The holiday season is upon us but before you roll up your sleeves and put on your oven mitts, consider the flour you use in your favorite baked treats.
Flour can be made from a variety of grains or nuts but the most common types start with wheat. The specific type of wheat that is milled into flour makes a difference in the protein (gluten) quality and quantity of the flour.
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The two main classes of wheat are hard wheat and soft wheat. Hard wheat is higher in protein and more absorbent due to its higher gluten or protein content and it's used in yeast loaves, buns, pizza crust, soft pretzels and whole grain breads. Soft wheat is lower in protein and better for more delicate treats like cakes, pastries, cookies and crackers.
Here's a flour power primer:
All-purpose and whole wheat
All-purpose white flour is milled from the endosperm portion of the grain kernel. The endosperm is the largest portion of a grain kernel that contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
On the other hand, wheat or white whole wheat flour contains all three parts of the grain kernel and meets the USDA's definition as a source of whole grain. A whole grain contains all three parts -- bran, endosperm and germ, the nutrient-rich inner layer of the kernel where a new plant sprouts.
Both white and wheat flour contain carbohydrates and other vitamins and nutrients. Refined wheat flours are required by law to be enriched with B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin and niacin along with iron and folic acid. Whole wheat flours contain B vitamins and iron as well as selenium, potassium, magnesium and fiber, but often do not contain folic acid.
Nut flours, really just finely ground nuts, are a good option for the 1 percent of adults who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. People who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity need to avoid grains containing gluten (wheat, barley, rye). Some of common nut flours include almond, peanut, pecan, hazelnut, and walnut.
Keep in mind that nut flours will act differently in baking because of their higher protein (increases browning of baked goods), higher fat (softens the crumb of baked goods) and higher fiber (adds texture and crunchiness). Nut flours do not contain gluten-forming proteins so additional ingredients like eggs will be needed to mimic the texture of traditionally prepared dessert products.
Baking experts recommend using nut flour with gluten-free flour for better gluten-free baked good.
Some of those gluten-free flours are made with amaranth, soy flour, rice, oats, potato, sorghum and buckwheat flour.
If you are looking to boost the whole grain content in your baked goods use whole wheat flour or flours of the brown rice, oat, graham, sorghum, spelt or flax varieties.
Home baked goods offer an option to take some control of your calorie and fat intake during the holiday season. There is also an opportunity to be creative and experiment with different types of flours other than all-purpose flour.
Stir up this crepe batter that combines whole wheat white flour with all-purpose flour for a fun-to-eat holiday dessert that's low in fat, fairly low in calories, and contains the added benefit of fruit.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.