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 dietalms 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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