In the past, when you went to the store to buy flour you had one or two options. The classic all-purpose flour graces most of our pantries. But if you have paid attention at the supermarket, you may have noticed many different flours now are available.

In the past, when you went to the store to buy flour you had one or two options. The classic all-purpose flour graces most of our pantries. But if you have paid attention at the supermarket, you may have noticed many different flours now are available.

“Flour” by definition is a finely ground and sifted meal of grains, nuts, seeds, legumes or even vegetables. Traditionally, flour is milled from wheat. All-purpose flour is a refined blend of a couple varieties of wheat, milled without the bran or germ, and enriched with added B vitamins.

Here’s a look at some different flours available and how you might incorporate some into your diet.

Whole-wheat flour: Made from the whole wheat berry, this flour provides more fiber and nutrients than refined flours. But, it heavier and will affect the texture and flavor of baked products. That’s why recipes often use part whole-wheat flour and part all-purpose flour. You can substitute whole-wheat flour for all of the white flour in a recipe, but for best results you might need to add a little extra moisture to the recipe or slightly less flour than the recipe calls for. Baking times may need to be slightly shortened to avoid a drier product. Sifting the flour several times and avoiding over mixing also will help produce a lighter product.

White whole-wheat flour: Have you seen this in the stores? There are breads that now boast “white whole wheat,” as well. This is milled from specially bred white spring wheat that doesn’t contain the red pigment that gives traditional whole-wheat flour its tan color. It has the fiber and nutrients of traditional whole-wheat flour, but a milder taste and lighter color and texture. Substitute the same as you would when using whole-wheat flour.

Cake or pastry flour: This flour is more finely textured, making it good for cakes and pastries, but not acceptable for breads. You now can buy whole-wheat pastry flour, which keeps the fiber along with the delicate texture. When substituting these flours for all-purpose flour, consider using a tablespoon or so more per cup in the recipe.

Rice flour is made from white rice and can be used in baked goods for a tender mouth feel. This is a good choice for those on a gluten-free diet, but because there is no gluten, rice flour can’t be used successfully in breads. Rice flour absorbs more moisture, resulting in a crumblier product. You also can buy brown rice flour to get more nutrients and fiber. However, it does impart a nutty flavor and a grittier texture to baked goods. For best gluten-free baking results, use a blend of rice flour, potato flour and tapioca flour.

Potato flour is ground from whole, dried potatoes. It is high in potassium and a good source of fiber. It is used mostly as a thickener for creamy sauces, soups or gravies. Because of the high starch content, adding some of this flour to bread recipes or meat patties will make them moister. Blend with other flours if used in baking.

Oat flour, ground from whole oats, can be used to replace some of the flour in a recipe. It will add a nutty flavor and denser texture. Oat flour is not for use in baked goods that need to rise unless it is combined with other flours. If you want to try adding oat flour, substitute up to half of the amount of regular flour in quick breads, muffins, pancakes or cakes. Adding 1-2 teaspoons of baking powder per cup of oat flour can help with leavening.

Buckwheat flour is gluten-free because buckwheat is actually a cousin to rhubarb and not related to wheat at all. Buckwheat flour lends a hearty flavor and color to breads, pancakes or pasta. You can substitute equal amounts of buckwheat flour for all purpose flour, but the flavor will definitely change.

There are many other flours available, especially due to the interest in gluten-free baking. Some of those include flours made from almonds, peanuts, amaranth, soy, rye, flaxseed, sorghum, corn, chickpeas, tapioca, fava beans, millet, teff and spelt. Each of these provides unique flavors, textures and benefits when added to baked goods. Gluten-free flour mixes are usually a combination of several types of flours. Because of the higher oil content in whole grain flours, storage is important. Keeping these in the freezer will lengthen their shelf life.

Following is a good guide that will yield the best results if you are just starting to bake with some of these whole grains.

Whole wheat: use up to 50 percent in recipes


light: up to 40 percent

medium: up to 30 percent

dark/pumpernickel: up to 20 percent

Cornmeal: up to 10 percent

Buckwheat: up to 20 percent

Rice: up to 25 percent -30 percent

Nut: up to 25percent – 30 percent

Soy: up to 25 percent

Spelt: up to 100 percent; then either decrease water by 25 percent or increase flour by 25 percent

Oat: up to 25 percent – 30 percent

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.