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Whole-Grain Flour Glossary

By Genevieve Ko

Use this guide to incorporate different grains’ flavors and textures into baked goods. (You will need to mix some of them with all-purpose or wheat flour.) Keep these grains fresh by storing them in the freezer for up to six months.


WHEAT FLOURS
Wheat contains the gluten needed to give rise to baked sweets. All-purpose flour can be combined with whole-wheat to prevent a dense crumb, or omitted for a more toothsome texture and assertive flavor.
All whole wheat is milled with the bran, endosperm, and germ.


Whole Wheat
Medium grind from hard wheat berries.

Taste: A pronounced earthiness with raw-sugar over-tones and a tannic near-bitterness similar to that of red wine or coffee. “White whole wheat” (from white berries) is milder than “traditional” (from red).

Use For: Pleasantly chewy bread, cookies, brownies, and sticky buns.

 

Whole-Wheat Pastry
Fine grind from soft red or white wheat berries, which are lower in gluten.

Taste: Like regular whole wheat.

Use For: Tender crusts, cakes, biscuits, and pancakes.

 

Graham
Coarse grind from hard red wheat berries.

Taste: Rustic, with faint honey notes.

Use For: Nubby, crisp crackers and crusts. It requires more liquids in batters and doughs before baking.

 

Spelt
Fine to coarse grinds from an ancient wheat predecessor. It can be substituted 1 to 1 for all- purpose flour.

Taste: Downright sweet and mild; reminiscent of toasted walnuts.

Use For: Anything white flour can do, with a very soft and delicate crumb. (There’s a misconception that spelt is gluten-free, but it is low-glycemic.) It readily absorbs liquid, so proportions of liquids may have to increase; batters may need time to absorb liquids before baking.

 

HEARTY GRAINS
Barley and rye are most commonly associated with a malty flavor. Both have small amounts of gluten and for structure require the addition of all-purpose or another wheat flour.

 

Barley
Fine grind from hulled barley with the inner bran still intact.

Taste: A caramelized nuttiness similar to browned butter's, with a tang like that in pale ale.

Use For: Smooth and buttery cookies, cakes, quick breads, and crusts. Higher proportions
may cause baked goods not to rise and to crumble.

 

Rye
Pumpernickel bread may be sour, but the flour it’s baked with isn’t. Rye flour is milled with the germ, bran, and endosperm, then sifted. Lighter varieties have more of the germ and bran sifted out and are sweeter than darker ryes like pumpernickel.

Taste: Echoes of malted milk with the depth of cooked sugar. The darker the variety, the stronger the flavor.

Use For: Tender breads and crusts, cookies, crunchy crackers, and crisp-outside and tender-inside biscuits, scones, waffles, and pancakes. Higher proportions may result in a gummy, dense crumb.


Oat
Fine to coarse grinds from whole oats.

Taste: Milky with a mild sweetness.

Use For: Tender and chewy muffins, cookies, scones, biscuits, pancakes, and waffles, when combined with other grains or white flour. It retains moisture and can result in wet gumminess if used in high proportions.


Buckwheat
Fine to coarse grinds from fruit seeds related to sorrel and rhubarb. Darker flours contain more of the whole kernel.

Taste: Nutty, with the mineral quality of mushrooms and dry red wine.

Use For: Smooth and chewy low-rising griddle favorites like pancakes, crepes, blini, and waffles, when mixed with wheat flour.

 


ANCIENT GRAINS
Technically, not all of these centuries-old options are grains, but they can function as such in baking when combined with wheat or other grains.

Amaranth
Fine, powdery grind from the seeds of a leafy plant.

Taste: Distinct, assertive grassiness, reminiscent of the scent of hay.

Use For: Dense and nearly sticky muffins, cookies, cakes, pancakes, and waffles, when combined with other grains.


Quinoa
Fine grind from the seeds of a leafy plant.

Taste: Faintly grassy, with hints of toasted sesame seeds.

Use For: Moist and chewy cookiesandmuffins,cakes, and quick breads with a fine crumb, when combined with other grains.


Millet
Powdery-fine grind from ancient grains with entire germs intact.

Taste: Mild and sweet, with a subtle nuttiness.

Use For: Delicate cakes and cakey cookies, when mixed with wheat flour.

Comments (1)

  • jacsmama 23 Feb, 2014

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Grains, gluten, what is spelt, what is ancient grain...finally the mystery is unfolded! I copied & pasted this into a chart that now hangs inside my baking cupboard door. Now I know what I am reading on the labels, now I know what to buy & now I know how to change recipes. Thank you, I love you guys!