Ever since I lived in Italy during the 1990s, I’ve been curious about the differences between North American flour and Italian flour.
In Canada and the U.S., it’s fairly simple: we have all purpose flour; bread flour; pastry flour; and whole wheat flour. All purpose has been established to give the home cook good results for just about any dish. It’s made from a mix of both hard and soft wheat. On the other hand, to achieve optimal cooking results, you may want to begin using specialty flours, such as bread or pastry.
The percentage of gluten or protein in the flour will change according to the specialized usage. Bread flour is made from hard wheat and has a higher gluten content. This is why it’s hard to find gluten-free bread with the same texture as regular bread. Pastry flour is the opposite: it’s made from soft wheat and has a lower gluten content. Whole wheat flour is high in fibre, and is usually mixed with other flours. It usually cannot be substituted cup for cup for all purpose flour.
Italian flour, like other European flours, is categorized differently, on a numerical scale: 2, 1, 0 or 00. This number does not refer to the percentage of gluten or protein in the flour, but rather, to how finely ground it is (2 being the coarsest and 00 being the finest).
Again, the gluten or protein percentage determines how each grade of flour should be used. For example, some flours are best for pasta, bread or pastry. It seems that different manufacturers have different opinions on which is best though.
To sum up, Italian flours allow the cook to choose both the composition (gluten or protein content) and how finely ground the flour is. Italian flour grades are simply more specialized, thereby providing the cook with more choice! It can be confusing for the average cook, but if you can decipher what works best for your recipe, you can achieve a better result.
After living in Italy for close to three years and running my Italian cooking school for nearly seven years, these are what I find work best in my kitchen:
- “00” Farina di Grano Tenero for short rise, thin crust pizza
- “00” Farina di Grano Tenero for gnocchi (it makes them really light)
- Bread Flour mixed with Semola Rimacinata di Grano Duro for focaccia and bread
- All Purpose Flour or Bread Flour mixed with Semola Remacinata di Grano Duro for thick crust pan pizza
- “00” Farina di Grano Tenero mixed with Bread Flour for long rise, thin crust pizza (pizzeria style)
- “00” Farina di Grano Tenero for fresh, egg pasta
- Semola Rimacinata di Grano Duro for eggless, fresh pasta or pasta going through an extruder
I will continue to experiment with different flours until I get the results I want.
I’m always on a quest to cook things that transport me to Italy in one bite, so I’ve made a habit of visiting the grocery store when I’m in Italy or other North American cities to look for what’s new. I encourage you to do the same!