An ingredient used in many foods, flour is a fine powder made by grinding cereals or other edible starchy plant seeds suitable for grinding. It is most commonly made from wheatÂ—the word "flour" used without qualification implies wheatflourÂ—but also maize (now called corn in many parts of the Western Hemisphere), rye, barley, and rice, amongst many other grasses and non-grain plants (including buckwheat, grain amaranths and many Australian species of acacia). Ground legumes and nuts, such as soy, peanuts, almonds, and other tree nuts, are also called flours. The same substances ground more coarsely are called "meal" instead of "flour".
Flour is the key ingredient of bread, which is the staple food in many countries, and therefore the availability of adequate supplies of flour has often been a major economic and political issue.
Flour always contains a high proportion of starches, which are complex carbohydrates also known as polysaccharides.
Wheat flour is one of the most important foods in European and American culture, and is the defining ingredient in most types of breads and pastries. Regulations in many countries require that wheat flour be enriched to replace nutrients lost in the production of refined flour.
Wheat flour contains proteins called gluten. When dough made with wheat flour is kneaded, the gluten molecules cross-link to form a sub-microscopic network that gives the dough an elastic structure. This allows the retention of gas bubbles in an intact structure, resulting in an aerated final product with a soft texture, desirable for breads, cakes and the like.
Some people suffer from an intolerance to gluten known as coeliac or celiac disease. Increased awareness of this disorder, as well as a rising belief in the benefits of a gluten-free diet for persons suffering certain other conditions, has led to an increased demand for bread, pasta, and other products made with flours that do not contain gluten.
There are some exceptions; for instance, in the UK, cornflour is the white, powdered starch of the maize grain, not ground maize.
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