Flour - the end product
Flour is a natural product made from wheat. The milling process involves separating the three component parts of the wheat seed and milling them between rollers. See here for more details on the milling process. In the UK, about 85% of the flour we consume is milled from homegrown wheat.
In the UK and around the world flour is a versatile and valuable ingredient. It is used in a wide-range of products – from bread, cakes and biscuits to sausages, sauces and even confectionary. It is estimated that around one third of all grocery items in the UK contain flour – all of which would have been milled by one of our members.
As well as keeping that nation fed, flour also helps nourish the nation and is a major contributor to vitamin and mineral intake. For example, the latest tranche of National Diet and Nutrition Survey results released by the government found that flour was the largest contributor to iron intake – higher even than red meat. Flour also contributes around a third of our fibre and calcium intake.
The chart below, with data from McCance and Widdowson (the UK nutrition reference book) shows the enormous contribution flour makes to our vitamin and mineral intake
Types of flour
Flour can be classified by its colour eg wholemeal, brown, white flour. Additionally flour is also categorised by its desired end use – some flour is better for baking bread while other flour better for cakes.
The first classification is based on how much bran and wheat germ is included in with the endosperm in the final flour. The legal definition of wholemeal flour is one that contains 100% of each component of the grain: bran, wheat germ and endosperm. Brown flour is white flour with some but not all of the bran and germ. White flour is made entirely from endosperm.
White flour particles are very fine. This is important because baked products are typically light and fluffy. The lightness is caused by bubbles. Flour particles of wheat bran and wheat germ are less spherical and tend to have jagged edges which can burst the bubbles.
The properties of the flour that determine its best end use are properties taken directly from the wheat. Bread flour needs high levels of protein as this helps the gluten formation. The gluten, with its elastic properties, stabilise and strengthen the bubbles that form and therefore help the loaf stay well risen. On the other hand, cakes and biscuits are light and crumbly and need a flour with less gluten content as the gluten prevents the light texture being produced.
With so many wheat varieties available to UK flour millers the range of flours available is vast, from bread flour to self-raising flour for cakes, plain flour for biscuits. There’s even sauce flour and chapatti flour.
Flour can also be made from other grain or pulses such as buckwheat, rice and rye. As well as being milled from ancient wheat varieties such as spelt and einkorn.
Where does flour end up?
UK millers produce flour for a competitive domestic market, with approximately 65% used for bread making, often delivered to the bakeries by bulk tanker. Pre-packed flour, as seen on supermarket shelves constitutes approximately 5% of the market. Approximately 7% of production is exported annually. Other users of flour include the biscuit and cake industries, starch manufacturers and food ingredients companies.