Wheat Flours – What’s the Difference?

Types of Flour
Types of Flour

Self-rising, cake, pastry, bread. These are only a few of the common types of wheat-based flours found in recipes.

It can be overwhelming to try to figure out what the actual differences are between them, and when to use what types of flour

Most flours you will buy, except for whole-wheat, are what is known as “refined flours,” which means that their germ has been removed during processing. This usually increases the shelf-life to 1-2 years.

Store all flours in air tight containers away from extreme temperature fluctuations. To extend shelf-life, store flours in the fridge or freezer.

The following is a brief summary of the different types of flours. Always make sure you are using the right flour, especially if a recipe specifically calls for a certain type.


  • Most popular form of flour
  • Made from soft and hard wheat
  • Some are “Enriched,”  which means the nutrients stripped out during processing are re-added

Bread Flour

  • Similar to all-purpose but has higher protein and gluten content, which helps when baking yeast breads

Cake Flour

  • Finely milled from soft wheat
  • Higher in starch and lower in protein than bread flour
  • Used for making more tender and delicate products such as cakes, cookies and quick breads
  • To make your own cake flour (measure out 1 Cup of all-purpose flour; remove 2 Tablespoons of flour and replace it with 2 Tablespoons of corn starch; sift together to make sure it is incorporated well)

Pastry Flour

  • Milled from soft wheat
  • Its characteristics fall between all-purpose and cake flour
  • It has less starch but more protein than cake flour
  • Can be used to make cakes, cookies, crackers, and of course pastries

Whole Wheat Flour

  • Milled from whole red flour grains, keeping the bran
  • The presence of bran inhibits gluten development which creates denser products
  • To create lighter, less dense and less strongly flavoured products replace some of the flour with all-purpose
  • Whole wheat has a much shorter shelf-life than flours that do not contain the germ from the seed. Once exposed to air, it begins to oxidize and will only be good for a few months. Storing it in the fridge or freezer will extend the shelf-life

Self-Rising Flour

  • Consists of all-purpose flour with salt and a leavener added
  • Usually 1 Cup of self-rising flour has 1 1/2 Teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 Teaspoon of salt added
  • If using self-rising flour in place of all-purpose in a recipe, be sure to reduce the amount of salt and baking powder asked for in the rest of the recipe
  • Self-rising flour is not recommended for use in yeast bread recipes, but can be used for biscuits and quick breads


  • Made from the coarsely ground endosperm of durum wheat (which is the hardest of all wheat classes)
  • Has the highest protein content of all types of wheat
  • Is best used for making pasta and couscous, but rarely recommended for breads
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