If you’ve fallen in love with home baking, you may find this guide to whole grain flours useful, along with links to recipes for using them. Few sensory experiences offer more pleasure than the wonderful flavors and aromas of homemade baked goods. Or better yet, the hearty, whole-grain baked goods.
Whole wheat flour is just one of several players in this healthful field that includes barley, oat, rye, and spelt flour, among others. Even if you don’t have the time to make your own yeasted bread, quick baked goods can be equally rewarding.
Are whole grain flours better for you?
The nutritional difference between refined and whole grain flours is significant. Refined grains lose their germ and bran, and with them, up to 50 percent of the B vitamins and minerals, and most of the vitamin E content.
Whole grains are an excellent source of minerals, including iron, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium. In cases where the bran is completely removed, much of the fiber content is lost. An excellent source of complex carbohydrates, whole grains and their flours can be one of the cornerstones of a sound, varied diet.
The joys of home baking
Home baking creates an opportunity to make treats that are lower in fat and sugar and higher in fiber than what you’d buy in a store or a bakery.
If you have children, it’s a great way to get some whole-grain goodness into their growing bodies. Children love to bake, so it’s a perfect bonding experience. And as parents know, kids are more likely to eat something they’ve helped make.
Encouraging family members to join in the baking is a fabulous way to chase off winter doldrums. Warm, wholesome treats fresh from the oven nourish the body, soul, and senses all at once.
Buying and storing whole grain flours
Where to buy: Most natural foods stores and co-ops carry an array of basic whole flours; well-stocked ones will also offer less common choices, such as oat, barley, and amaranth flours.
Online sources are good bets, too. Purchase your whole-grain flours from sources where you are confident there is a rapid turnover, to ensure freshness. Bob’s Red Mill is a great source for all kinds of specialty flours.
You’ll notice that many of the flours and meals offered in natural-food stores are labeled stone-ground. This is the traditional method of grinding grains with a stone mill. The grains are ground at a lower speed, generating less heat and thereby retaining more nutrients.
When to refrigerate: Because whole grains flours retain their natural oils when milled, they don’t keep as long as their refined counterparts. Refrigerate whole grain flours that you plan to have on hand for more than two months.
During warm months, it is best to refrigerate them at all times. If summer rolls around and you have little inclination to bake, you can even freeze flours in tightly lidded containers. Otherwise, for normal use, keep in a cool, dry place in tightly lidded jars or containers.
A good practice is not to buy more flour than you think you can use up within 2 to 3 months. Buy no more than 1-pound bags of unusual flours that may be used only in small quantities or infrequently. It’s especially important to keep flours dry since they absorb moisture easily.
Making the most of whole grain flours
When using flours other than certain varieties of wheat, keep in mind that these have little ability to rise on their own. But by replacing 25% to 30% of the wheat flour in leavened breads, or up to 50% in other baked goods, you can enhance their flavor and nutritional content without diminishing their ability to rise.
Still, expect whole-grain baked goods to be denser and nuttier, and not as highly-risen, as baked goods made with refined flours. Fortunately, it’s a taste that’s easy to acquire.
Try some of the following flours in combination with wheat flour in muffins, rolls, quick breads, and yeasted breads, or in combination with whole wheat pastry flour in cakes, scones, cookies, and brownies. For flatbreads and griddlecakes, you may experiment with proportions, or substitute all of the wheat flour with an alternative flour.
Whole Grain Flour Varieties
This list may not contain 100% of all whole-grain flours, but these are the most-used varieties. And note, these are flours milled from grains, so this list won’t include those made from legumes or nuts (like garbanzo flour, soy flour, almond flour, and the like).
All the recipes linked to below are vegan.
Milled from the exceptionally nutritious seed crop that was long ago the staple food of the ancient Aztecs, amaranth flour has a distinct, nutty flavor and aroma. Combine with wheat flour or kamut flour, or for wheat-free baking, amaranth flour teams well with a lighter-textured flours like barley or sorghum. Here’s some more in-depth info on grain amaranth and amaranth flour.
This delicate flour contributes to a moist, cake-like crumb when combined with wheat flour. Low in gluten, use in combination with wheat flour for baking; but used alone, it works well to make tender pancakes on its own.
A dark, intense-flavored flour, this is milled from buckwheat groats, the seed of a plant that is technically not a grain per se. Still, buckwheat flour has made its mark in blini (Russian crepes), soba noodles, sourdough breads, and buckwheat pancakes. Learn more in our Guide to Buckwheat Groats and Buckwheat Flour.
A revered food with Native American heritage, cornmeal comes in several varieties, including water-ground and stone-ground, as well as several hues—white, yellow, and blue.
The tastiest cornmeal is stone ground and not degerminated, which can be purchased packaged or in bulk. With no gluten at all, cornmeal should be used in conjunction with wheat flour in baked goods that you want to rise at least somewhat, like cornbread and corn muffins. See our Guide to Cornmeal, Corn Flour, and Masa Harina.
One of the latest of ancient grains to be revived for today’s market, einkorn is one of the very oldest forms of cultivated wheat. Like amaranth, quinoa, and spelt, einkorn is taking its place as a nutrition-packed super grain. Its flour yields a light, flavorful result, and is especially good for pastries and cookies, though it can also be used for breads as well.
A relative of durum wheat, kamut was all but lost to its ancient Egyptian heritage until it was revived by a Montana entrepreneur in the 1970s.
Kamut flour is sometimes recommended for those allergic to common wheat varieties. Powdery and mild-flavored, it can be used on its own to yield light-textured baked goods; it’s excellent for flatbread as well.
Soft, delicate oat flour, finely milled from rolled oats, is a welcome addition to many forms of baking. Oat flour can be replaced up to 50% of wheat flour in baking powder-risen recipes, or used completely on its own in cookies, pancakes, and bars. Our Guide to Oats has some extra info on oat flour.
Milled from nutrient-dense quinoa, a revived ancient grain, quinoa flour contributes a tender, moist crumb and adds a rich, nutty flavor and aroma to baked goods. Substitute up to 50% quinoa flour for wheat flour in most any baking powder-risen recipes. Use in well-constructed recipes, it can often be used on its own.
Both white and brown rice flours are available; both have a mild character, but predictably, the latter is more nutritious. The results of rice flour baked goods can be dry and crumbly unless some skill is applied!
It’s just fine when used on its own in sweet pancakes, and is especially good in savory recipes like scallion pancakes and kimchi pancakes. Replace wheat flour with up to 25% rice flour in any baked goods recipe or use in full to keep what you’re making gluten-free.
Dark rye flour, the least refined form of this type of flour, is even more nutritious than whole wheat flour. And who can resist fresh, hearty, rye bread? Equal proportions of rye and wheat flour (any kind of wheat flour, including spelt) can be used in yeasted and quick breads or rolls. Rye flour is also a top choice for use in sourdough breads.
The flour from this gluten free-grain (sometimes known as jowar flour) is mild and slightly sweet. It’s excellent for gluten-free baking, especially for treats that don’t have to rise. Our Guide to Sorghum includes further information on the flour.
One of the most ancient of cultivated wheat varieties, spelt flour has made an impressive comeback. Spelt flour has a flavor and texture similar to that of whole wheat flour, yet more complex. Like wheat flour, it is excellent for use in yeasted breads, where it can be used on its own. See more in our Guide to Spelt Grain and Flour.
The flour milled from the tiny teff seed has been a staple grain crop in Ethiopia for millennia. The main ingredient in injera, the national bread of that country, teff products have slowly made inroads in our country’s natural foods market. Bonus, teff flour is gluten-free.
Try substituting 25% to 30% of wheat flour with assertively-flavored teff flour in baked goods; or, if you love it and want to stay GF, use it in full. Learn more in our Guide to Teff Grain and Teff Flour.
Whole wheat flour
The cornerstone of baking, whole wheat flour is set apart from the others by its high gluten content—that which gives it a superb ability to rise. Whole wheat flour, sometimes referred to as whole wheat bread flour, is milled from hard wheat varieties with a high gluten content.
Whole wheat flour baked goods can be pretty intense when made with 100% whole wheat, so you might want to go 50-50 with a lighter flour like unbleached white or light spelt.
Whole wheat pastry flour
This form of whole wheat flours milled from softer wheat varieties with a lower gluten content and is ideal for muffins and desserts, including cakes and cookies.
See more of this site’s Good Food Guides.