Protein is one of the three main nutrients (aka macronutrients) you get from eating and drinking. Protein has become a bit of buzz word in the nutrition world in recent years thanks to its ability to promote a sense of satiety after eating, among other benefits. So how do different flours stack up in the protein department?
The flours with the highest protein content include:
- Vital wheat gluten flour
- Peanut flour
- Soy flour
- Sesame flour
- Fava bean flour
The flours with the lowest protein content include:
- Arrowroot flour
- Cassava flour
- Chestnut flour
- Tapioca flour
- Pastry flour
In this article, we’ll break down these high- and low-protein flours and explain how the protein content of flour can impact your baked goods.
Variations in protein levels among different types of flour
Flour is made by finely grinding things like grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds into fine powder. Flour is used primarily in baking, but it’s also used in cooking as a thickener.
When you think of regular flour, you probably think of flour made from wheat. Wheat flour (both whole wheat and refined wheat) is the most common type of flour, but there are several other types of flour to consider.
Flour made from high-protein plant foods like beans, nuts, and seeds is generally higher than protein made from lower-protein sources like refined wheat or corn.
The gluten/protein connection, and its impact on baked goods
In wheat flour, protein levels vary depending on the type of wheat used to make the flour and the parts of the wheat kernel that were included. “Hard wheat” means the wheat kernel contains more gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. The more gluten is present in the wheat, the higher the protein content.
“Soft wheat” refers to wheat that is lower in gluten, and therefore lower in protein. Gluten is a stretchy protein, so it gives baked goods chewiness and elasticity.
Lower-protein flours are ideal for tender baked goods like cakes and muffins, while higher-protein flours are ideal for chewier baked products like pizza dough.
Highest protein flours
#1: Vital wheat gluten flour
Vital wheat gluten is processed so that the gluten content is much higher than in regular wheat flour. Vital wheat gluten offers elasticity to baked goods and is often added to the dough to boost volume by trapping more gas and steam. ¼ cup of vital wheat gluten flour contains 23 grams of protein.
Vital wheat gluten flour isn’t meant to be used as a standalone flour in baked goods due to its very high gluten content.
You can find great vital wheat gluten flour by Bob’s Red Mill here on Amazon.
#2: Peanut flour
Peanuts are a legume (like beans and lentils), which are high in protein. Peanut flour is made from blanched peanuts with the fat removed and is used to add protein and flavor to baked goods. Peanut flour isn’t intended to use as the primary flour in baked goods.
Peanut flour is among the highest protein flours and contains 14 grams of protein per ¼ cup. (Here’s a great peanut flour brand to get you started.)
#3: Soy flour
Per ⅓ cup, soy flour provides 14 grams of protein. Soy flour can be used in place of wheat flour (up to a certain amount) to boost the protein content, and it’s also popular as a thickening agent in gravies and sauces.
Here’s a great organic soy flour brand you can buy right now.
#4: Sesame flour
A good alternative to almond flour, sesame flour is a gluten-free flour made from finely ground defatted (fat removed) sesame seeds. Two tablespoons of sesame flour contain 12 grams of protein.
#5: Fava bean flour
Flours made from beans and lentils are generally high in protein, and fava bean flour is no exception. With eight grams of protein per ¼ cup, fava bean flour is a high-protein and high-fiber gluten-free flour.
Raw varieties of fava bean flour have to be cooked before eating, which is one unique thing about this type of flour compared to most flour. (Here’s a great brand.)
Benefits and drawbacks of high-protein flours
- Helps boost satiety after eating (protein takes a while to digest).
- High-protein flours not made from wheat usually aren’t meant to be used as a standalone flour because they lack properties that provide structure to baked goods.
Lowest protein flours
#1: Arrowroot flour
Arrowroot flour is considered flour and a starch (a type of carbohydrate that provides structure to the plant) and is sometimes referred to as arrowroot powder. Arrowroot flour is made from tropical plants and is used as a thickener, especially in gluten-free baking (not intended to be used as a standalone flour.)
One serving of arrowroot flour (one tablespoon) contains 0 grams of protein.
#2: Cassava flour
Made from the dried cassava root plant, cassava flour is popular in gluten-free baking. Cassava flour is very low in protein with 0 grams per ¼ cup.
#3: Chestnut flour
Even though it has “nut” in the name (which usually indicates high protein), chestnut flour contains 0 grams of protein per ¼ cup.
#4: Tapioca flour
Also made from the cassava plant, tapioca flour contains 0 grams of protein per ¼ cup. Tapioca flour is a popular addition to gluten-free baking blends because it gives a desirable texture to baked goods.
#5: Pastry flour
Made from low-protein/gluten wheat flour, pastry flour is low in protein with 2 grams per ¼ cup. This low protein content gives a more delicate texture without adding chewiness, thanks to the low gluten content. Pastry flour is ideal for making things like muffins, cookies, and biscuits.
Benefits and drawbacks of low-protein flour
- More suitable for delicate baked goods like cakes and pastries.
- Won’t give as much chewiness to baked goods.
- Not as filling compared to higher-protein flours.
More flour rankings
Bread flour is usually made from “hard” wheat, meaning its high in gluten and therefore protein. High-gluten flour is ideal for bread because it helps give it a chewy, elastic texture.
Certain higher-protein flours work well for pancakes, such as whole-wheat pastry flour, which is higher in protein than regular pastry flour. On the other side, you don’t want to use high-protein wheat flour for pancakes, which would give them a chewier texture with less of a cake-like mouthfeel.
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