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Flour is an edible powder which is prepared by grinding different kinds of cereal grains, roots, nuts and seeds. This powdered foodstuff is one of the key ingredients of bread, a staple food for several cultures of the world since the historical timeline. This dense, fine powder is industrially produced by grinding grains between stones or steel wheels. Stone ground flour refers to the starchy edible flour that has been milled by rotating stone wheels. These days, appliance mills like electric or hand cranked mills are also used for producing this foodstuff. The commonest flour recipes are the baked items which are prepared by self-rising the flour which leavening agents. There is a wide range of flours available to the consumers, although the most common of them all is the wheat flour. The next in demand comes is the all-purpose flour which is a blend of gluten and wheat powder. The other varieties are bromated, cake, pastry, bleached or white and graham flour. This powdery, edible foodstuff is also available in special types lie chickpea, chestnut, buckwheat, noodle, rice, rye, corn potato starch, nut, coconut, amaranth, bean and tapioca. The use of these specialty flours may or may not be similar to the traditional wheat flour. Some common flour recipes are tortillas, pizza crust, chickpea flour pancake and coconut muffins.

History of Flour

The word “flour” is a variant of the “flower” word, both of which have been derived from a mother word, an old French term “fleur,” whose literal meaning is “blossom” and figurative meaning is “finest.” In this case, this powdery foodstuff derives its name from the French phrase "fleur de farine," meaning "the finest part of the meal," as because it is prepared by milling the grains and eliminating the unwanted and coarse matters. The earliest flour recipes had been prepared from wheat flour, which was an important part of the North American, North African, European and Middle Eastern cuisines, where the ingredient has been extensively used in preparing baked goods like pastries and breads. Maize has been the main edible flour in the Mesoamerican cuisine since the ancient times and continues to remain the staple ingredient several Latin American flour recipes. Flour preservation was one of the most bothering problems during industrial revolution owing to large transportation distances and slow distribution which impacted the natural shelf life of the foodstuff. So, in the 19th century, the concept of degerminated and heat processed flour was introduced to increase the shelf life of this powder ingredient.

Culinary Uses of Flour

The main culinary use of flour has been in the preparation of baked foods, much of which is accomplished by wheat. Milled corn, nuts, legumes, rice and sometimes even powdered versions of fruits and vegetables are also used in preparing several dishes. Since the flour recipes are different from each other, one cannot always substitute one type of flour with the other as this can ruin the recipe.

Popular Flour Recipes

Bleached flour is mainly used baking pie crusts, quick breads, waffles, pancakes and cookies. The unbleached versions on the other hand are more useful in making yeast breads, puff pastry, Danishes, strudels, éclairs, cream puffs, popovers and Yorkshire puddings. Cake flour is used for making fine textured baked goods like cakes and some varieties cookies, muffins and quick breads. The pastry flours are used for creating tender yet crumbly pastries like brownies and biscuits. Gluten flour recipes like diabetic breads are also popular. For making sauces and gravies, instant flours are a good choice. Rice flour called Mochiko in Japanese, is more common in Asian cooking and is used in preparing traditional delicacies like wraps, flat breads, pancakes, rice cakes and more. The popular flour recipes like Italian puddings and pasta use semolina flour made from durum wheat.

Cuisines Using Flour Recipes

In the Latin American cuisine, amaranth flour is used in making a variety of specialty dishes. In Indian and Pakistani cuisine, atta or whole-grain wheat flours are used for making different kinds of breads like parantha, chapatti, roti and naan. In Southeast Asian cuisine, brown rice is powdered to make edible rice paper delicacies whereas glutinous version is used for preparing tangyuan etc. In the United States, buckwheat flour recipes are common. In Japan, it’s used for making soba noodles and in Russia, it is added as a key ingredient for making blinis or pancakes eaten with caviar. In Brittany, this variety of flour finds use in the foods like crêpes bretonnes. On Indian Hindu festivals like Navaratri and Maha Shivaratri, delicacies like Kuttu Pakora and Kuttu Ki Puri are made with this flour, locally known as Kuttu ka atta. The all-purpose flour recipes like bread, toast and biscuits are popular in almost every cuisine and in Indian and Asian cuisine, this flour has a special place in making desserts, gravies, noodles and other food items. Nut flours made from oily nuts like hazelnut and almond are very popular in baking tortes and other dishes in Central Europe.

Preferable Cooking Methods for Flour

In most cases, the flour is kneaded into dough or is whipped into a batter using a liquid base like water or milk. The amount of liquid base to be added depends on the recipe to be prepared. As a general rule, batters always use more water or milk for a smooth liquid consistency which is completely opposite in the case of dough. Dough is more commonly used in making breads, some of which may require shortening and/or leavening agents like baking soda or yeast. The batters are more useful in making cakes, pastries and crackers. Powdered corn or cornstarch is mainly used as a thickening agent in gravies and soups and sometimes also used in dessert flour recipes like puddings and custards.

Nutritive Value of Flour

Flour is rich in carbohydrates like starches. Some varieties also contain protein, fat and dietary fiber. Minerals like calcium, niacin, zinc and sodium has also been found in different proportion in different flours. While most flours contain gluten, some flours like buckwheat flour doesn’t, which makes it an ideal substitute for people with gluten sensitivity.

Flour Storing Tips

Flour should be stored in sealed containers in a cool and dry place to protect from insects and air contamination. Usually, flours are best used within 6 months of buying.

Flour Trivia

In the medieval days, lamps and candles were forbidden to be used in flour mills as flours are highly flammable.