Flours & Starches: Other True Grains

3 types of flour: wheat (Left & center) and rye flour (Right)

3 types of flour: wheat (Left & center) and rye flour (Right)

by Cat, Jan 2008, updated Dec 2013 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

See also 1. Wheat flour; 2. Gluten-Free flours; 3. Sprouted Grain Flour; 4. Purchasing & Storage of flours5. Soaking & sprouting grains6. Grains: Grinding (for flour) and Flaking/Rolling (for porridge); 7. Spelt vs Wheat in Baked Goods & Pasta

See also the  related article: Working with Grains, Legumes, Nuts and Seeds (links to the Diet & Health section of my main website)

Includes: 1. Spelt & Kamut flours (ancient wheat varieties); 2. Barley flours; 3. Rye flours; 4. Oat flours; 5. Corn flours

Flour is a very basic ingredient in almost all baked goods.  The most common flour is made from wheat, but it can be made from many other grains, and also from nuts and legumes.  Flour is used mainly for its carbohydrate content, but also for its protein content. 

The major protein in wheat, barley, rye, spelt and kamut flour is gluten, which lends elasticity, accommodating expansion of the dough/batter during a rise.  Oat doesn’t have gluten in the grain, but packaged oat is often contaminated with gluten from wheat. Additionally, oat has avenin, a protein similar to gluten that causes sensitivity issues for some people.

Spelt and Kamut: Ancient members of the wheat family

Modern wheat is a highly hybridized grain.  Several  ancient, non-hybridized varieties of wheat are also available, with distinctly different nutrient profiles.  The most common of these are spelt and kamut.  These are being rediscovered as more and more people are developing dietary sensitivities to modern wheat.  They are also superior, nutritionally, to hybridized wheat.  Both are available in white and whole grain versions, and both can be used to make bulgur.


Spelt is a bread wheat that dates to Biblical times, from Mesopotamia, and makes an excellent bread.  It can be substituted cup for cup for modern wheat flours; however, because it is highly water soluble:

  • Reduce the water (or other wet ingredients) in your recipe by 10 -25% (or increase amount of flour), and
  • rReduce the mixing or kneading time by half.
  • When making yeast or sourdough spelt breads, allow less time for the rise than for wheat, as the spelt gluten works up much faster. If you let it rise too long, the bread will be heavy and may fall in the oven.

I’ve adapted many of my recipes for a spelt version; I especially prefer spelt for pie crusts.  I’ve also experimented with soaking whole spelt flour for some of my recipes.

While spelt is in the same family as other true grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats), it is its own species.  Its high solubility in water makes its nutrients more readily digestible, and its protein content is 10 – 25 % greater than modern wheat varieties (5,7).  Spelt has a tough hull or husk which protects the grain from pollutants and insects, so growers can avoid pesticides. White spelt flour has more nutrients than white wheat flour, because of spelt’s tough husk (9).

Spelt is high in gluten, but spelt gluten is a different protein than wheat gluten, with a different amino acid profile.  Thus it is well-tolerated by many with gluten sensitivity.

According to Mosher Products, the spelt kernel is more delicate than wheat, and needs gentle treatment and less water.

It is better suited for quick-breads, cakes and cookies (leavened with baking soda or baking powder), than for yeast breads (because it works up quite fast and often falls before you realize it is past ready); however, I love sourdough spelt bread made with spelt starter.  It also makes an excellent pie crust.

When making yeast bread, most sites recommend using a combination of spelt and wheat or spelt and rye.  This is because yeasted spelt dough will rise, ripen and mature more quickly than wheat.  You may need to reduce the rise time, so check early for doubling in bulk.

Check out Dove’s Farm Spelt-Info website for more info.

You can purchase spelt flour from Bob’s Red Mill (17), King Arthur & Hi-Stakes Spelt and Flax.

Spelt Bulgur:  

Like kamut, spelt has certain advantages over wheat for making bulgur:

  • higher % of protein;
  • better protein profile;
  • less gluten than wheat, and better tolerated;
  • many people allergic to wheat can tolerate spelt.


Kamut (pronounced ‘kuh-MOOT’) is a Durham wheat that also dates to Biblical times, and believed to be from Egypt.  However, it wasn’t called kamut, as that is a modern trademark name for this ancient grain, as developed by a Montana grain farmer.  A requirement of that trademark is that all kamut must be grown organically, and must not be hybridized nor genetically engineered.  See Montana Flour and Grains or kamut.com for more.  See also The Prairie Star website for an interesting article on kamut.

In addition to having a higher protein content (20 – 40% more than modern wheat), it also has a higher fat content, giving it a distinct buttery flavor, and higher vitamin and mineral content than modern wheat.  It is excellent for making pasta and traditional flat breads such as naan (5,6).

You can purchase kamut flour and whole kamut berries from Bob’s Red Mill (17)  Or from the Montana and kamut links above.

Kamut Bulgur:  

Kamut is an ancient variety of wheat, from Egypt, that has certain advantages over modern wheat for making bulgur:

  • higher selenium content;
  • 30% higher in vitamin E;
  • 20 – 40% more protein;
  • many people allergic to wheat can tolerate kamut.

Refer to Sunnyland Mills website for more on this ancient grain, and its bulgur (sprouted) form.

Barley Flours

Barley is one of the oldest cereal grains.  It is used in making beer (barley malt), bread and gruel.  The Greeks valued barley’s ability to give physical strength and mental alertness.  It is one of the few grains that can be grown above the Arctic circle.  Like oats, barley has a high soluble fiber content, touted to be heart and artery-friendly.

Barley flour is typically made by grinding de-hulled grain (a ‘whole’ grain), but a ‘white’ flour can be made from pearled barley.  De-hulled barley has been removed of its fibrous outer layer, or hull, but still retains its bran and germ.  Pearled barley is dehulled barley that has been polished, and is devoid of most of barley’s nutrients.

Refer to my article on Barley for more.

Malted Barley Flour

The most healthful and nutritious barley flours are made from malted barley, which is sprouted and dried before grinding. For baking, use malted barley flour in combination with wheat or spelt flour (You can find recipes using all barley flour, but barley has a weaker gluten than wheat, so you could get strange results) (11):

  • yeast-risen goods:  substitute up to 25% of total flour with malted barley flour
  • non-yeast risen goods (cookies, cakes, quick breads):  substitute up to 50% of total flour with malted barley flour
  • no rising involved (thickener for gravies, soups, stews):  substitute up to 100% of total flour with malted barley flour

Barley as Substitute for Cake Flour:

Replacing about 1/4 of the total wheat flour with barley flour, makes for a lighter product, and is an excellent replacement for “cake flour”, especially if you use whole wheat flour for the wheat portion of the mix.  For example, a recipe calling for 1 cup cake flour, could be modified to use 3/4 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup barley flour.  Or 1/2 cup whole wheat, 1/4 cup unbleached white, and 1/4 cup barley flour.  You may need to increase the moisture a bit when using whole wheat flour, as it is drier than white flour.

Regular Barley Flour (not Malted)

Malting makes the flour more nutritious and digestible, but if all you can find is regular barley flour, you can improve its nutritional quality and digestibility by soaking it overnight before using (soaking in water with a bit of lemon juice, whey or yogurt).  See Soaking flour for Baking, for more.

The recommendations for using malted barley flour also apply to regular barley flour:

  • yeast-risen goods:  substitute up to 25% of total flour with barley flour
  • non-yeast risen goods (cookies, cakes, quick breads):  substitute up to 50% of total flour with malted barley flour
  • no rising involved (thickener for gravies, soups, stews):  substitute up to 100% of total flour with malted barley flour

Sources of Barley flours:

Rye Flours

Rye is a wonderful, often overlooked, old grain. Many people reject it because of the caraway seeds often found in rye breads, but it is a delicious and nourishing grain.

As a member of the larger wheat family (triticale), rye is a gluten grain, but has less gluten than wheat, and, like spelt, more soluble fiber. It is an ancient grain dating back to 1800-1500 BC (per Wikipedia).

Confused by all the different versions of rye flour? The following is from Bob’s Red Mill,  SourDoughHome.com (16) and other sources as noted

  • Light Rye has most of the bran and germ removed, and can be used like an unbleached white flour. See Online sources of light rye flour, below.
  • Medium Rye has more bran than light rye, comparable to a 50-50 mix of unbleached white flour (wheat) and whole wheat), but is not available at Bob’s Red Mill (17), and hard to find at local grocers. See Online sources of medium rye flour, below.
  • Dark rye should be a whole grain rye flour, containing all of the bran and germ of the original berry. Bob’s Red Mill’s Dark Rye is a true whole grain rye flour. However, according to SourDoughHome.com (16), some brands are not whole-grain, but rather light rye with more bran added back than for medium rye. See Online sources of dark rye flour (true whole grain), below.
  • Whole grain rye flour is truly whole grain, containing all of the bran and germ of the original berry, and is what you get when you grind rye berries at home to a fine flour. If you cannot achieve a fine grind at home, you get something more like pumpernickel.
  • Cracked rye is ‘cracked,’ meaning that it is simply crushed, but is often confused with rye bulgur, which is parboiled/sprouted and dried before it is cracked, and then may be roasted. It is typically soaked overnight before incorporating into the dough or cooked as porridge. See Online sources, below.
  • Rye meal or Pumpernickel is used for making pumpernickel and European peasant breads, and is a coarse-ground flour. It can also be cooked as a hot breakfast cereal (porridge). See Online sources, below.

Online sources of Light Rye flour

Online sources of Light Rye flour

Online sources of Medium Rye flour

Online sources of Whole Rye flour

  • Bob’s Red Mill, a true whole rye (17).

Other varieties of rye flour

  • Bob’s Red Mill, Cracked Rye (17)
  • Bob’s Red Mill, Rye meal or Pumpernickel Rye (17)


Oat Flours

Oat is one of my favorite flours, that is, until I found I have a sensitivity to it. I used it as breading for fried chicken or cutlets, and as part of the mix of flours in my bread and other baked goods recipes.

Oat contains soluble fiber known as beta-glucan that is believed to be responsible for its ability to lower LDL cholesterol, and so is considered a ‘heart healthy’ food. However, I discredit this leap of judgement, because there is no proven link between elevated LDL and heart attacks – only a risk level. In fact, cholesterol itself is essential for health and proper functioning of the liver. The LDL and HDL names refer to the type of carrier that transports cholesterol through the blood, and each has a specific function that supports good health. For example LDL is the first emergency responder that works to heal damaged artery tissue, and HDL does the cleanup once healing has begun.

While oat does not contain gluten,  most brands of oatmeal and oat flour are grown, processed and packaged in facilities that handle gluten grains (like wheat), and so are often contaminated. However, if you are avoiding gluten, you can find oat products that are totally free of gluten contamination. HOWEVER, oat does contain a similar protein called avenin. So although oat is gluten-free, you may still have a problem with oat because of the avenin. If you want to know more about the toxicity of avenin for some individuals, see Wikipedia: Avenin-sensitive enteropathy (14).

I have never seen white oat flour, only whole grain; however, oat bran (separated from the whole grain) is available as a fiber source, so perhaps the endosperm is also sold as white flour. I used to grind my own (as well as roll my own oats for porridge), until I had to stop using it altogether.

Corn Flours

need content


  1. newstarget.com/008191.html
  2. womenfitness.net/ugly_truths.htm
  3. angelfire.com/folk/naturalife/whiteflr.html
  4. bellybytes.com/bytes/wheatgermandwheatbran.shtml
  5. rwood.com/Articles/Spelt_and_Kamut.htm
  6. pacificbakery.com/faq.htm#kamut
  7. pacificbakery.com/spelt.htm
  8. whatscookingamerica.net/Bread/FlourTypes.htm
  9. joakitchen.blogspot.com/2005_03_06_archive.html
  10. wisegeek.com/what-is-barley-flour.htm
  11. practicallyedible.com/edible.nsf/encyclopaedia!openframeset&frame=Right&Src=/edible.nsf/pages/maltedbarleyflour!opendocument
  12. bhg.com/recipes/how-to/cooking-basics/thickening-with-cornstarch-or-flour/
  13. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrowroot
  14. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oat_sensitivity#Avenin-sensitive_enteropathy
  15. Dr. Royal Lee, reprinted in Nourishing Traditions
  16. SourDoughHome.com (sourdoughhome.com/ryetypes.html)
  17. Bob’s Red Mill (links removed at their request)


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