Is Whole Grain Wheat Flour Best for Sourdough?

Is Whole Grain Wheat Flour Best for Sourdough?

The answer to that question depends on what you are looking for from your bread. Of course, you can buy all-purpose flour to make a nice white loaf of sourdough bread, but there are many other really good choices, especially whole grain wheat flour, freshly ground.

Martha Levie at Abigail’s Oven not to buy the standard wheat you can find these days. She suggests that “when you are shopping, look for non-dwarf wheat, which is 95% of the world’s supply.”And this is the most commonly available wheat.

Dwarf wheat has been genetically engineered and contains gliadin peptides that have opioid effects as a byproduct of hybridization. This “new type of gluten degrades into several morphine-like substances,” she warns and leads to a constant hunger response for more and more of this product.

At the bakery we only use locally grown, heirloom varieties of non-dwarf. There is no pesticide and it is not non-GMO, deep biologically farmed, freshly milled wheat that is cold processed, unbromated, unbleached and unenriched flour.  She suggests home milling whenever you can with these heirloom wheat strains but suggests fresh milling of any wheat berries you have on hand is better for nutrition than buying flour from the store or even from us at the bakery.

  • Home Milling
    • Hard Wheat which is higher in gluten and gives the bread more elastic nature, which helps the final product hold its shape. This bread has a protein content of 12–14%.
    • Soft Wheat is lower in gluten, making a more crumbly final product. If used, this might be hard to shape and tension before baking and quite hard to slice and keep together after it bakes.
  • Commercial Flour
    • Whole Wheat contains the bran, germ, and starchy part of the whole wheat berry with all of its nutrients. The protein content of this is between 12–15% which will generate a higher gluten content. The whole wheat bread dough rises much faster than white bread does.  Also, you will need to use a higher hydration level because whole wheat absorbs more moisture.

      At Abigail’s Oven, the hydration level for our wheat bread is much higher than it is for our white country loaf at 79%. This gives a finer crumb with smaller gas bubbles in the finished loaf. Also, note that whole wheat has a higher level of bacteria than in white flour. More bacteria means it will be harder to get a longferment unless you let chill in the fridge overnight.

    • Bread flour has more gluten (protein 12-14%) than all-purpose flour, so it makes sturdier loaf and according to Mike Greenfield of SourdoughU, it makes “a good candidate for rustic loaves with a good chew.”

      Personally, I use a mix of both, bread flour and whole wheat, about half and half, but I also add ten percent rye to most of my loaves for its flavor.

    • White Whole Wheat contains the bran, germ, and starchy part of the whole wheat berry with all of its nutrients. So with this flour, you get all the benefits of whole wheat and the elasticity of bread flour. It is the best of both worlds.

      King Arthur Baking explains, "White whole wheat is a type of wheat — just like Granny Smith is a type of apple. It's 100% whole wheat; not a mixture of white and wheat flours, and certainly not bleached. Packed with fiber, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, it's nutritionally equivalent to classic red wheat. White whole wheat flour is both light in color and mild-flavored, making it the perfect choice for bakers hesitant to add the distinctive color and taste of red whole wheat to their baking."

    • All-Purpose Flour is a blend of both hard and soft wheat. The protein content is 8-11%, which means there is adequate gluten for bread making, but it also is great for cakes and cookies.
      In a pinch, all-purpose flour is an adequate replacement for bread flour.

    • Semolina Flour is made from durum wheat and is most often associated with making pasta. Its consistency is a bit like cornmeal and is used on some oven stones to prevent bread and pizza from sticking.

      When making bread using this flour you can replace some or all of the all-purpose or whole-wheat in a recipe. This makes the loaf more tender and yields a crispier crust. Seeded bread and pizza dough especially benefit from this addition.
  • Ancient Grains
    • Rye does not contain many gluten-forming proteins, so it is best used in a mix with white flour and/or wheat flours, otherwise, you will end up with a very sticky and dense loaf. However, when rye is added with other flour it develops deeper flavors day two and three, so I add about 10% to every loaf.

      Mike Greenfield also states, ‘Rye Flour used for starter because is attracts more natural yeast.”

    • Einkorn is the most ancient variety of wheat.  At home, we use it as whole wheat in bread making (40 % in every loaf).  For many folks, it is easier to digest than modern wheat since its gluten strands and starches are more digestible. This can be tricky to work with if used alone.

    • Spelt flour forms a weaker gluten structure than commercial flour,  but it has a great sweet and nutty flavor. Like rye, it tends to make a denser loaf but may be good for those who are gluten intolerant.

    • Khorasan (Kamut® ) flour is mild, sweet and tastes buttery. Its higher protein and mineral content makes it a healthier flour, however, it requires much higher hydration and is difficult to shape/tension for baking.

      In the coming weeks look for our Ancient Grain series on each of these varieties and related bread recipes.
The flours you should avoid for bread making are bleached flour and self-rising flour. Mike Greenfield warns, “Bleaching removes pigments that make for a nice creamy crumb color, and adds flavor, but leaves traces from the bleaching process which is not good for the body. Self-rising flour contains baking soda and salt, used in pastry but not needed for bread making.”

Author: Darryl Alder lives with his wife in Riverside Lodge, which is their home, along the Provo River in Utah. Together they adopted and raised four children, all of whom are now adults. He is a retired career Boy Scouter and outdoorsman who spent many hours over a campfire using a Dutch oven and loves sharing recipes for the kitchen and the campfire alike. You can read many of his recipes on this site by searching for Sourdough Saturday or Recipes on this blog and at



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