Flour is unarguably one of the most versatile in the kitchen. It is almost always in everybody’s pantry and has gained a permanent spot on our grocery list because there is practically no baking recipe without flour. Moreover, flour is not only useful in baking, it is also used as a thickener for stews, soups, gravies, etc. Indeed, it is a must-have kitchen staple!
Baking powder is another important baking ingredient. It is a potent leavening or raising agent that, when combined with flour and other baking ingredients to make dough or batter, helps baked goods rise.
In this article, we compare baking powder vs flour, highlighting the main features and uses of each, the differences between them, and the best brands of each. Read on to learn more about these two important baking ingredients!
Baking Powder Vs Flour – Top Differences
Although both flour and baking powder are important ingredients in baking recipes, they differ in more ways than one. Below are the top differences between baking powder and flour.
- Flour is made from cereal grains or other starchy portions of plants milled to a fine texture, while baking powder is made by mixing baking soda, calcium acid phosphate, and starch.
- Flour is the primary ingredient or base ingredient used for making cakes, cookies, breads, and other baked goods, while baking powder is only a leavening agent which helps to give “rise” to baked goods.
- Flour is usually used in cup measurements because it often makes up the bulk of a baking recipe, while you use a spoon to measure baking powder because only a small quantity is required in any baking recipe.
Baking Powder Vs Flour – Which Is Better?
Baking powder and flour have separate functions in baking, so we cannot say that baking powder is better than flour or vice versa. They are both essential ingredients in baking and cannot be substituted or compared with each other.
However, we can say that there is an exception when it comes to coating chicken. While both flour and baking powder can be used to coat chicken before baking, grilling, or frying, baking powder gives a crunchier and crispier end product than flour.
Either of them works well, though, and you can make your choice based on your recipe or dietary restrictions. Some recipes state that you use both, but you can substitute baking powder for flour if your diet restricts flour consumption.
The Main Features of Flour and What It’s Mainly Used For
Generally, flour is made by milling cereal grains, roots, seeds, nuts, or beans to a fine texture, although the word “flour” is usually used to refer to wheat flour which is the major type of flour used in western countries. There are many types of wheat flour available for baking. They include;
- Whole wheat flour: This is made by milling the entire wheat kernel. Although it contains a high level of protein, gluten formation is inhibited by the presence of wheat bran and germ. It is often unbleached and produces heavier, denser products such as whole wheat bread.
- All-purpose flour: This is made by milling a mixture of soft and hard wheat together and then taking it through the refining process. All-purpose flour may be bleached or unbleached and has a moderate protein level (10%-12%). It is very versatile, suitable for any recipe that does not require any special flour and is usually used for various products. All-purpose flour can also be used to thicken soups and coat foods for frying.
- Self-rising flour: This is refined and bleached flour, to which leavening and salt have been added. It is usually made by mixing all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt in specified proportions. It is usually used to make biscuits, pancakes, and other quick breads.
- Cake flour: This is refined and bleached flour milled to a very fine texture to produce a softer and more delicate crumb. Cake flour has the least protein content (7%-9%) out of all flours. Hence, gluten formation is minimal, making it the best choice for soft and tender baked goods like cakes, muffins, and scones.
- Enriched flour: This is refined and bleached flour but contains additional nutrients added to replace the nutrients lost during the removal of the germ and bran or during the bleaching process.
Flour is usually mixed with water to make dough or batter. The mixing activates the wheat protein, known as gluten, which gives structure and elasticity to baked goods like bread, pizza dough, cakes, cookies, etc.
It is important to note that all wheat-based flours have different wheat protein levels; this determines the gluten strength of each and makes one type of flour ideal for a recipe while another is not.
For instance, soft wheat has about 7-12% protein and is used to make flours used for products that require minimal structure, such as cakes, crackers, cookies, and piecrusts. On the other hand, hard wheat has 12-15% protein and is used to make flours used for products that require stronger structure, such as bread, hard rolls, and buns.
Also, gluten formation is affected by the length and intensity of mixing. Hence, for some recipes, you may be directed to “fold gently” so as not to overmix and end up with tough, undesirable baked goods. However, this is not the case with non-wheat-based flours.
More recently, people have become increasingly conscious of their health and, most importantly, their diet. So, because of some dietary requirements like a gluten-free diet, flours are made from other starchy plant materials, including barley, buckwheat, chickpeas, oats, potatoes, soybeans, rice, and rye, which are now being used in baking. These flours are known as “wheat flour alternatives” or “wheat flour substitutes.”
Although flour is mainly used for baking, it has other non-baking uses:
- It is used as a thickener when cooking stews, soups, sauces, and gravies.
- It is used to make playdough.
- Gram flour (a type of chickpea flour) can be used to make a refreshing face mask.
- Flour can be used to clean up oil spills in the kitchen.
- It can also be used to make homemade glue.
Bleached flour: This is flour that has been subjected to the bleaching process and ends up having a white color. Examples include cake flour and self-rising flour.
Unbleached flour: This is flour that has NOT been subjected to the bleaching process and does not have the characteristic white color of other commonly used flour. Examples include whole-wheat flour and graham flour.
The Main Features of Baking Powder and What It’s Mainly Used For
Baking powder is a white, powdery leavening agent composed of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), calcium acid phosphate, and sometimes, a buffer/drying agent such as corn starch or potato starch.
It is a slightly alkaline leavening agent that helps baked goods rise by adding carbon dioxide to the dough or batter, thereby providing a pressure that makes it spread out and rise. Baking powder can also be used to coat chicken, giving it a crispy texture.
The use of baking powder is not limited to cooking; it is versatile and is used for many non-cooking purposes such as household cleaning, grease removal, odor removal, insect repelling, unclogging drains, etc.
Baking Powder Vs Flour for Fried Chicken
Coating chicken with flour before frying to get crispy chicken is a widely used cooking technique. But not surprisingly, many people are unaware that baking powder can also be used to coat chicken before frying; it sounds quite unconventional, doesn’t it?
Indeed, both baking powder and flour work well for fried chicken when they are used either separately or together. However, an important thing to note is that it is best to use aluminum-free baking powder for your fried chicken to avoid having your chicken end up with a metallic taste. Also, you can mix baking powder with flour substitutes if you so desire.
Although flour is commonly used for fried chicken to make it crispy, the baking powder gives your fried chicken an extra crunch and crispiness you’d love. This is because baking powder, being slightly alkaline, will raise the pH level of the chicken skin, allowing its proteins to break down. This, in turn, makes the chicken more tender and the skin nicely browned. The end product is a lighter, crispier fried chicken.
Baking Powder Vs Flour for Wings
As stated earlier, baking powder helps make fried chicken (wings, thighs, etc.) crispier and crunchier than you’d have if you used flour alone. Baking powder also can be used for non-fried chicken such as baked or grilled chicken. Coating chicken wings with baking powder before grilling or baking in the oven will give them that appealing extra crispy skin, as good as you will get if you fry them. So you need not worry if you are looking to cut down your calorie intake; you can have your crispy chicken wings without all the oil used in frying. Below are a few tips for using baking powder for wings.
- Ensure that your wings are as dry as possible before coating them with baking powder; you can pat them dry with paper towels.
- Avoid using too much baking powder. Add 1-2 tsp of baking powder per pound of wings in a ziplock bag and shake to coat wings evenly.
- Ensure that you use aluminum-free baking powder to avoid a metallic taste in your chicken wings.
Best Baking Powder Brands – A List
If you bake often, you’ll know the best brands of almost all the ingredients in your baking recipe. But if you are new to baking or only bake once in a while, you may not know the best brands of ingredients to use. So here’s a list of the best baking powder brands available in stores across America.
- Clabber Girl Double Acting Baking Powder.
- Bob’s Red Mill Baking Powder.
- Rumford Double Action Baking Powder.
- Roots Circle Baking Powder Gluten-Free All-Purpose Leavening Agent.
- Davis Baking Powder.
- Hain Pure Foods Gluten-Free Featherweight Baking Powder.
- Argo Baking Powder.
- Goldbaums Baking Powder.
- Dr. Oetker Baking Powder.
- Gefen Baking Powder.
Best Baking Flour Brands – A List
When baking, major ingredients such as flour cannot be compromised; else, you may have an unsatisfactory result. It is also important to know the right type of flour for the baked goods you want because no single flour will meet all your baking needs.
For instance, cake flour will make an excellent cake but may not be perfect for bread. So, the flour selection process essentially depends on what you intend to make and whether you have any dietary restrictions.
Here are some of the best baking flour brands ranked based on the type of baking or baked product (and dietary needs).
Best All-purpose flour brands
- King Arthur Organic Unbleached All-Purpose Flour.
- Gold Medal Unbleached All-Purpose Flour.
- Arrowhead Mills Organic Unbleached All-Purpose Flour.
- Hodgson Mill Organic All-Purpose White Flour.
Best Whole wheat flour brands
- Arrowhead Mills Organic Whole Wheat Flour.
- Bob’s Red Mill 100% Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour.
Best Gluten-free flour brand
- Cup4Cup Gluten-Free Wholesome Flour.
Best keto flour brand
- King Arthur Keto Wheat Flour Blend.
Best Self-rising flour brand
- White Lily Unbleached Self-Rising Flour.
Best Bread flour brands
- Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached Enriched Artisan Bread Flour.
- King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour.
Best Cake flour brands
- Swans Down Cake Flour.
- King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour.
- Bob’s Red Mill White Pastry Flour.
- Presto Self-Rising Cake Flour with Baking Powder and Salt.
Best alternative flour brands
- Bob’s Red Mill Stone Ground Spelt Flour.
- Bob’s Red Mill Organic Buckwheat Flour.
- Bob’s Red Mill Oat Flour.
Read also: Best Cake Flour Brands
Is Baking Powder A Flour?
No, baking powder is not flour. Instead, baking powder is a dry, white, powdery leavening agent added to other baking ingredients to help baked goods rise. On the other hand, flour can be finely milled cereal grains, roots, seeds, nuts, or beans, commonly used in cooking (baking, frying, etc.).
Is Baking Flour the Same as All-Purpose Flour?
Yes, all-purpose flour is generally referred to as baking flour. It has a moderate amount of protein as it is made from a blend of soft and hard wheat and can be used in different baking recipes. It can also be used for coating foods and as a thickener for sauces and dips.
Does Cake Flour Have Baking Powder?
No, cake flour does not have baking powder. Therefore, you would have to add baking powder as your recipe demands. However, self-rising flour has baking powder already added to it.
Does All-Purpose Flour Have Baking Powder?
No, all-purpose flour does not have baking powder, so you will have to add baking powder if your recipe calls for it. However, self-rising flour has baking powder and sometimes salt already added to it to enable your baked goods to rise without additional leavening agents.
You can use all-purpose flour when your recipe calls for plain flour, but if your recipe calls for self-rising flour and you only have all-purpose flour, you may substitute by adding baking powder and salt to your all-purpose flour using this measurement- To every cup of all-purpose flour required, add 1 teaspoon of baking powder and ¼ teaspoon of salt.
Having considered baking powder vs flour, we now know that the two are entirely different. While the former is an important leaving agent used in small amounts to create a rise in baked products, the latter is a major baking ingredient, usually the base ingredient to which other ingredients are added.
However, baking powder and flour can be substituted for each other ONLY when frying, grilling, or baking chicken though one produces a better end product than the other.
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I write about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. I also talk about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things