A paper sack of wheat flour, with a metal measuring scoop.

Flour is a powder which is made from grinding cereal grains, other seeds or roots (like Cassava). It is the main ingredient of bread, which is a staple food for many cultures, making the availability of adequate supplies of flour a major economic and political issue at various times throughout history. Wheat flour is one of the most important foods in European, North American, Middle Eastern and North African cultures, and is the defining ingredient in most of their styles of breads and pastries. Maize flour has been important in Mesoamerican cuisine since ancient times, and remains a staple in much of Latin American cuisine.[citation needed]



The word "flour" is originally a variant of the word "flower". Both derive from the Old French fleur or flour, which had the literal meaning "blossom," and a figurative meaning "the finest." The phrase "fleur de farine" meant "the finest part of the meal," since flour resulted from the elimination of coarse and unwanted matter from the grain during milling.[1]


A field of wheat prior to harvesting.

It was discovered around 9000 BC that wheat seeds could be crushed between simple grindstones to make flour.[2] The Romans were the first to grind seeds on cone mills. In 1879, at the beginning of the Industrial Era, the first steam mill was erected in London.[3] In the 1930s, some flour began to be enriched with Iron, Niacin, Thiamine and Riboflavin. In the 1940s, mills started to enrich flour and Folic Acid was added to the list in the 1990s.

Degermed and heat processed flour

An important problem of the industrial revolution was the preservation of flour. Transportation distances and a relatively slow distribution system collided with natural shelf life. The reason for the limited shelf life is the fatty acids of the germ, which react from the moment they are exposed to oxygen. This occurs when grain is milled; the fatty acids oxidize and flour starts to become rancid. Depending on climate and grain quality, this process takes six to nine months. In the late 19th century, this process was too short for an industrial production and distribution cycle. As vitamins, micro nutrients and amino acids were completely or relatively unknown in the late 19th century, removing the germ was a brilliant solution. Without the germ, flour cannot become rancid. Degermed flour became standard. Degermation started in densely populated areas and took approximately one generation to reach the countryside. Heat-processed flour is flour where the germ is first separated from the endosperm and bran, then processed with steam, dry heat or microwave and blended into flour again.[4]


Milling of flour is accomplished by grinding grain between stones or steel wheels. Today, "stone-ground" usually means that the grain has been ground in a mill in which a revolving stone wheel turns over a stationary stone wheel, vertically or horizontally with the grain in between. Many small appliance mills are available, both hand-cranked and electric. The mill stones frequently rub against each other resulting in small stone particles chipping off and getting into flour, but it is removed before getting sold.

Modern mills

Rollermills soon replaced stone grist mills as the production of flour has historically driven technological development, as attempts to make gristmills more productive and less labor-intensive led to the watermill[5] and windmill. These terms are now applied more broadly to uses of water and wind power for purposes other than milling.[6] More recently, the Unifine mill, an impact-type mill, was developed in the mid-20th century.


Flour being stored in large cloth sacks.

Flour contains a high proportion of starches, which are a subset of complex carbohydrates also known as polysaccharides. The kinds of flour used in cooking include all-purpose flour, self-rising flour, and cake flour including bleached flour. The higher the protein content the harder and stronger the flour and will produce crusty or chewy breads. The lower the protein the softer the flour for better cakes, cookies, and pie crusts.[7]

Unbleached flour

Unbleached flour is simply flour that has not undergone bleaching and therefore does not have the color of "white" flour. An example of this would be the Graham flour. Sylvester Graham was against using bleaching agents, as being unhealthy.

Bleached flour

"Bleached flour" is any flour with a whitening agent added and is referred to as refined flour. Cake flour is high in starch and low in protein and when chlorinated (bleached) allows cakes and other baked goods to set faster, rise better, the fat to be distributed more evenly, and there is less vulnerability to collapse. There are several kinds of bleaching agents added to flour. These agents oxidize the surfaces of the flour grains and aid with developing (maturing) of gluten. Bleaching makes flour slightly acidic and the taste can be noticed. The chlorination does assist in causing the small bubbles that allow baked goods to be fluffy. Different chemicals are used for Flour treatment agents to improve color and use in baking;

Some consumers mistakenly believe that "bleached flour" is the result of a natural process involving exposure of flour to sunlight. It is not clear where this notion originated, but it is incorrect.

Plain flour

Flour that does not have a leavening agent is often called all-purpose or plain flour. This flour is appropriate for most baking breads and pizza bases. Some cookies are also prepared using this type of flour.

Self-raising flour

Leavening agents are used with some flours,[8] especially those with significant gluten content, to produce lighter and softer baked products by embedding small gas bubbles. Self-rising (or self-raising) flour is sold premixed with chemical leavening agents. The added ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the flour which aids a consistent and even rise in baked goods. This flour is generally used for preparing scones, biscuits, muffins, etc. This type of flour was invented by Henry Jones and patented in 1845. Plain flour can be used to make a type of self-rising flour although the flour will be coarser. Self-rising flour is typically composed of the following ratio:

  • 1 cup (100 g) flour
  • 1 teaspoon (3 g) baking powder
  • a pinch to ½ teaspoon (1 g or less) salt

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".

Common preservatives sometimes added to commercial flour

Calcium propanoate
Sodium benzoate
Tricalcium phosphate
Butylated hydroxyanisole


Wheat flour

More wheat flour is produced than any other flour. Wheat varieties are called "clean," "white," or "brown" or "strong" if they have high gluten content, and they are called "soft" or "weak" flour if gluten content is low.

Other flours

A variety of types of flour and cereals sold at a bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
  • Acorn flour is made from ground acorns and can be used as a substitute for wheat flour. It was used by Native Americans. Koreans also use acorn flour to make Dotorimuk
  • Almond flour is made from ground almonds, suitable for people with gluten-free diets or Celiac disease.
  • Amaranth flour is a flour produced from ground amaranth grain. It was commonly used in pre-Columbian meso-American cuisine. It is becoming more and more available in speciality food shops.
  • Atta flour is a whole-grain wheat flour important in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, used for a range of breads such as roti, naan and chapati.
  • Bean flour is a flour produced from pulverized dried or ripe beans.
  • Brown rice flour is of great importance in Southeast Asian cuisine. Also edible rice paper can be made from it.
  • Buckwheat flour is used as an ingredient in many pancakes in the United States. In Japan, it is used to make a popular noodle called soba. In Russia, buckwheat flour is added to the batter for pancakes called blinis which are frequently eaten with caviar. Buckwheat flour is also used to make crêpes bretonnes in Brittany. On Hindu fasting days (Navaratri mainly, also Maha Shivaratri), people eat items made of buckwheat flour. The preparation varies across India. The famous ones are Kuttu Ki Puri and Kuttu Pakoras. In most of northern and western states they call this Kuttu ka atta.
  • Cassava flour is made from the root of the cassava plant. In a purified form (pure starch), it is called tapioca flour (see in list, below)
  • Chestnut flour is popular in Corsica, the Périgord and Lunigiana for breads, cakes and pastas. It is the original ingredient for "polenta", still used as such in Corsica and other Mediterranean locations. Chestnut bread keeps fresh for as long as two weeks.[9] In other parts of Italy it is mainly used for desserts.
  • Chickpea flour (also known as gram flour or besan) is of great importance in Indian cuisine, and in Italy, where it is used for the Ligurian farinata.
  • Chuño flour made from dried potatoes in various countries of South America
  • Coconut flour is made from ground coconut meat and has the highest fiber content of any flour, having a very low concentration of digestible carbohydrates makes an excellent choice for those looking to restrict their carbohydrate intake.
  • Confectioners flour is a type of flour used to make pasta, which mainly used in the Midwest parts of the United States of America. It is well-known to people from the state of Minnesota.
  • Corn (maize) flour is popular in the Southern and Southwestern US, Mexico, Central America, and Punjab regions of India and Pakistan, where it called as Makkai Ka Atta. Coarse whole-grain corn flour is usually called corn meal. Finely ground corn flour that has been treated with food-grade lime is called masa harina (see masa) and is used to make tortillas and tamales in Mexican cooking. Corn flour should never be confused with cornstarch, which is known as "cornflour" in British English.
  • Cornstarch is powdered endosperm of the corn kernel.
  • Glutinous rice flour or sticky rice flour, used in east and southeast Asian cuisines for making tangyuan, etc.
  • Hemp Flour is produced by pressing the oil from the hemp seed, and milling the residue. Hemp seed is approximately 30% oil and 70% residue. Hemp flour doesn't rise, and is best mixed with other flours. Added to any flour by about 15-20%, it gives a spongy nutty texture and flavour with a green hew.
  • Maida flour is a finely milled wheat flour used to make a wide variety of Indian breads such as paratha and naan. Maida is widely used not only in Indian cuisine but also in Central Asian and Southeast Asian cuisine.Though sometimes referred to as "all-purpose flour" by Indian chefs, it more closely resembles cake flour or even pure starch. In India, maida flour is used to make pastries and other bakery items such as bread, biscuits and toast.
  • Mesquite flour is made from the dried and ground pods of the Mesquite tree which grows throughout North America in arid climates. The flour has a sweet, slightly nutty flavor and can be used in a wide variety of application.[10]
  • Noodle flour is special blend of flour used for the making of Asian style noodles. The flour could be from wheat or rice.
  • Nut flours are grated from oily nuts—most commonly almonds and hazelnuts—and are used instead of or in addition to wheat flour to produce more dry and flavourful pastries and cakes. Cakes made with nut flours are usually called tortes and most originated in Central Europe, in countries such as Hungary and Austria.
  • Peasemeal or pea flour is a flour produced from roasted and pulverized yellow field peas.
  • Peanut flour made from shelled/cooked peanuts is a higher protein alternative to using regular flour.[11]
  • Potato starch flour is obtained by grinding the tubers to a pulp and removing the fibre and protein by water-washings. Potato starch (flour) is very white starch powder used as a thickening agent. Standard (native) potato starch needs boiling, to thicken in water, giving a transparent gel. Because the flour is made from neither grain nor legume, it is used as substitute for wheat flour in cooking by Jews during Passover, when grains are not eaten.
  • Potato flour, often confused with potato starch, is a peeled, cooked potato, mashed, mostly drumdried and ground potato flakes using the whole potato and thus containing the protein and some of the fibres of the potato; having an off-white slight yellowish colour. Dehydrated potatoes or instant mashed potatoes can also be granular, flakes.[12] Potato flour is cold water soluble.
  • Rice flour is ground kernels of rice. It is used in Western countries and especially for people who suffer from gluten intolerance, since rice does not contain gluten.
  • Rye flour is used to bake the traditional sourdough breads of Czech Republic, Poland, Germany and Scandinavia. Most rye breads use a mix of rye and wheat flours because rye does not produce a sufficient amount of gluten. Pumpernickel bread is usually made exclusively of rye, and contains a mixture of rye flour and rye meal.
  • Tapioca flour, produced from the root of the cassava plant, is used to make breads, pancakes, tapioca pudding, a savoury porridge called fufu in Africa, and is used as a starch.
  • Teff flour is made from the grain teff, and is of considerable importance in eastern Africa (particularly around the horn of Africa). Notably, it is the chief ingredient in the bread injera, an important component of Ethiopian cuisine.

More types of flour

Flour can also be made from soy beans, peanuts, arrowroot, taro, cattails, acorns, quinoa and other non-cereal foodstuffs.

Flour type numbers

In some markets, the different available flour varieties are labeled according to the ash mass ("mineral content") that remains after a sample is incinerated in a laboratory oven (typically at 550 °C or 900 °C, see international standards ISO 2171 and ICC 104/1). This is an easily verified indicator for the fraction of the whole grain remains in the flour, because the mineral content of the starchy endosperm is much lower than that of the outer parts of the grain. Flour made from all parts of the grain (extraction rate: 100%) leaves about 2 g ash or more per 100 g dry flour. Plain white flour (extraction rate: 50–60%) leaves only about 0.4 g.

  • German flour type numbers (Mehltypen) indicate the amount of ash (measured in milligrams) obtained from 100 g of the dry mass of this flour. Standard wheat flours (defined in DIN 10355) range from type 405 for normal white wheat flour for baking, to strong bread flour types 550, 650, 812, and the darker types 1050 and 1600 for wholegrain breads.
  • French flour type numbers (type de farine) are a factor 10 smaller than those used in Germany, because they indicate the ash content (in milligrams) per 10 g flour. Type 55 is the standard, hard-wheat white flour for baking, including puff pastries ("pâte feuilletée"). Type 45 is often called pastry flour, and is generally from a softer wheat (this corresponds to what older French texts call "farine de gruau"). Some recipes use Type 45 for croissants, for instance,[13] although many French bakers use Type 55 or a combination of Types 45 and 55.[14] Types 65, 80, and 110 are strong bread flours of increasing darkness, and type 150 is a wholemeal flour.

In the United States and the United Kingdom, no numbered standardized flour types are defined, and the ash mass is only rarely given on the label by flour manufacturers. However, the legally required standard nutrition label specifies the protein content of the flour, which is also a way for comparing the extraction rates of different available flour types.

In general, as the extraction rate of the flour increases, so do both the protein and the ash content. However, as the extraction rate approaches 100% (whole meal), the protein content drops slightly, while the ash content continues to rise.

The following table shows some typical examples of how protein and ash content relate to each other in wheat flour:

Ash Protein Wheat flour type
US German French Italian
~0.4% ~9% pastry flour 405 40 00
~0.55% ~11% all-purpose flour 550 55 0
~0.8% ~14% high gluten flour 812 80 1
~1% ~15% first clear flour 1050 110 2
>1.5% ~13% white whole wheat 1600 150 Farina integrale di grano tenero

This table is only a rough guideline for converting bread recipes. Since flour types are not standardized in many countries, the numbers may differ between manufacturers. Note that there is no Type 40 French flour. The closest is Type 45.

It is possible to determine ash content from some US manufacturers. However, US measurements are based on wheat with a 14% moisture content. Thus, a US flour with 0.48% ash would approximate a French Type 55. For US bakers of French pastry seeking an equivalent, for example, they could look at tables published by King Arthur Flour, showing their all-purpose flour is a close equivalent to French Type 55.

Other measurable properties of flour as used in baking can be determined using a variety of specialized instruments, such as the Farinograph.


Flour dust suspended in air is explosive -- as is any mixture of a finely powdered flammable substance with air[15] (see flour bomb). Some devastating and fatal explosions have occurred at flour mills, including an explosion in 1878 at the Washburn "A" Mill in Minneapolis, the largest flour mill in the United States at the time.[16]


Bread, pasta, crackers, many cakes, and many other foods are made using flour. Wheat flour is also used to make a roux as a base for gravy and sauces. It is also the base for papier-mâché.

Cornstarch is a principal ingredient of many puddings or desserts.


  1. ^ Palmatier, Robert Allen (2000). Food: a dictionary of literal and nonliteral terms. Westport, CT: Greenwood. p. 136. ISBN 0313314365. http://books.google.com/books?id=OqIe3YFwsFkC. 
  2. ^ Archaeo News -Source: Eurasianet.org (2008-12-9); Published 2008-12-14
  3. ^ [1] -History of flour
  4. ^ Goldkeim - Association to promote vital flour http://www.goldkeim.com/
  5. ^ [2] -Water powered grist mills
  6. ^ [3] -Flour enrichment
  7. ^ [4] Different kinds of flour -Retrieved 2011-04-15
  8. ^ Self-rising flour -Retrieved 2011-04-15
  9. ^ The Grocer's Encyclopedia - Encyclopedia of Foods and Beverages. By Artemas Ward. New York. 1911.
  10. ^ "Mesquite, the Rediscovered Food Phenomenon". http://chetday.com/mesquiteflour.htm. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  11. ^ [5] -Peanut flour
  12. ^ "Idaho Pacific Corporation, The best potatoes that Idaho has to offer". Idahopacific.com. http://www.idahopacific.com/index.html. Retrieved 2011-10-31. 
  13. ^ "Supertoinette page in French on flour types". Supertoinette.com. http://www.supertoinette.com/fiche-cuisine/423/farine-de-ble.html. Retrieved 2011-10-31. 
  14. ^ The author of this phrase has studied baking in France but has no online link to cite for this.
  15. ^ Williamson, George (06-02-2002). "Introduction to Dust Explosions". http://www.chemeng.ed.ac.uk/~emju49/SP2001/webpage/index.html. Retrieved 2006-10-29. [dead link]
  16. ^ "Washburn 'A' Mill Explosion". Minnesota Historical Society Library History Topics. http://www.mnhs.org/library/tips/history_topics/73washburn.html. Retrieved 2006-10-29. 
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 edition of The Grocer's Encyclopedia.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Flour — (flour), n. [F. fleur de farine the flower (i.e., the best) of meal, cf. Sp. flor de la harina superfine flour, Icel. fl[ u]r flower, flour. See {Flower}.] The finely ground meal of wheat, or of any other grain; especially, the finer part of meal …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Flour — Flour, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Floured}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Flouring}.] 1. To grind and bolt; to convert into flour; as, to flour wheat. [1913 Webster] 2. To sprinkle with flour. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • flour — [flour] n. [ME (see FLOWER): a fig. use as “best, prime” in “flour of wheat,” after Fr fleur de farine, lit., flower of meal] 1. a fine, powdery substance, or meal, produced by grinding and sifting grain, esp. wheat, or any of various edible… …   English World dictionary

  • flour|y — «FLOWR ee», adjective. 1. of or like flour. 2. covered or white with flour or powder …   Useful english dictionary

  • flour — ► NOUN ▪ a powder obtained by grinding grain, used to make bread, cakes, and pastry. ► VERB ▪ sprinkle with flour. ORIGIN a specific use of FLOWER(Cf. ↑flowerless) in the sense «the best part», used originally to mean «the finest quality of… …   English terms dictionary

  • flour — Flour, Flourir, Cerchez Fleur …   Thresor de la langue françoyse

  • flour — flourless, adj. /floweur, flow euhr/, n. 1. the finely ground meal of grain, esp. the finer meal separated by bolting. 2. the finely ground and bolted meal of wheat, as that used in baking. 3. a finely ground, powdery foodstuff, as of dehydrated… …   Universalium

  • flour — (Roget s IV) n. Syn. meal, pulp, powder, grit, bran, farina, breadstuff, gluten, starch, bleached flour, unbleached flour, wheat germ, semolina, patent flour, middlings, shorts, white flour, wheat flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour, graham flour …   English dictionary for students

  • Flour — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Pour les articles homonymes, voir Saint Flour. Flour est un nom propre qui peut désigner : Sommaire …   Wikipédia en Français

  • flour — n. 1) to mix flour with; to sift flour 2) bleached; cake; enriched; self rising (AE), self raising (BE); unbleached; white flour 3) (BE) corn flour (AE has cornstarch) * * * [ flaʊə] cake enriched to sift flour unbleached white flour self rising …   Combinatory dictionary

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