In America flour types have names like “Cake Flour” and “All-Purpose”. In the UK you’ll find “Plain Flour”, “Self-Raising”, “Wholemeal” and “Bread Flour”. But in Germany? It’s not about the name, instead it’s all about the number. So let’s talk about flour types in Germany!
In the UK we give flours names that indicate what they are and their uses – so “Self-Raising” flour already has the ingredients needed to give cakes and bakes a lift. “Strong White Bread Flour” is a strong, white flour that’s good for bread making as it contains more gluten. Pretty straight forward, yeah?
If you’re not used to seeing British flour types, have a glance at Allinson’s website here – they produce my favourite bread flours.
When it comes to interpreting what you see on the shelves in Germany though, you need to have an understanding of their grading system. It isn’t as obvious and self-explanatory as with British flour types.
Flour Grading in Germany
One of the simplest explanations I’ve found of the grading system comes from Doves Farm. They produce some great organic flour in the UK, using heritage grains and you might have heard of their naturally gluten free ranges too.
Countries that have adopted numbering systems base these on flour purity and particle size based laboratory testing, which could include sieving, protein or ash content. As a rule of thumb, the larger the number the darker the flour, the lower the number the finer and whiter the flour. | Doves Farm
The German grading scale focuses on the ‘ash content’ – which sounds pretty unpleasant, but it actually refers to the mineral content of the flour. Why ‘ash’? Well the value is determined by burning a certain amount of flour and measuring the residue . A 405 flour (white) will leave less grain bits behind than a 1050 (a brownish grey). So yeah… if the word ‘ash’ sounds like you’re scraping something out of the fireplace, that’d be why!
- More ash = more of the whole grain = bigger number = darker flour.
- Less ash = less of the whole grain = lower number = whiter flour.
The Other Big Difference
Flour comes from a milled grain. In this instance, I’m talking about wheat. Wheat varieties, grown in different locations, vary in protein content (and thus gluten). American wheat is generally a ‘hard’ variety and European tends to be ‘soft’.
As you might have guessed, there’s more gluten present in the hard varieties – and it’s stronger too. With less protein in the soft varieties, there’s less gluten. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but the two kinds are suited to different jobs in the kitchen.
Many flours are blended mixtures of the two types, depending on local production, imports and ultimately the requirements of the end product. The British market prefers stronger gluten content for the kinds of bread we consume (from around 12% to 14%) – which is why you’ll find a difference with certain German flours.
The Other OTHER Big Difference
Different flours absorb different amounts of liquid (which is especially relevant when making bread). In short, the flour I get in Germany cannot absorb the same amount of water I’d put into my bread dough in the UK. Soft flours, whether due to milling differences or protein content (or a combination thereof) don’t absorb the same amount of liquid.
Flour Types in Germany
Type 405 | It’s the fine, white, starch rich flour that’s used for making biscuits, cakes and pastry. It’s very soft to the touch and produces baked goods with a fine crumb. Of standard wheat flours, 405 contains the least amount of gluten. This is most comparable to Plain Flour in the UK or Pastry Flour in the US. Don’t forget to add Backpulver or baking powder where needed!
Type 550 | Similar to type 405 but with a slightly higher protein content. It’s most similar to American All-Purpose flour. It can be used to make biscuits, cakes and pastry though won’t produce as fine and tender a crumb as 405. This is what I use for bread making. For light, spongy cake-like doughs it’s fine – but it needs to have some extra wheat gluten added to work (in my opinion) for British loaves and chewier doughs. At 11% to start with, it’s just not quite strong enough.
Type 812 | With a higher number comes greater wholegrain particles and more gluten. Hitting somewhere between 11-13% , this one has a gluten content that’s similar to British bread flours (usually around 12-14%). However… It’s not all that commonly found in supermarkets so it’s a little more awkward to get. It also doesn’t produce a ‘white’ loaf, but somewhere in the region of off-brown.
Type 1050 and 1600 | Brown flours with higher gluten content. The 1600 is literally a whole wheat flour, though it isn’t the same as in the UK – and I don’t care what anyone says.
Flour Aisle Vocabulary
This is a little bit of a ‘show and tell’, but it’s always good to know what you’re looking for when you head into a German supermarket!
- Weizen = Wheat
- Dinkel = Spelt
- Roggen = Rye
- Mehl = Flour
- Vollkornmehl = Wholemeal Flour
- Mais = Corn … BUT, be careful! Maismehl is cornmeal and not ‘cornflour’ as used in the UK.
- Speisestärke = Cornflour or cornstarch (for thickening sauces, pictured above)
- Weichweizen-Grieß = Soft Wheat Semolina
- Hartweizen-Grieß = Hard Wheat Semolina
- Weizengluten – Wheat Gluten. Now I’m not 100% certain this is the same as ‘vital wheat gluten’ – but I’m also not bothered, as this does the job when added to 550 flour. At least, as far as I’m concerned. It notably improves the texture and strength of the dough. I actually made pizza dough not so long ago and wondered why, as I was kneading it, it felt so weak. I realised I hadn’t added the extra wheat gluten! Muppet! Which proves to me it makes all the difference I need it to. This came from a German Bio-Supermarkt.
Now this isn’t an all inclusive list, but hopefully there’s enough information here to give you a nudge in the right direction when visiting a German supermarket! There are a few other ‘types’ of flour on the market here, from anti-clumping to Spätzle-Mehl (for German noodle making!) but to find out more, give Google translate a go at Rosenmehl.de.
I’m not (at all!) an authority on German flours, but hopefully my experiences here can help you find what you need! Happy baking!