Answers to Your Most Burning Questions About Flour: A Hummingbird Flour Guide

Answers to Your Most Burning Questions About Flour: A Hummingbird Flour Guide

If you’re baking, then we'll bet you have questions about all the flour options available and their best uses. We dug up some good answers to your most frequently asked questions and valuable details about the flours we offer.

Protein content is the primary differentiator in flours. More protein equals more
gluten, which gives whatever you are making more strength. Strength allows for greater volume and a chewier texture. Doughs made from high-protein flours are both more elastic (stretch further) and more extensible (hold their shape better) — desirable qualities in bread where a firm structure is important, but this same quality can be undesirable in pastries and biscuits, where the goal is flakiness or tenderness.

Red vs White Wheat: The name comes from the bran, which is the outer shell of the wheat grain. Red wheat has more tannins, which makes the color darker and gives it a slightly bitter, “wheatier” flavor than white. Red wheat has a higher protein content than white, which matters because protein is what affects wheat’s ability to develop gluten. White wheat has lower protein with a light color.

Hard vs Soft Wheat: Hard wheat grows with harder endosperm, the protein-rich part of the wheat kernel. Hard Wheat has a higher protein content than soft wheat. Soft wheat is softer, with lower protein content and a finer texture.

Spring vs Winter Wheat: Spring wheat is planted in the spring and harvested in late summer or early fall. Winter Wheat is planted in the fall, lives through the winter and is harvested in late spring or early summer. Spring wheat tends to have higher protein than winter wheat. 

Whole grain vs Refined: Whole grains are ground or milled from the whole unprocessed grains. Whole wheat is wheat milled with all the bran, germ and endosperm remaining in the flour. Whole-wheat flour tends to be high in protein, but its gluten-forming ability is compromised by the bran and germ — just one of the reasons whole-wheat flour tend to produce heavier, denser baked goods. For refined flours, all or some of the bran and germ are removed in the milling process. This removal leaves the flour finer and improves shelf life but strips the wheat of some nutrients and flavor.

Hummingbird Flour Guide


Cake Flour: This flour has the lowest protein content (5-8%). The relative lack of gluten-forming proteins makes cake flour ideal for tender baked goods, such as cakes (of course), but also biscuits, muffins and scones. Cake flour is generally chlorinated, a bleaching process that further weakens the gluten proteins and, just as importantly, alters the flour’s starch to increase its capacity to absorb more liquid and sugar, and thus ensure a moist cake. 

Pastry Flour: An unbleached flour made from soft wheat, with protein levels somewhere between cake flour and all-purpose flour (8-9%). Pastry flour strikes the ideal balance between flakiness and tenderness, making it perfect for pies, tarts and many cookies.

All-Purpose Flour: If a recipe calls simply for “flour,” it’s calling for all-purpose flour. Milled from a mixture of soft and hard wheat, with moderate protein content in the 10-12% range, all-purpose flour is a staple among staples. While not necessarily good for all purposes, it is the most versatile of flours, capable of producing flaky pie crusts, fluffy biscuits and chewy breads.

Bread Flour: With a protein content of 12-14%, bread flour is the strongest of all flours, providing the most structural support. This is especially important in yeasted loaves, where a strong gluten network is required to contain the CO2 gases produced during fermentation. The extra protein doesn’t just make for better volume and a chewier crumb; it also results in more browning in the crust.


Grain Flours with Gluten: There are many other grains that contain gluten that can be milled into flour. Spelt, Rye, Barley, Farro, Triticale and Kamut are a few.

Gluten-Free Flours: There are also many grains that do not naturally contain gluten that are milled into flour. Buckwheat, Amaranth, Teff, Oats, Quinoa, Corn, Millet, Arrowroot, Flax, White and Brown Rice, Soy and Tapioca are the more common grains. Please be aware, however, that the fact that these grains are naturally gluten-free does not guarantee that the flour is 100% free of gluten because when they are milled on equipment that is also used to mill wheat, gluten can be inadvertently introduced.

This information just scratches the surface of all the interesting and useful information there is to know about flour. There are many books and websites full of details and nuances to these points that have been invaluable to us as we have mixed, proofed and kneaded the dough in our flour learning journey.  We encourage you to research online and to share your favorite tips and tricks in the comments. You can also click to download our Hummingbird Flour Guide, above.

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