There are various types of flour that are used for cooking and baking depending on the desired end product. These flours differ in coarseness, amount of gluten, and presence of additives or raising agents. One of these is all–purpose flour.
This flour is a common ingredient in many recipes worldwide due to its long shelf life and availability. You may be wondering whether all-purpose flour is the same as wheat or plain flour.
This article covers all that you need to know about this flour.
So, what is All-Purpose flour?
All-purpose flour is the same as plain flour. These are just different names referring to the same thing and are used interchangeably. As its name points out, it is ideal for almost all purposes and in many recipes. However, it does not perform an excellent job in making everything.
What is All-Purpose Flour?
All-purpose flour is the most versatile, commonly used, and readily available flour in the market. It is also known as AP or plain flour.
The names vary in different countries; all-purpose is widely known in the US, while plain is mainly used in Australia and the UK.
All-purpose flour has no particular use and is used to make different things. Some people use it for everything they make or bake and get quality results.
This flour is made from a mixture of high gluten hard wheat and low gluten soft wheat. It has a moderate amount of protein: between 9-11%.
This protein content lies between the bread and pastry flours and is usually a blend of the two.
The flour has a natural yellowish color. Some brands bleach the plain flour to obtain the bright white color. It is then fortified to replace the nutrients stripped during bleaching.
It comes into two forms: bleached and non-bleached. Bleached flour may contain chemicals such as alloxan and benzoyl peroxide, which are added in the bleaching process.
Although the main components of all-purpose flour are starch and protein, the protein in any given brand varies.
This variation is crucial because the more protein in flour, the greater its ability to form gluten. Gluten is the protein network that gives baked products a structure.
How is All-Purpose Flour Made?
All-purpose flour is milled from the starchy part of the wheat grain (endosperm). It does not contain bran (the outer covering) or the germ (sprouting part).
Removing the oil -contributing germ reduces the antioxidants, B vitamins, healthy unsaturated fats, and phytochemicals. It also increases the shelf life of the flour.
Getting rid of the bran reduces the fiber content of the flour. Bran comprises 76% of wheat’s vitamins and minerals; hence the nutrition content of plain flour is low.
During the milling process, carotenoids in the wheat (pigments in wheat) give the flour a yellowish color. Most customers find it unappealing in this state.
Although the yellow hue fades off to white with exposure to oxygen, some manufacturers opt to quicken the process by using bleaching agents. It is also expensive to age the flour naturally.
The bleaching process changes the texture, taste, appearance, and nutrition profile of the final product.
The most common bleaching agents used in the US include Chlorine gas, ascorbic acid, potassium bromate, and benzoyl peroxide.
After bleaching, the lost B vitamins (thiamin and niacin), calcium, and iron are added back in form of fortification.
Fortification is a legal requirement for white and brown flours in some countries.
All-purpose flour is packaged in 5-pound bags, which is equivalent to 17 & 1/2 cups. Other packages include 10, 50, and 100-pound sacks.
What is All-Purpose Flour Used for?
Although it is advisable to use the right kind of flour for specific products: gluten-rich flour for structured and chewy bread and low gluten flour for dense cakes and pastries, all-purpose flour can give you satisfactory results.
But is it healthy?
However, using all purpose flour to make bread will not provide you the same chewiness as high-gluten white flour.
All-Purpose flour is ideal for making scones, biscuits, pie crusts, pancakes, muffins, cookies, pizza dough, and sauces. It is also excellent in thickening sauces, gravies, or stews and coating foods such as meat and vegetables intended for sautéing or frying.
It is the perfect type of flour to use when a recipe does not specify any class of flour. Nutrients such as iron, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin are added back to the flour after milling flour during fortification.
All-purpose flour absorbs liquids such as water and milk slowly; hence, the dough remains stable in the baking process.
Types of All-Purpose Flour
Bleached flour is aged rapidly with chlorine dioxide gas or other agents. The bleaching process also removes some chemicals that hinder gluten development.
The flour has finer grain and absorbs more liquid than unbleached flour. It is ideal for making pie crusts, cookies, pancakes, waffles, and quick bread.
Unbleached flour is matured naturally to lighten up the natural yellow pigment in newly milled flour. It has more proteins than bleached flour and is perfect for making cream puffs, Danish pastry, Yorkshire pudding, yeast bread, strudel, and popovers.
Unbleached all-purpose flour provides a tougher texture and denser grain in baked products, while bleached flour creates a soft texture.
Can You Make All Purpose Flour at Home?
Grinding the starchy endosperm into fine flour gives you simple and basic flour that you can turn into all-purpose flour.
You can create all-purpose flour by combining cake flour and bread flour. Many people prefer a 1:1 ratio, but you can try out any other combination depending on the level of protein you want.
It is slightly courser than pastry and cake flours.
Is All-Purpose Flour Healthy?
So, there’s already so much said about all-purpose flour and how it can practically make your baked goods chewy. But is it healthy?
One thing you must note is that, All-purpose flour is acidic and has low nutrition content. In addition, it is not beneficial to your health because the bran and wheat germ are removed from it.
The fibers which are also crucial for digestion are absent. And then again, it is high in calories.
There have also been reported concerns of mold contamination in all purpose wheat flours.
Products made from all-purpose flour also have a high glycemic index and can cause a rise in blood sugar. It also puts pressure on the pancreas since it has to release more insulin to regulate the glycemic index levels.
Consuming too much all-purpose flour can cause insulin resistance, an increase in bad cholesterol, and consequently obesity. It is not ideal for diabetic people and those with arthritis.
It is also not good for your gut health. It is capable of causing hormonal imbalance in your body, mood swings, and weight gain.
Loss of all nutrients during processing makes it acidic in nature. Acidic foods cause harm to bones by striping of calcium and reducing bone density.
Although all-purpose is enriched or fortified, the nutritional benefits do not match those of whole wheat flour.
Healthier Substitutes/Alternatives of All-Purpose Flour
You can substitute all-purpose flour with healthier alternatives such as alkaline flours. Alkaline flours are healthier than most other flours and that is why I use and recommend them.
Most alkaline flours such as quinoa flour has been shown to reduce bad cholesterol and lessen inflammation.
Other alkaline flours such as amaranth and chickpea flour are gluten-free and easy to digest.
The fiber allows digestion to occur slowly, which creates a more gradual and less intense reaction in your blood sugar levels.
Other healthier alkaline substitutes include:
- Spelt flour
- Teff flour
- Amaranth flour
- Oat flour
- Wild rice flour
- Coconut flour, and
- Rye flour.
These alternatives have a good amount of fiber and nutrients compared to plain flour. It is advisable to consume food made from plain flour in moderation.
Coconut flour is milled from dried and ground-up coconuts. It is rich in digestible carbohydrates, fiber, and healthy fats. It is ideal for keto and paleo diets.
Oat flour is milled from ground-up rolled oats. It is higher in protein and fiber compared to plain or all-purpose flour.
Amaranth flour is high in protein than wheat flour and any other gluten-free flour.
How to Properly Store All-Purpose Flour
Once opened, it can be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry place for about 6 to 8 months. Warm and damp conditions provide a breeding ground for insects.
It should also be packed in vapor-proof materials since it readily absorbs odors. That’s why you should not store it near food or products with strong odors such as onions and soap powder.
You can also store it for several years in a freezer. The flour does not freeze solid, but it is advisable to take it out of a freezer a few hours before using it to bring it down to room temperature.
All-purpose flour is an ideal choice for all-around baking needs if you are just a home cook. Eliminating the germ increases its shelf life, makes it simple to use over the other types of flour.
It is not“whole” flour and contains fewer nutrients. It has fewer proteins than bread flour and more proteins than pastry flour.