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Kitchen Notes

Wheat Flour

by Michael Chu
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There are several kinds of wheat flour available for sale with the most popular being enriched and bleached all-purpose flour. The differences between the flours comes down to the type of wheat, the parts of wheat included, the processing of the wheat, and any additives added to the flour. In this article, I'll examine each of these characteristics:

Protein content
A certain type of protein called gluten (glutenin) is responsible for wheat flour's elastic properties. The more gluten in a flour makes it easier for the flour to build up a tough structure able to trap the waste gases of yeast during kneading as well as rise effectively during baking. Less gluten in a flour produces a lighter, less chewier texture such as those found in cakes. The exact amount of gluten in your flour depends on where it was milled and the variations in growth of the wheat crop.

The main wheat varieties grown in the United States are, in order of quantity grown and sold, hard red wheat, soft red wheat, durum and white. Hard red wheat is used to produce flour high in gluten content, while soft red wheat is used for flour low in gluten. Durum is milled to produce semolina flour used mainly for macaroni pastas. Semolina flour has the highest gluten content of all mass produced wheat flours. White wheat is produced in smaller quantities in the U.S. and makes low gluten flour.

High gluten flour and bread flour is produced from hard wheat. High gluten flour has a gluten percentage of about 12-14% while bread flour contains about 10-13% gluten. Both flours are almost completely made of hard wheat, but some high gluten flours are treated to reduce starch content, raising the gluten content to around 14%. These flours are generally used for making breads. High gluten flour is reserved for breads that are extra elastic such as bagels and pizza.

Cake flour is produced from soft wheat and is low in gluten content (8-10%). This flour is used for making delicate cakes. Baked goods made with cake flour has a tendency to crumble because of the low gluten content.

All purpose flour is made from a mixture of hard and soft wheats. The gluten content ranges from 9-12%. This is the most versatile flour because it can be used to make both cakes and breads. However, breads won't be as chewy and cakes won't be as tender as if you used bread or cake flour.

Pastry flour is also a mix of hard and soft wheat flours with an emphasis on soft. Generally, the gluten content is 9-10% and is often recommended for pie crusts.

Whole wheat flour contains the germ (the embryo of the wheat kernel) and is more flavorful than regular all-purpose flour which does not include the germ. Because the germ is included, there are more nutrients as well as fiber and fat content in whole wheat flour. However, the flour should be stored in the refrigerator to prevent the germ oils from becoming rancid.

Almost all the flour sold is steel ground meaning a large machine with steel hammers or rollers crushes and grinds the wheat kernels down. This is a very efficient means of producing flour, but the steel surfaces heat up with the high speed and volume of wheat being ground. This heat causes some of the vitamins in steel ground flour to be destroyed during the grinding process.

Alternatively, stone ground flour is produced by the relatively slow grinding of large stones together (with the wheat in the middle). This type of flour is harder to find and almost always leaves the germ intact producing whole wheat flour. There is no heat build up, so all the nutrients stay intact as the four is made.

Bleaching or aging is another process that differentiates flours. Bleached flours produce doughs that are less sticky and rise better than unbleached flours. Bleaching can be accomplished by aging the flour over time (the oxidation of the flour causes the yellow pigments to fade) or through a chemical means (usually using chlorine dioxide and potassium bromade to age the flour). The aging process removes some of the naturally occurring vitamin E present in wheat. The flour ends up uniformly white and has (generally) better baking properties.

The texture of the flour is determined by how much sifting (or bolting) is performed at the mill. The degree of sifting will result in a powdery flour or a coarse flour. Prior to packaging, most flours in the United States are also presifted. Presifted flour can be measured directly from the bag by stirring, measuring with a dry measuring cup, and leveled with a straight edge. Unsifted flour needs to be sifted prior to measuring (by volume). If unsifted flour is measured by weight, it should still be sifted prior to use in a recipe requiring sifted flour (assume all recipes require sifted flour).

Enriched flour contain vitamins and nutrients that have been added to offset the loss from the grinding and aging of flour. Usually, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin and iron are added to flours that do not contain wheat germ. In addition vitamin E is often added to bleached wheat. Some brands will also contain additional vitamin A, C, and D.

Some bread flours will have a little bit of malted barley flour added to help yeast growth. In addition, potassium bromate may be included to lend strength and help the dough maintain the yeast gases.

The addition of baking powder and salt produces self-rising flour or leavened flour. When using self-rising flour, simply omit the baking powder and salt from the recipe (leave in any baking soda a recipe calls for).

Other names?
Outside of the United States, different types of flour may have different names. For example, plain flour is often similar to all purpose flour. However, the regional differences that cause all-purpose flours to vary from U.S. state to state, also cause similar flours from other nations to differ slightly in property from those in the United States.

Measuring flour
Whenever possible, flour should be measured using a scale. With a good digital scale with fast response, it is actually easier to measure flour by simply pouring it into a bowl on the scale and stopping when you hit the mark.

If you do not own a scale and need to use a measuring cup, then make sure you use a dry measuring cup (one that measures to the lip of the cup, not to some marking below the lip such as this poor design - please don't buy these). Scoop the sifted flour into the cup and level with a flat straight edge (like a bench scraper or ruler). You'll get really close to 125 g per cup with this technique - but you have to make sure you sift your flour. (One easy and mostly effective way to do this is to store your flour in a large air tight container. I use a pickling jar big enough to hold a 5 pound bag of flour with room to spare. Before measuring, pick up the container and shake it so you incorporate as much of the air in the jar into the flour as possible. It works best if the jar is half air and half flour. Once you've done this, let it sit for a few minutes so you don't get a face full of flour when you open the lid. Then scoop and level.)

When reading a recipe, you should always start off by assuming that it is written with sifted flour in mind. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup flour, it should be assumed that it is one cup of sifted flour. The reason for this is that measuring unsifted flour is inaccurate and pretty much impossible to replicate from household to household. If the flour hasn't been sifted, how do you know how much it's settled over time? The amount of settling is dependant on how much the bag has been jiggled during transportation, how long it's been sitting on the shelf, and other environmental factors that are unpredictable. So, one person may scoop store bought "presifted" (which pretty much means unsifted by the time you get home) flour and find that it is actually 20% more flour than grandma who wrote down the recipe normally uses.

Unfortunately, these days, it seems that no one likes to follow standards and American cookbooks seem to be written based on the 140 g per cup "standard" which is nearly impossible to replicate through the scoop and level method. The reason why 140 g per cup is used so much now is that it is in between the ultra-densely settled 160 g per cup and the just sifted 125 g per cup. Using 140 g per cup as a recipe measurement means it's unlikely that anyone will be able to replicate your recipe (unless they have a scale) but no one will be creating a disasterous baked good if they are off by 10%. Unfortunately, 10% can alter the texture of your cookies quite a bit... so measure with a scale and forget all this volumetric nonsense.

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Written by Michael Chu
Published on October 20, 2004 at 06:45 PM
39 comments on Wheat Flour:(Post a comment)

On July 08, 2005 at 05:07 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Great article!

It really more than answers my question on "all-purpose" flour.

Excellent, now I can easily translate recipes and use the correct flour, etc.

And now, I'm that bit more knowledgable! Thanks.

On July 08, 2005 at 05:08 PM, an anonymous reader said...
thanks for the info! i never knew there were so many variations of wheat flour. gosh!

On July 08, 2005 at 05:08 PM, Paul (guest) said...
Regarding gluten:

My mom has celiac disease, an allergy to gluten that she contracted while she was pregnant with my little brother. If she eats anything with gluten in it (wheat, barley, rye, or oats), the villi in her small intestine shrivel up and die, and she has gastrointestinal distress.

So I grew up in a house without much bread, cake, cookies, or pretty much anything else with wheat in it. We ate lots of rice and potatoes, and sometimes had interesting things like buckwheat or Pai Mai Fun rice noodles. It really broadened my food horizons, something I took for granted until I got to college and found out that most people would never try things that I found delicious because they hadn't been exposed to it.

Celiac disease affects about 1 in 133 people in the US. For more information, check out

On July 08, 2005 at 05:09 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Excellent article, I just had one thing to add. I mill my own grain at home and we also can get hard white wheat. I haven't found the soft red but I have hard red, hard white, and soft white, spelt, rye and kamut. I would like to get soft red because my father told me that that is what he grew when on the farm in Ohio growing up. I started milling my own flour when friends told me about it. It's a lot more nutritious and the fiber is easier on the system. I also found that I could use other grains that are less allergenic than wheat. I recently red about "diastatic malt" made from sprouting wheat and used in breadmaking. I am currently researching that topic.
St. Petersburg, Florida

On July 08, 2005 at 05:09 PM, an anonymous reader said...
a very informative and clearly written article. thanks for the enlightenment. at 71 i have just retired and i am beginning to cook and bake. i was desperately in needed of this valuable information.

On July 08, 2005 at 05:09 PM, an anonymous reader said...
should that me "any" rather than "and"?

recipe (leave in and baking soda a recipe calls for).

On July 08, 2005 at 05:10 PM, Michael Chu said...
re: typo

Good catch, problem fixed.

On October 19, 2005 at 02:22 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Good article.

I got all the info I needed.


On February 15, 2006 at 11:51 AM, an anonymous reader said...
:) this was a very excellent article and i also liked alot of the comments as well..I am a nutrition major and I see what I learn in my classes does matter in people's lives
-UH student

On October 18, 2006 at 12:53 PM, Robert (guest) said...
Subject: Wheat Flour
Being an engineer, I love to be precise. I don't believe any flour contains gluten. Wheat flour contains two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. Gluten is not formed until water is added and you begin to stir the mixture. The proteins combine with water and with each other to form gluten. The more you stir, the more gluten is formed.

On December 27, 2006 at 10:02 PM, Brian121 said...
My friend avoid recipes that rely on convenience foods. Go back to the "from scratch" recipes the convenience food replaces. Learn to make the basic sauces and gravies often used in casseroles and soups. Look in a gluten-free cookbook or Lifeline for a similar recipe. Compare proportions, they are the key. Flour and other ingredients that act as thickeners are compared to the amount of liquids in the recipe.

On February 12, 2007 at 01:22 PM, moody said...
Well have you people heard about the latest craze towards the protein foods? I am sure you people must have heard this, where the emphasis is on a no carbohydrate diet and everuthing that one has for food involves the protein. But then there are pros and cons of this diet, as we all know carbs are the main suppliers of energy in the human body. So I wonder what the others have to say regarding this.

On May 24, 2007 at 01:33 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Transforming All purpose flour to bread flour
Excellent article!
Does anyone knows how to transform all-purpose flour to bread or cake flour? Unfortunately, in Brazil, only all-purpose flour is sold.

On June 01, 2007 at 03:46 AM, an anonymous reader said...

Does any one has specific information on soft wheat flour? You may suggest excellent reading materials or websites to gather information.

Thank you so much. Your help is greatly appreciated.

you may email me at



On September 03, 2007 at 05:01 AM, Blue Pilgrim said...
Subject: Seitan
Seitan is pretty much gluten, gotten from flour (google it -- it's used in the Orient as a meat-like food). I tried making some with all-purpose flour. Not too bad, but the trick is to knead it a while before rinsing it under water, which takes the starch out.

If you can't get bread flour you could use the same process to wash out the starch. leaving you with gluten, which you could then add into your bread dough, kneading it in, giving you a higher gluten bread flour. (Or, you might be able to buy 'vital wheat gluten' at the store). You could also add starch to all-purpose flour for a cake flour. I have read of adding corn starch to flour to sub for cake flour.

I havent' tried this for this purpose, and you would to experiment to get the right proportions, but I don't see why it wouldn't work as a substitute.

On October 20, 2007 at 12:24 AM, tomfy said...
Subject: measuring flour
Very informative article. Thanks.

I did some measurements of my own, and I found a density of 123 grams/cup for white all-purpose flour which had been sifted into a bowl, scooped into the cup and leveled. I got as high as 183 grams/cup by settling the flour by tapping the cup gently on the table and adding more, etc. then leveling.

With the method of shaking in a closed container (a plastic storage canister about half full), however I got 147 grams/cup one time, and 148 grams/cup another - considerably denser than sifted.

On October 24, 2007 at 12:53 AM, tomfy said...
Subject: white flour, whole-wheat and amount of water
I've read that whole-wheat flour absorbs more water than white, and this agrees with my observations. Does anyone know of quantitative rule for adjusting the water/flour ratio when going from white to whole-wheat or vice versa?

I did a crude experiment. I often make bread with half and half white and whole-wheat flour (by weight) and a water/flour ratio (by weight) of 0.8
I attempted to get the same consistency with pure white, and pure whole-wheat flour, and got water/flour ratios of:
0.74 (white)
0.88 (whole-wheat)
Since I didn't have an objective way of comparing the consistency, this is perhaps not very meaningful. But it does suggest that the difference is not neglible, and it would be nice to have some rule for adjusting quantity of flour and/or liquid when going from white to whole-wheat or vice versa. Recipes that I have seen will sometimes say that the white flour
(or part of if) can be replaced by an equal amount (by volume?) of whole-wheat. I have found a few mentions of a need to use slightly more liquid with whole-wheat, but nothing quantitative.

On November 24, 2007 at 07:30 AM, an anonymous reader said...
How to make bread flour out of regular flour? Wheat gluten.

I normally bake a couple of 50% whole grain rye, 50% (boring) white loaves a week.
I like whole grains but hate a slice that falls apart. I add a small palmfull of wheat gluten to my recipes.
It's probably excessive for most people, but I like a slice that's bordering on rubbery.

I buy Hodgson Mill wheat gluten at Wal-Mart, but here's a picture on Hodgson's website

Being an engineer, I threw out the controller on my bread machine and wired it up to my PC.
Now I can fine-tune everything exactly. Moreover, I can get an alarm and pull the scraper out before the final rise. That way, there's no big hole.

On December 17, 2007 at 12:33 PM, turtlegrace said...
Subject: Spelt, oat, and rye flours and amount of water
tomfy wrote:
I've read that whole-wheat flour absorbs more water than white, and this agrees with my observations. Does anyone know of quantitative rule for adjusting the water/flour ratio when going from white to whole-wheat or vice versa?

Since shifting to a lower-glycemic-index diet, I've started substituting spelt, oat, and rye flours into my baking and as gravy or sauce thickeners. Spelt does seem more thirsty than whole-wheat flour; oat not so much. Does anyone know how to adjust a recipe's moisture to these flours, or can anyone recommend a simple way for me to test and quantify it myself?


On July 20, 2008 at 05:06 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I am an engineer, and given the name of this webpage, I was expecting more detail. In particular, I am curious about two types of flour used in Italian cooking. First, my wife makes many things, especially desserts, from a flour that we purchase in an Italian store. This flour is sold as "Tarali Flour." I would like some information on what this flour is, gluten content, etc.

The second flour about which I seek information is "00" (double zero), which is used in many of the best pizzas produced in the US (as well as Italy).

Any further detail that could be supplied on either of these flours would be greatly appreciated.

On July 21, 2008 at 08:07 AM, Dilbert said...
Taralli is a bread snack - many variations - perhaps the flour takes it name from that? made from Italian 00 flour, btw....

here's some links on double thru quad zero flours - the Italian designations may actually be a different meaning that industry designations for ash.

On December 08, 2008 at 01:04 PM, Bigbird (guest) said...
Subject: Ultragrain
There is now a whole-wheat flour made from a white flour (rather than red). It was developed by Conagra and is called Ultragrain. It is available mostly in processed foods, but there is now limited availability of the flour itself at retail. It is lighter in color and flavor than traditional whole wheat, but has the same nutritional profile including fiber and vitamins. The lighter color and flavor is appealing to many people who do not like the flavor of regular whole wheat.

Ultragrain is a hard (high-protein) flour suitable for breads, not cake or biscuits.

On December 30, 2008 at 12:34 AM, neeki (guest) said...
Subject: measuring cups
i actually use both kinds of measuring cups in my kitchen, the dry measure and the other one where the measuring line drops below the lip of the cup. i find that dry measures are good for solids like flour and sugar, while the other type of cups are good for liquids, since the extra height reduces spilling when i move it around.

On February 20, 2009 at 04:57 PM, Rosie (guest) said...
Subject: converting all-purpose flour to cake flour
Try adding a couple of spoonfuls of cornstarch (or whatever the local equivalent is) to your flour.

On February 20, 2009 at 05:45 PM, Dilbert said...
Subject: Re: converting all-purpose flour to cake flour
Rosie wrote:
Try adding a couple of spoonfuls of cornstarch (or whatever the local equivalent is) to your flour.

for the reason of:


On April 09, 2009 at 10:36 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Adding cornstarch is one technique for making all purpose flour into cake flour. If you need cake flour but only have all purpose, you could substitute a tablespoon or two of corn starch for the flour, and it would theoretically have a lower protein content.

On August 06, 2009 at 07:38 PM, questioner (guest) said...
Subject: digest raw flour?
Can you digest raw flour?
If you just mix flour with water and eat it, will you get the same nutrition out of it as if you had mixed it with water, cooked it, and then eaten it?

On August 17, 2009 at 05:57 PM, Rocky Shoals (guest) said...
Subject: Flour for deep frying
I love to make and eat apple fritters and I use a Fry Daddy with a temperature range of 350-375. Using all purpose flour recipes I do not get an internal texture that is light and airy but is dense and chewy. Is there a best flour for crisp exteriors and light interiors? Would cake flour do the trick?

On August 17, 2009 at 06:46 PM, Dilbert said...

my first suspicion is the fritter batter is too wet.

water absorbs an enormous amount of (heat) energy - a batter that is too wet - be it for pancakes, waffles, crepes, dumplings, <whatever> cooks on the outside faster than suitable for the inside. perhaps better worded, the inside cooks to perfection too slow....

give a shot at reducing the liquid, on the order of 20% by weight - see if that evolves in the desired direction.

On August 21, 2009 at 01:47 AM, Rocky Shoals (guest) said...
Subject: Deep Fry flours
I reduced the liquid content in the recipe by at least 20% without much difference. What I think is required is a batter with a large degree of internal air bubbles. I am considering adding various combinations of baking powder, baking soda and finally even yeast. Any thoughts on this?

On August 21, 2009 at 08:45 AM, Dilbert said...
I'd suggest a first step of posting the complete recipe - that will give folks some specifics to consider.

baking soda leavens by creating CO2 from mixed with an acidic component. buttermilk would be a good one for fritters.

baking powder - double acting - does the same thing but additionally releases CO2 when heated. (single acting exists, but is not too commonly used)

note on baking powder: it does have a shelf life - how fresh is your batch?

when using either baking soda or baking powder, the batter should be used right away - it should not be made "the night before" for example.

On February 02, 2010 at 11:23 AM, guest (guest) said...
Subject: whole wheat vs. all purpose flour, which is healthier?
Could someone please help me find the answer to this question? I am in a never-ending argument w/ my brother about this.

I am under the impression that whole wheat/ whole grain flour is a flour that is not ground to such a fine texture as all purpose flour. For this reason it is a healthier flour since on the molecular level the sugar molecules are encased w/ fiber molecules and do not get absorbed by our bodies but instead pass on through our digestive system. But, all purpose flour is ground so finely that the fiber casings are destroyed and all the sugars now get absorbed by our digestive system.

Is there any science to back up ths theory I've been told?

My Kingdom for an answer that makes sense. Actually, I rent, hehehe.


On February 02, 2010 at 04:26 PM, Dilbert said...
lotta research needed to form your own opinion.

"wheat" is the seed of a plant. as such there are various "parts" to the seed.

milling "white flour" from the grain "as harvested" is not a one step process.

one grind separates the husk, another the endosperm, another the germ, another the pericarp, etc.

"white flour" is typically just the ground bits of the seed endosperm.

there are many grades of "how fine" a flour is ground.

additionally, "whole wheat" grind include parts other than the endosperm.

"all purpose" flour is not a good consideration here. the all purpose, bread, pastry, etc, type classifications refer to the gluten/protein level. that is not related to "how much of the wheat seed" is included except that protein levels are measured by weight percentages - so if you add (or do not remove) anything that affects weight and not protein, the classification will change.

so far as sugar molecules being encased in x or y or z, and being destroyed/preserved by some particular grind, that sounds a lot like some bit of snake oil. no flour grind is so fine that it destroys / preserves anything at the molecular level.

whether the part of the wheat grain that contains sugar(s) x,y,z is included in a particular whole/white/[insert marketing hype word here] four type is an entirely different question.

whole/partial grain type flours certainly add to 'dietary' fiber.

grinding a whole grain to the point the sugar is destroyed on a molecular level is a bit of a stretch.

On June 10, 2010 at 02:04 AM, Helen S. Fletcher (guest) said...
Subject: Wheat Flour
While I very much enjoyed your article on wheat flour and in the main found it to be useful, I feel that you mislead your readers when it comes to the weight of a cup of flour. As a professional baker with a business of 23 years as well as a food writer who develops recipes, the advice that the recipe assumes sifted flour is incorrect. As you correctly noted, most writers, magazines, books and professionals use 140 grams or 5 ounces as a cup of unsifted flour. No one sifts flour anymore which is why this measurement is used and professionally you cannot sift 20 or more pounds of flour on a routine basis as nothing would get done in the bakery for all the time spent sifting. You can aerate to some degree but not sift it. If you use recipes from a book, the reader should see if the writer explains how the flour is measured. Also, cake flour weighs 100 grams or 3 1/2 ounces sifted, while it weighs 115 grams unsifted. So all flours do not weigh alike. For all purpose or bread flour if the flour is stirred with a spoon, spooned into a measuring cup to overflowing and swept off, the measurement is a consistent 140 grams. If your readers use the 125 gram measurement they will be off by 1/2 ounce per cup which maybe does not matter in some recipes or can make a big difference in others. All of the recipes on my website, use a non sifted weight (140 grams) by necessity. You can see the results, I wish you could have tasted them.

On October 23, 2011 at 04:45 PM, gmacook (guest) said...
Subject: flour
I want to know more about high protein flour. Thanks for the start. I am off to experiment with my bread recipes. I have been making our bread for 4 years and want to get my bread healthier and better and better.... This will get me started. Seems that no one has an answer about good nutrition values and better than the super market values. Even then, I love making the bread and just want to be able to continue. How can I use whole wheat white flour and make it high gluten and still get a faulous loaf of challah bread. That is my benchmark.

On October 23, 2011 at 05:09 PM, Dilbert said...
within generalizations, higher protein also entails higher gluten.

whole wheat flour has less gluten; lots of other good things - but on a percentage basis less gluten. not because whole wheat is missing something "different" - but because every part of the "whole" wheat kernel is retained - but gluten doesn't occur in the bran.... so although all the gluten is still there, by weigh percentages the gluten is "less" than white flours where bran/germ, etc have been sifted out.

there is a product called "vital wheat gluten" I use to increase the gluten percentage when I make whole wheat loaves.

you will also notice in many many many "whole wheat" recipes, it is not 100% whole wheat.

100% whole wheat makes for very pretty bricks; very dense.

On October 23, 2011 at 07:52 PM, Jim Cooley said...
Dilbert, you got me thinking about the different kinds of ground wheat available in India and I found a good reference HERE. I use atta (from the Indian grocery) to make chappatti and rotis, and the single time I tried to make naan I used All-Purpose, which explains the disasterous results!

What it doesn't explain is the difference between hard and soft wheats; or whether these varieties are available as non-specialty flours in the US.

Anyway, if you need a cheap source of pure whole-wheat flour, you might check with an Indian grocery if you live near one. Give it a try, at least.

On October 24, 2011 at 02:37 PM, Dilbert said...
the classification of hard or soft methinks relates to the protein/gluten content of the specific wheat variety - it's an inherent trait of that specific wheat strain.

there are specialty growers / millers that can supply 100% of the type they grow or have access to - but it's uncommon to find that "on the shelf" other than "Durum"

On August 09, 2012 at 11:22 PM, pzelchenko (guest) said...
Subject: Whole wheat
"Whole wheat flour contains the germ (the embryo of the wheat kernel)..."

Whole-wheat flour also contains bran. I believe it turns out to be about 85% endosperm, 12% bran, 2% germ. Whole-wheat flour is made by milling the entire groat. White flour is made by milling the groat after removing the bran and germ (it should look something like a grain of rice).

Graham flour is white flour with the proportions of wheat bran and wheat germ mixed back in. And so it is the same as whole-wheat flour in composition. The difference is that the bran and germ are much coarser in this recombined form, whereas with regular whole-wheat flour it is all milled, so you should have a finer mill. I regularly remake wheat flour by adding a handful of bran and about a tablespoon of germ to my white flour. It makes a delicious bread, and the only thing I need to keep below room temperature is the germ (which I keep in the freezer).

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