Everything you need to know about wheat flour

Did you know? Flour doesn't contain gluten. It's created when two proteins found in flour are mixed with water.
Did you know? Flour doesn't contain gluten. It's created when two proteins found in flour are mixed with water. Photo: James Brickwood

The grain grind

Flour can go rancid, especially if it's wholegrain. Keep it at its best by storing it in a sealed container in a cool, dark place. You can also extend its life by keeping it in the fridge or freezer. Family-owned miller Laucke has perfected a wholegrain-milling process that doesn't burst the oil sacs within the germ, thus extending the shelf life.

On the shelf

Wholegrain flour contains all parts of the wheat berry – the tiny germ (embryo), endosperm (the starchy bulk) and bran (a fibrous outer shell) – while white flour is composed of just the endosperm. White flour is lower in nutrients but lasts longer because the oil germ is the part more likely to spoil. Self-raising flour contains added baking powder.

Feed the world

You'd think flour was evil the way people talk about gluten. But it's a nutritious food that provides 19 per cent of all calories consumed worldwide. Gluten gives flour products their structure and lift – its absence accounts for the dense heaviness of gluten-free bread.

Hard decision

Flour can be "hard" (high in gluten and great for bread) or "soft" (low in gluten and better for cakes). Italian pasta recipes often call for 00 flour: traditionally, this was extra fine but these days you can generally substitute with regular plain flour.

A bunch of flours

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Food writer and cooking teacher Julia Busuttil Nishimura swears by Caputo flours. Imported from Naples and available in specialty food stores, they are the gold standard for pizza, pasta, gnocchi, baking and bread. Chef Stefano Manfredi is a big fan of Laucke Mills' Wallaby flour from South Australia for his prolific pizza making. It is available in supermarkets.

Flour power

Great bakers often sell great flour; seek out something special and appreciate its flavour in simple dishes such as pancakes, scones or tortillas. Not hungry? Sprinkle a little flour onto a clean cloth
and use it to buff stainless steel to a gleaming sheen.

Health check

If you suffer from coeliac disease, flour-based products will damage the lining of your small intestine. Otherwise, wholegrain flour is a great source of energy, protein, iron, fibre and B vitamins. Sure, don't live on it, but don't think of it as the devil's powder.