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Three different kinds of wheat and rye flour. From left to right: wheat flour Type 550 (all purpose flour), wheat flour Type 1050 (first clear flour), rye flour Type 1150
All-purpose flour
Cassava flour (left) and corn flour (right) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. These flours are basic ingredients for the cuisine of Central Africa.

Flour is a powder made by grinding raw grains, roots, beans, nuts, or seeds. Flours are used to make many different foods. Cereal flour, particularly wheat flour, is the main ingredient of bread, which is a staple food for many cultures. Corn flour has been important in Mesoamerican cuisine since ancient times and remains a staple in the Americas. Rye flour is a constituent of bread in both Central Europe and Northern Europe.

Cereal flour consists either of the endosperm, germ, and bran together (whole-grain flour) or of the endosperm alone (refined flour). Meal is either differentiable from flour as having slightly coarser particle size (degree of comminution)[further explanation needed] or is synonymous with flour; the word is used both ways. For example, the word cornmeal often connotes a grittier texture whereas corn flour connotes fine powder, although there is no codified dividing line.

The CDC has cautioned not to eat raw flour doughs or batters. Raw flour can contain bacteria like E. coli and needs to be cooked like other foods.[1]


The English word flour is originally a variant of the word flower, and both words 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 flour", since flour resulted from the elimination of coarse and unwanted matter from the grain during milling.[2]


A field of unripe wheat

Further information: Wheat

Maize or corn flour has been important in Mesoamerican cuisine since ancient times and remains a staple in the Americas. Rye flour is a constituent of bread in central and northern Europe. Archaeological evidence for making flour (wheat seeds crushed between simple millstones) dates to at least 6000 BC. In 2018, archaeologists reported finding evidence[3] of bread making at Shubayqa 1, a Natufian hunter-gatherer site more than 14,000 years old in northwest Jordan. The Romans were the first to grind seeds on cone mills. In 1786, at the beginning of the Industrial Era, the first steam-powered flour mill, Albion Mills, Southwark, was completed in London.[4] 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, micronutrients and amino acids were completely or relatively unknown in the late 19th century, removing the germ was an effective 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.[5]


A Walz set of roller mills.

Milling of flour is accomplished by grinding grain between stones or steel wheels.[6] 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.

Modern mills

Main article: Gristmill

Roller mills 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[7] and windmill. These terms are now applied more broadly to uses of water and wind power for purposes other than milling.[8] More recently, the Unifine mill, an impact-type mill, was developed in the mid-20th century.

Modern farm equipment allows livestock farmers to do some or all of their own milling when it comes time to convert their own grain crops to coarse meal for livestock feed. This capability is economically important because the profit margins are often thin enough in commercial farming that saving expenses is vital to staying in business.


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 (known as plain outside North America), self-rising flour, and cake flour (including bleached flour). The higher the protein content the harder and stronger the flour, and the more it will produce crispy or chewy breads. The lower the protein the softer the flour, which is better for cakes, cookies, and pie crusts.[9] Cereal flour consists either of the endosperm, germ, and bran together (whole-grain flour) or of the endosperm alone (refined flour).

Bleached flour

Main article: Flour bleaching agent

"Bleached flour" is "refined" flour with a chemical whitening (bleaching) agent added. "Refined" flour has had the germ and bran, containing much of the nutritional fibre and vitamins, removed and is often referred to as "white flour".

Bleached flour is artificially aged using a "bleaching" agent, a "maturing" agent, or both. A bleaching agent affects the carotenoids responsible for the natural colour of the flour; a "maturing" agent also affects gluten development. A maturing agent may either strengthen or weaken gluten development.


The four most common additives used as bleaching/maturing agents in the US are:

Some other chemicals used as flour treatment agents to modify color and baking properties include:

Common preservatives in commercial flour include:

Frequency of additives

All bleaching and maturing agents (with the possible exception of ascorbic acid) have been banned in the United Kingdom.[11]

Bromination of flour in the US has fallen out of favor, and while it is not yet actually banned anywhere, few retail flours available to the home baker are bromated anymore.

Many varieties of flour packaged specifically for commercial bakeries are still bromated. Retail bleached flour marketed to the home baker is now treated mostly with either peroxidation or chlorine gas. Current information from Pillsbury is that their varieties of bleached flour are treated both with benzoyl peroxide and chlorine gas. Gold Medal states that their bleached flour is treated either with benzoyl peroxide or chlorine gas, but no way exists to tell which process has been used when buying the flour at the grocery store.

Old method of bleaching

The old method of procuring white or "bleached" flour did not entail the use of chemical agents at all. Rather, the wheat kernels were moistened with water long enough for the outer kernels of the wheat which contained the bran to soften and, eventually, fall-off while grinding.[12] In some places, the leaves of Syrian rue (Peganum harmala) were spread in stratified layers between the layers of grain, and left in such a state for several days, until the fumes emitted from the astringent leaves of the plant caused the outer kernels of the wheat to break-down and dissolve, leaving a clean and white flour after grinding.[13][14][15][16]

Enriched flour

Main article: Enriched flour

During the process of making flour, specifically as a result of the bleaching process, nutrients are lost. Some of these nutrients may be replaced during refining – the result is known as enriched flour.

Cake flour

Cake flour is the lowest in gluten protein content, with 6–7%[17] (5–8% from second source[18]) protein to produce minimal binding so the cake "crumbles" easily.

Pastry flour

Pastry flour has the second-lowest gluten protein content, with 7.5–9.5%[17] (8–9% from second source[18]) protein to hold together with a bit more strength than cakes, but still produce flaky crusts rather than hard or crispy ones.

Plain or all-purpose flour

All-purpose, or "AP flour", or plain flour is medium in gluten protein content at 9.5–11.5%[17] (10–12% from second source[18]) protein content. It has adequate protein content for many bread and pizza bases, though bread flour and special 00 grade Italian flour are often preferred for these purposes, respectively, especially by artisan bakers. Some biscuits are also prepared using this type of flour. "Plain" refers not only to AP flour's middling gluten content but also to its lack of any added leavening agent (as in self-rising flour).

Bread flour

Bread flour is typically made from hard red winter wheat planted in the fall and harvested in the spring. Hard wheat is high in gluten, a protein that makes dough stretchy. Hard wheat is 11.5–13.5%[17] (12–14% from second source[18]) protein. The increased protein binds to the flour to entrap carbon dioxide released by the yeast fermentation process, resulting in a better rise and chewier texture.

Hard flour

Hard is a general term for flours with high gluten protein content, commonly refers to extra strong flour, with 13.5–16%[17] (or 14–15% from some sources) protein (16% is a theoretically possible protein content[17]). This flour may be used where a recipe adds ingredients that require the dough to be extra strong to hold together in their presence, or when strength is needed for constructions of bread (e.g., some centerpiece displays).

Gluten flour

Gluten flour is refined gluten protein, or a theoretical 100% protein (though practical refining never achieves a full 100%). It is used to strengthen flour as needed. For example, adding approximately one teaspoon per cup of AP flour gives the resulting mix the protein content of bread flour. It is commonly added to whole grain flour recipes to overcome the tendency of greater fiber content to interfere with gluten development, needed to give the bread better rising (gas holding) qualities and chew.

Unbleached flour

Unbleached flour is simply flour that has not undergone bleaching and therefore does not have the color of "white" flour. An example is graham flour, whose namesake, Sylvester Graham, was against using bleaching agents, which he considered unhealthy.

Self-raising flour

In English-speaking countries, self-raising (or self-rising) flour is commercially available with chemical leavening agents already in the mix.[19][20] In America, it is also likely to be pre-salted; in Britain this is not the case. The added ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the flour, which aids a consistent rise in baked goods. This flour is generally used for preparing sponge cakes, scones, muffins, etc. It was invented by Henry Jones and patented in 1845. If a recipe calls for self-raising flour, and this is not available, the following substitution is possible:


Gluten-containing flours

Wheat flour

Main article: Wheat flour

Wheat is the grain most commonly used to make flour.[citation needed] Certain varieties may be referred to as "clean" or "white". Flours contain differing levels of the protein gluten. "Strong flour" or "hard flour" has a higher gluten content than "weak" or "soft" flour. "Brown" and wholemeal flours may be made of hard or soft wheat.

Other varieties

A variety of types of flour and cereals sold at a bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Gluten-free flours

When flours do not contain gluten, they are suitable for people with gluten-related disorders, such as coeliac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy sufferers, among others.[22][23][24][25] Contamination with gluten-containing cereals can occur during grain harvesting, transporting, milling, storing, processing, handling and/or cooking.[25][26][27]

More types

Main article: List of edible seeds

Flour also can be made from soybeans, arrowroot, taro, cattails, manioc, quinoa, and other non-cereal foodstuffs.

Type numbers

In some markets, the different available flour varieties are labeled according to the ash mass that remains after a sample is incinerated in a laboratory oven (typically at 550 °C (1,022 °F) or 900 °C (1,650 °F), see international standards ISO 2171 and ICC 104/1[33]). 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 grams (0.071 oz) ash or more per 100 grams (3.5 oz) dry flour. Plain white flour with an extraction rate of 50–60% leaves about 0.4 grams (0.014 oz).

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:

Residual ash mass Protein Wheat flour type
US UK German/Polish French Italian Czech/Slovak Polish[35] Argentine Japanese Chinese
~0.4% ~9% Pastry flour Soft flour 405 45 00 Hladká mouka výběrová 00 tortowa 0000 Hakurikiko (薄力粉) dījīn miànfěn (低筋麵粉)
~0.55% ~11% All-purpose flour Plain flour 550 55 0 Hladká mouka luksusowa 000 Churikiko (中力粉) zhōngjīn miànfěn (中筋麵粉)
~0.8% ~14% Bread flour or "high gluten flour" Strong or hard 812 80 1 Polohrubá mouka chlebowa 00 Kyorikiko (強力粉) gāojīn miànfěn (高筋麵粉)
~1.1% ~15% First clear flour Very strong or hard 1050 110 2 Hrubá mouka sitkowa 0 kyorikimatsufun (強力末粉) tè gāojīn miànfěn (特高筋麵粉)
>1.5% ~13% White whole wheat Wholemeal 1600 150 Farina integrale di grano tenero Celozrnná mouka graham, razowa 12 0 Zenryufun (全粒粉) quánmài miànfěn (全麥麵粉)

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. There is no French type corresponding to the lowest ash residue in the table. The closest is French Type 45.

There is no official Chinese name corresponding to the highest ash residue in the table. Usually such products are imported from Japan and the Japanese name zenryufun (全粒粉) is used, or it is called quánmài miànfěn (全麥麵粉).

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.

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[36] (see dust explosion). Some devastating explosions have occurred at flour mills, including an explosion in 1878 at the Washburn "A" Mill in Minneapolis that killed 22 people.[37][38]


The CDC has cautioned not to eat raw flour doughs or batters. Raw flour can contain bacteria like E. coli and needs to be cooked like other foods.[1]


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 thickening gravy and sauces. It can also be used as an ingredient in papier-mâché glue.[39]

Cornstarch is a principal ingredient used to thicken many puddings or desserts, and is the main ingredient in packaged custard.

See also


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  2. ^ Palmatier, Robert Allen (2000). Food: a dictionary of literal and nonliteral terms. Westport, CT: Greenwood. p. 136. ISBN 978-0-313-31436-0.
  3. ^ Arranz-Otaegui, Amaia (31 July 2018). "Archaeobotanical evidence reveals the origins of bread 14,400 years ago in northeastern Jordan". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 115 (31): 7925–7930. Bibcode:2018PNAS..115.7925A. doi:10.1073/pnas.1801071115. PMC 6077754. PMID 30012614.
  4. ^ "The history of flour – The FlourWorld Museum Wittenburg – Flour Sacks of the World". Archived from the original on 2011-04-04. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  5. ^ "Deutsch: Goldkeim". (in German). Archived from the original on 2011-02-01. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  6. ^ Eben Norton Horsford (1875). "Chapter II: The Art of Milling". Report on Vienna bread. Washington: Government Printing Office. Archived from the original on 2023-01-13. Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  7. ^ "Grist Mills". Flickr. 8 June 2006. Archived from the original on 2020-08-02. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  8. ^ "How the Roller Mills Changed the Milling Industry". Angelfire. Archived from the original on 2018-03-04. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  9. ^ "Self-rising Flour Vs. All-purpose Flour: Know the Difference". Tastessence. Archived from the original on 2013-01-19. Retrieved 2011-04-15.
  10. ^ Figoni, Paula I. (2010). How baking works. John Wiley & Sons. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-470-39267-6.
  11. ^ "The Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 – Guidance Notes" (PDF). Food Standards Agency. 1 June 2008. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 December 2011. Retrieved 29 March 2012.
  12. ^ Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 40a), Quote: "It is impossible to obtain a clean, white bread without moistening [the grain]" (Hebrew: אי אפשר נקיה בלא לתיתה).
  13. ^ Saleh, Y. (1979). Questions & Responsa 'Pe'ulath Ṣadīq' (in Hebrew). Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Jerusalem. p. 109. OCLC 122773689.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) (OCLC 122773689), responsum no. 171
  14. ^ Qafih, Y. (1982). Halichot Teman (Jewish Life in Sanà) (in Hebrew). Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute. p. 15. ISBN 965-17-0137-4. OCLC 863513860.
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  16. ^ Gaimani, Aharon (2018), "Scholars of Yemen Answer Questions of Rabbi A.I. Kook", in Rachel Yedid; Danny Bar-Maoz (eds.), Ascending the Palm Tree: An Anthology of the Yemenite Jewish Heritage, Rehovot: E'ele BeTamar, p. 115, ISBN 978-965-7121-33-7, OCLC 1041776317
  17. ^ a b c d e f Reinhart, Peter (2001). The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-158008-268-6.
  18. ^ a b c d "Different Flour Types". Food Network. Archived from the original on 2018-01-05. Retrieved 2018-01-04.
  19. ^ Self-rising flour Archived 2011-06-16 at the Wayback Machine -Retrieved 2011-04-15
  20. ^ Nigella Lawson Archived 2021-04-12 at the Wayback Machine -Retrieved 2021-03-13
  21. ^ a b Cooper R (Mar 29, 2015). "Re-discovering ancient wheat varieties as functional foods". J Tradit Complement Med. 5 (3): 138–43. doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2015.02.004. PMC 4488568. PMID 26151025.
  22. ^ Tovoli F, Masi C, Guidetti E, Negrini G, Paterini P, Bolondi L (Mar 16, 2015). "Clinical and diagnostic aspects of gluten related disorders". World J Clin Cases. 3 (3): 275–84. doi:10.12998/wjcc.v3.i3.275. PMC 4360499. PMID 25789300.
  23. ^ Akobeng AK, Thomas AG (June 2008). "Systematic review: tolerable amount of gluten for people with coeliac disease". Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 27 (11): 1044–52. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2036.2008.03669.x. PMID 18315587. S2CID 20539463.
  24. ^ See JA, Kaukinen K, Makharia GK, Gibson PR, Murray JA (Oct 2015). "Practical insights into gluten-free diets". Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 12 (10): 580–91. doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2015.156. PMID 26392070. S2CID 20270743.
  25. ^ a b "Guidelines to Prevent Cross-Contamination of Gluten-free Foods" (PDF). Food Safety Authority of Ireland. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-05. Retrieved Dec 20, 2015.
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  28. ^ The Grocer's Encyclopedia - Encyclopedia of Foods and Beverages Archived 2010-02-12 at Archive-It. By Artemas Ward. New York. 1911.
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  30. ^ "Bulk Walnuts | Wholesale Macadamia Products | Cashews | Seeds | Golden Peanut". Archived from the original on 2010-12-08. Retrieved 2010-11-27. -Peanut flour
  31. ^ Jack Augustus Radley, Industrial Uses of Starch and Its Derivatives, lk 71, 1976, Applied Science Publishers Ltd, ISBN 0 85334 6917, Google'i raamat veebiversioon (vaadatud 30.11.2013) (inglise keeles)
  32. ^ "Idaho Pacific Corporation, The best potatoes that Idaho has to offer". Archived from the original on 2011-09-06. Retrieved 2011-10-31.
  33. ^ "104/1 Determination of Ash in Cereals and Cereal Products". International Association for Cereal Science and Technology. 8 March 2018. Archived from the original on 3 February 2021. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  34. ^ "Supertoinette page in French on flour types". Archived from the original on 2011-11-01. Retrieved 2011-10-31.
  35. ^ a b Polskie Normy: PN-A-74022:2003 Przetwory zbożowe. Mąka pszenna (Wheat flour) and PN-A-74032: 2002 Przetwory zbożowe. Mąka żytnia (Rye flour).
  36. ^ Williamson, George (2002). "Introduction to Dust Explosions". Archived from the original on 2004-12-23. Retrieved 2006-10-29.
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  39. ^ "Make Paper Mache Glue". Kidspot. Archived from the original on 10 July 2017. Retrieved 8 July 2017.