard or pantry. It can also be kept in the refrigerator or freezer. Since whole grain flours contain the vitamin and oil rich germ of the whole grains, they are best stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Make sure you bring frozen flour to room temperature before you bake with it. Flour at freezing temperatures will discourage even the most vigorous yeast or baking powder.

Wheat Flour Safety. Wheat flour is a raw food. During growth, it is exposed a variety of harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. The Food and Drug Administration advises us to never eat or taste raw flour, dough, or batter. Cooking or baking is the only way to be sure that foods made with flour are safe by heating the flour high enough to kill harmful bacteria.

More next week on gluten-free baking.

Source:  Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910-253-2610 or by email at