With the rise in gluten-free diets, there has been a lot of focus on the gluten content of foods. Gluten-free flours and other products have increased in popularity, but it might leave you wondering just how much gluten is in flours that aren’t gluten-free!
Some of the highest gluten flours include vital wheat gluten flour, bread flour, and “00 flour” (popular for making pizza crusts). Some of the lowest gluten flours are pastry flour, barley flour, and cake flour.
We’ll look at the highest and lowest gluten flours (12 in total), explain gluten’s role in baking, and much more in this informative article!
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten has an elastic or “stretchy” quality and helps bind food together, giving it a chewy texture. Note that when talking about gluten in flour, it’s often referred to as protein – e.g. 13% protein is higher in gluten than 8% protein. Many gluten-free flours are high in protein, but it’s not from gluten in those cases!
The gluten content in grains varies depending on the type of grain, so the gluten content of flours will also vary. In general, you’ll want higher gluten flour to make things like bread, pizza crusts, and pasta. Lower gluten flour is ideal to make baked goods that you want to have a more delicate and crumbly texture like cookies, cakes, and muffins.
Wheat and barley are similar in their gluten content, while rye is generally lower in gluten. Wheat flour is an overwhelmingly popular choice with varying protein (gluten) levels.
Classifications of wheat
Since wheat is the most common source of many commonly-used flours, let’s review the different wheat classifications in terms of their gluten content.
Spring vs. winter wheat
This classification simply refers to when the wheat was planted. The majority of wheat grown in the United States is winter wheat, which is planted in the fall and harvested in the spring. Spring wheat is planted in the spring and harvested in the late summer or early fall.
Soft vs. hard wheat
Soft wheat is lower in protein/gluten, whereas hard wheat is higher in protein/gluten. You’ll also see wheat described as white or red, which describes the color of the kernel.
That leaves us with the six main classifications of wheat:
- Hard Red Winter
- Hard Red Spring
- Soft Red Winter
- Durum (the second most harvested wheat after hard red spring wheat, the type usually harvested for bread flour)
- Hard White Wheat
- Soft White Wheat
Gluten content of various flours
Not all flour has a specific known gluten content (we know some ranges, but nothing exact for every single flour), so it’s impossible to rank all of these flours in the true order of their gluten content.
It’s also important to note that there are several gluten-free flours, which we won’t be covering in this article since we’re only focusing on the gluten content of gluten-containing flours.
We’ll rank the flours in order of highest to least gluten from what we know of the gluten content of wheat, rye, and barley!
Vital wheat gluten
This one is easy to rank as the highest in gluten because that’s what the flour is made for. Vital wheat gluten is around 73% protein from gluten.
Because it’s so high in gluten, vital wheat gluten isn’t meant to be used on its own (except to make seitan, a vegan protein source), but instead is added to other flours to act as a binder as well as meat alternatives like veggie burgers.
Bread flour (12-14% protein)
Bread flour is among the highest gluten wheat flours and is usually made from hard red spring wheat. Its high gluten content helps give bread the elastic and chewy texture you know and love!
Tipo 00 flour (around 12% gluten/protein)
While 00 flour is high in gluten, it’s made from soft wheat to produce weaker strands of gluten compared to bread flour which is made from hard red wheat. 00 flour is popular for making a thin and crispy pizza crust (Neapolitan).
Whole wheat flour (around 14% protein)
Whole wheat flour is high in gluten, but it contains bran and germ flakes because it’s a whole grain. These flakes act as little razor blades and can break some of the gluten strands, which is why whole wheat flour tends to have less developed gluten compared to all-purpose flour, which is refined to remove the bran and germ layers of the wheat kernel.
Semolina flour is made from hard (high-gluten) durum wheat and is a top choice for making homemade pasta.
Kamut is a type of ancient wheat and is considered higher in gluten than “regular” wheat. Kamut is thought to be easily digested (and therefore might be more suitable for gluten intolerance) and richer in certain nutrients than regular wheat flour.
All-purpose flour (12% protein)
All-purpose flour is the most versatile wheat flour because it’s moderate in protein – not as high as bread flour but not as low as cake flour.
The gluten strands in einkorn flour are shorter and weaker than those in wheat flour, which is why it might be more suitable for those with gluten intolerance, but not Celiac disease since it’s not gluten-free.
Though it’s not gluten-free, rye is generally considered lower in gluten than wheat.
Pastry flour (around 9% protein)
Pastry flour is ideal for making pie crusts, chewier cookies, and pastries without being too high or too low in gluten.
Cake flour (7-8% protein)
Among regular wheat, cake flour has the lowest gluten content. The low gluten content helps make a delicate crumb texture – because nobody wants to eat chewy cake!
Barley flour (5-8% protein)
Among the three grain types containing gluten (wheat, rye, and barley), barley (and barley flour) is the lowest in gluten.
Nutritional comparison of highest and lowest gluten flours
Listed in order from highest gluten content to lowest
|Vital wheat gluten||120||24 g||1 g||0 g||0.5 g||4 g|
|Bread flour||130||26 g||1 g||0 g||0.5 g||5 g|
|Tipo 00 (Italian Double Zero)||100||21 g||<1 g||0 g||0.5 g||3 g|
|Whole wheat flour||110||24 g||3 g||0 g||0.5 g||3 g|
|Semolina flour||160||33 g||1 g||0 g||1 g||6 g|
|Kamut flour||110||21 g||5 g||0 g||0.5 g||5 g|
|All-purpose flour||120||24 g||1 g||0 g||0.5 g||4 g|
|Einkorn flour||100||20 g||2 g||0 g||0.5 g||4 g|
|Rye flour||110||23 g||3 g||0 g||0 g||4 g|
|Pastry flour||120||26 g||1 g||0 g||0.5 g||3 g|
|Cake flour||120||26 g||1 g||0 g||0 g||4 g|
|Barley flour||110||24 g||3 g||0 g||0.5 g||3 g|
Cake flour is very low in protein/gluten among wheat flour and is lower in gluten than all-purpose flour and pastry flour.
Flour with high protein (gluten) contents like bread flour and vital wheat gluten flour is very high in gluten, a type of protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten gives baked goods a chewy texture and acts as a binder while baking.