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What is Flour?
Flour is one of staple ingredients of food in many developed as well as developing countries. It is prepared by grinding the cereal grains and other starch-rich edible plants in a fine manner. In common terms, it is known as 'wheat flour', as it is largely made of wheat. Other kinds of flour that we consume include, maize or corn, barley, rye, ground legumes, soy, nuts, etc. Flour contains a high amount of starch as well as proteins known as glutens. It can be produced by grinding the roots of many edible plants like cassava, taro and arrowroot.

Types of Flour
Wheat remains the basic source from which flour can be produced, although there are other grains as well from which flour can be obtained. The various types of flour are enumerated as follows:
  • Wheat Flour: It is a type of flour which is produced by milling or grinding the grains of common wheat. The bran of the grain is partly removed, while the rest is pulverized to a comfortable degree of fineness. The types of wheat flour are as follows:
    • Plain Flour: Prepared with hard and soft content, this type of flour can be either bleached and unbleached. Unbleached flour is that which bleaches naturally with the passage of time. And bleached flour is one wherein the flour is treated with chemicals. The protein content in bleached flour is less as compared to unbleached flour. The plain flour should be stored in an air tight container to retain its freshness for at least 8 months
    • Cake Flour: It is prepared using soft flour and is milled in a fine manner. It has a low amount of gluten and is ideally suitable for making soft textured cakes and cookies. The level of gluten should be kept at a low rate as a high gluten content makes the cake very tough
    • Bread Flour: Bread floor is produced by blending hard wheat that has a high content of protein. It also has a high gluten content. It contains about 12 to 14% protein and is made use of primarily by the commercial bakeries for making cakes, pastries, etc.
    • Self Rising Flour: Also known as phosphated flour, it is a white wheat flour, and is sold in the market with the pre-addition of chemical leavening agents. It is mainly used in making biscuits and quick breads
    • Pastry Flour: It contains a high amount of gluten as compared to cake flour but comparatively low as compared to the all purpose flour. It also contains about 8-9% of protein and can be used in making cookies, pastries, etc.
  • Corn Flour: It is yet another form of flour which is obtained by milling the dried corn in a very fine manner. It is milled from the whole kernel, and is used in making breads and other baked items. The corn flour is either in yellow or white color
  • Rye Flour: It is produced from the hard cereal grass and contains less amount of gluten than an all purpose flour. It is usually heavier and darker in color than other flours
  • Rice Flour: It comes in the form of glutinous flour and brown flour. The glutinous flour is sticky in nature and is used in Southeast and East Asian cuisines. The brown flour is widely used in South-East Asian cuisines. Many of the edible rice paper can be made of this brown rice flour.

History of Flour
Flour has been manufactured by mankind since the pre-historic times. The traditional method of grinding the flour grains was through the process of manual stone grinding. Later on, the millstone was developed to ease the challenge posed by the stone grinding process. This were either operated by humans or animals, but took less time as compared to the manual stone grinding process. Later on, wind mills were also introduced in Europe to power the millstones in the 12th century, thereby enabling a much faster rate of flour production.

Constituents of Flour
Flour contains a large proportion of starch, along with lipids and proteins like glutens, which are elastic and strong in nature. These glutens form a network in the dough, made from the flour, and thereby trap the gases which are formed in the process by yeast and other leavening agents. It also contains various health nutrients like calcium carbonate, iron, thiamine and nicotine acid.

How is Flour Produced?
Flour is made or produced either through stone milling or grinding process. One of the most ancient processes, it involves the use of stone grinding in which the flour grains are placed between the stones or steel wheels of the grinding mill. The revolving stone wheels are turned over the stationary stone wheels, either vertically or horizontally, with the grain in-between the wheels. This process is continued till the flour grains are finely powdered.
The wheat kernel, if the flour is made of wheat, is grinded in the stone grinding process. This kernel consists of three parts, namely, the bran, which is the outer covering of the grain, the germ, which is embryo present inside the kernel and the endosperm, which is that part of the kernel which makes white flour. During the process of milling, these three parts are separated and again combined to produce different types of flour.

One of the modern methods of grinding flour is by using a hand grinder. As the name suggests, it is powered by human hands and is useful in times power failure. It consists of a hopper where the grains are poured and they are transferred into burrs as one turns the handle manually. Even electric grinders are available in the market, to get the flour grinding done in a quick process, thereby saving both time and energy.

Flour Storage
The storage of flour is a very important consideration as a slight negligence can render it unfit for human consumption. Flour should be stored at a place which is cool and dry, with a humidity level of less than 60%. Also, it should be kept in an airtight container. Some forms of wheat flour like all-purpose and cake flour can be stored for about a year if kept at a temperature of 70°F, and for two years if kept at a temperature of 40°F. It is strongly advised to keep the flour away from food containing strong odor. If the flour is to be refrigerated or frozen, allow it to first cool and settle down at a room temperature and check for its taste and odor, before stocking it in a refrigerator.