One thing we’ll always be thankful for—bakeries. There’s few things as enjoyable as stepping inside a local shop, taking a deep breath, and inhaling the sweet, rich scent of breads, cookies, and pastries. Just thinking about it is enough to get the mouth watering. But with so many options you can choose from to take home—hence, the idea of a “baker’s dozen”—there are just as many choices of flours.
All dough essentially starts out as raw flour, which is the result of finely grinding up wheat. As diets and resources have evolved over the years, other grains, like oats, have been used to make new kinds of flours that can be used in various ways for different results and different diet restrictions. Here we compare the more traditional wheat flour and its contemporary, oat flour.
More about wheat flour
- Carbohydrates, a macronutrient, which the body needs a good amount of for usable energy
- Protein, another macronutrient that is the building block of human skin, hair, nails, muscles, and tissues, and is essential for proper function. Wheat flour has more protein than highly-processed white flour.
- B vitamins, which are micronutrients, that help convert food to energy and promote better metabolism
- Lignans, antioxidants which may help support the immune system and regulate hormones. Lignans also have soluble and insoluble fiber to aid in digestion. Soluble fiber takes longer to digest and keeps the stomach feeling fuller for longer amounts of time; insoluble fiber moves through the intestines more quickly, helping keep the digestive system regular and preventing constipation.
On the flipside, wheat flour also contains gluten, and not everyone can eat gluten. In fact, about 1 in 133 people has celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where a reaction to gluten damages the intestines. Gluten sensitives are also abundant, and may cause a number of uncomfortable digestive issues. Still others voluntarily cut gluten from their diets as a personal preference, choosing alternatives like oat flour or almond flour.
What is wheat flour good for?
Wheat flour’s increased amounts of protein keep it from rising or spreading, so it’s not an ideal choice for leavened products like bread or cakes that would require a mix of wheat and white flours to rise. But it’s perfectly fine for making flatbreads and pita products.
Types of wheat flour
There are two types of wheat flour: red and white. While nutritionally similar, they taste very different, and can be used to change the flavor profile of baked goods.
Red wheat flour
Red wheat flour is hearty and heavy. It’s also more bitter, getting its flavor from tannins and phenolic acid. The bitterness is worth it, though since tannins have been linked in some studies to increased metabolism and can help protein digestion, and phenolic acid is thought to protect against stroke and coronary heart disease.
White wheat flour
White wheat flour doesn’t have the tannins or phenolic acid of red wheat. What it lacks in color it also lacks in bitter flavor, though, making white wheat naturally sweeter. That means baked goods made with white wheat need fewer sweeteners to taste good.
Where is wheat flour on the food pyramid?
Wheat falls under the grain category, but only some wheat flours are whole grains. Whole grains always have three parts, each with its own nutritional value:
- The bran. This is the skin of the grain kernel. Packed with fiber and B vitamins, the bran is insoluble, so it helps prevent constipation. The bran can be sold separately and used as a breakfast cereal, or as a healthy additive to get more nutrients into recipes.
- The germ. The germ often gets a bad rap. It’s the fattiest part of the grain kernel, so it’s often discarded during milling. Despite the fat, it’s a great source of iron, and has more protein and B vitamins to offer. Whole grains keep the germ, making them healthier options than their refined counterparts.
- The endosperm. The endosperm is where most of the ground flour comes from. It’s packed with carbohydrates, iron, and protein, and even very refined flours, like white flours, keep this part of the kernel.
All three parts are needed for wheat to be considered a whole grain. Each section holds vital nutrients that keep the body going. Cutting away a portion of the kernel makes the flour less nutritious. Whole wheat flour uses the whole kernel and keeps these nutrients intact, while regular wheat flour just uses the endosperm.
Benefits of wheat flour
Wheat flour is very easy to come by, with virtually no effort needed on the shopper’s part to find it. It’s widely available at almost all grocery stores, so there’s no need to scour the Internet for a specialized ingredient.
More about oat flour
As the name suggests, oat flour is made from grinding up oats instead of traditional wheat. Oat flour is a little harder to find, and can usually be sought out in health food shops and specialty stores. It has virtually all the same nutrients as wheat flour.
The Whole Grains Council states that oats also have the following extra nutrients and benefits that give them a healthy boost over wheat flour:
- Increase in Peptide Y-Y. Diets of whole grains, like oats, are shown to increase the appetite-controlling substance Peptide Y-Y. This is the chemical that tells the brain the stomach is full and signals the body to stop eating. More Peptide Y-Y can mean that you feel fuller faster.
- Whole grains like oats have been studied for their ability to control blood pressure and lower bad cholesterol.
- Whole grains like oats also are seen to help Improve insulin sensitivity because it takes longer for the body to digest them, mitigating blood sugar spikes.
What is oat flour good for?
Since oat flour is generally gluten-free, it won’t make leavened products without a little help. It can be combined with other flours however, like whole wheat flour, to make baked goods rise. Oat flour differs from wheat flour in other ways, too:
- Stays fresh longer
- Retains more moisture
- May feel heavier
- Is more crumbly, which is why many use it to spread over fruit crisps
Where is oat flour on the food pyramid?
Oats are always whole grains, meaning the bran, germ, and endosperm are all intact. Eating the full oat kernel gives a beneficial boost of nutrition.
Benefits of oat flour
Oat flour shares many of the nutritional benefits of wheat flour, while tasting a bit nuttier and being mostly gluten-free (oats are gluten-free themselves, but can be cross-contaminated with products that contain gluten during the milling process). Therefore, it’s best to check the labels to make sure oats are processed in a completely gluten-free facility to prevent contamination.
A final note on oat flour and wheat flour
Choosing which flour to eat depends on each person’s needs. A person with celiac disease should avoid wheat flour and stick to the oats. Or, substitute in other gluten-free flours, like potato flour or almond flour. After all, having a gluten allergy doesn’t mean people can’t enjoy the food they eat. Gluten-free baked goods can be just as delicious, filling, and easy to make as their gluten-containing counterparts.
On the other hand, people who are choosing not to eat gluten can dabble with wheat flour when they need dough to rise. Some people prefer the lighter, less-crumbly texture of doughs made from wheat flour.
It’s really up to each baker to determine what their needs are for a given dish. With all the different types of flour available and with new recipes published online almost daily, it’s impossible not to find new types to try.
Cooking with oat flour
Feeling inspired to try out some alternative types of flour and grains? Give these recipes a try!
This delightful dish takes oats and puts them center-stage. A great alternative to boxed breakfast cereal, this dish blends sweet coconut, hearty oats, and nutty almonds together with maple syrup. The result is a crunchy, naturally sweet cereal bar sure to make mornings even better.
Another fun breakfast alternative to try. Stick with superstar whole grain oats to make these cookies that get the day started right with a boost of protein and a bit of natural sugar from raw honey. Pair with a smoothie to get even more superfoods in your system.
Try grinding up oats at home to make an in-house oat flour with a thicker texture. Also spicy with a bit of sweetness, these muffins are great for a morning meal or an afternoon snack—because oats are nutritious no matter what time it is.