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Is Flour Vegan? Everything You Need To Know


On a rainy Sunday afternoon, there’s no finer way to spend the day than baking. Baking is an incredibly relaxing and rewarding pastime that, in all honesty, can be done in any weather, at any given time.

When it comes to baking, though, there is an ingredient which is essential in pretty much all recipes, and that ingredient is flour.

Flour is great because it is versatile, it is convenient, it can be added to a whole host of different dishes, it’s affordable, and there are countless different options for you to choose from. From loaves of bread to fresh pasta and pastries, there’s seemingly nothing that bread can’t make.

But is flour vegan? Yes most of the times the flour is vegan but there are occasions when you need to read the label to be sure. In this article we will help you determine if the flour you are looking for is vegan or not.

If you are in a hurry then use the table of contents below to find the flour you are interested in.

What Is Flour?

flour sprinkling into a jar

When you think of flour, which foods come to mind? For most people, it’s foods such as bread, pasta, cakes, pastries, and other delicious baked goods which we consume on a near daily basis.

The term ‘flour’ is actually quite misleading because it is a generalized term nowadays used to describe heavily processed ingredients which have been ground to a very fine powder.

The most common form of flour readily available however, and the one which most people think of first, is wheat flour.

Wheat flour is made by taking wheat plants and grinding and processing them into a fine powder. Whole wheat flour works on the same principle, except for the fact that when the plant was ground, the whole grain of the wheat plant was kept fully intact before it was processed and ground up.

As mentioned, a flour can be made from a number of different ingredients though wheat flours are by far the most common.

What Are Grains?

field of grains

To go into a little more detail about what flour is and how it’s made, when we talk about the grains, these are typically the seeds of cereal plants which have been harvested.

The seeds in question are made up of three parts:

  • Bran
  • Germ
  • Endosperm

The bran acts as protection for the seed and helps to give it a layer of protection from the elements and predators until it is ready to start growing.

The germ is found where new growth begins and the endosperm is where the nutrients used by the plant for food are stored.

The thing is, is that in order for us to obtain the nutrients used by the plant to grow, we need to seize this stored energy found in the endosperm, which is found in the form of a protein called gluten.

Now, the endosperm is what bakers are most interested in because basically, it is simply just white flour which is stored within wheat seeds, just waiting to be removed and used to bake a whole variety of delicious and tasty treats.

In order for grains to become flour, they undergo various milling processes.

How Is Flour Made?

Windmill to make flour

In this next section, we’re going to take a look at how flour is made via what is known as a milling process.

We have been grinding grains to make flour for thousands of years, since the times of the Ancient Romans in fact, way back in 6000 BC.

Back then, the grains were first toasted in order to separate the chaff from the actual wheat itself, before being crushed and ground against two heavy stones.

Needless to say, back then they didn’t have extensive flour mills and machinery, so the resultant flour was coarse, grainy, and nutty.

Because they were so resourceful however, historians have also found evidence that the Ancient Romans used to sift their flour to help remove the lumps and leave a fine powder.

Nowadays, flour milling is done differently, though at its core, the process remains the same. The miller will separate the seeds of the wheat into the bran, germ, and endosperm.

In some countries, flour is bleached to give it that brilliant white colour, plus some manufacturers refine it using bone char (more on that a little later).

In some countries, though, bleaching the flour is illegal and so the natural whiteness comes purely from the ground endosperm itself.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, millers now have machines which help to separate and open up each individual grain, allowing for each component of the grain seed to be extracted and ground accordingly.

This is not just one process. to get a fine flour, the wheat grains could potentially pass through milling machines as many as 16 times.

Differences Between Popular Types Of Flour

Head to any grocery store and take a stroll down the baking aisle, and you can virtually guarantee that you’ll find white flour, or whole wheat flour (sometimes known as whole wheat flour).

White flour, which is the most popular type of flour, is made using the endosperm only, resulting in the germ and the bran being sifted away and removed.

Whole wheat flour, however, is made by processing the endosperm together with the germ and the bran.

Whole wheat flour keeps for a much shorter period of time than white flour, because of the fact that the germ and the bran contain fats which can oxidize and spoil much quicker.

Is Wheat Flour Vegan?

Jar of flour - is wheat flour vegan

Okay, so now the million-dollar question is whether or not wheat flour is actually vegan or not.

Now, in its simplest form, flour is made by basically crushing the grains of wheat flowers between rocks, or machines designed to mimic rocks and as you might expect, this does appear to make it completely vegan.

However, if there is one thing that mankind cannot seem to do, it’s leave things well enough alone and as a result there are some flours out there which may not be suitable for vegans.

Refined sugar is sometimes processed and refined with bone char, which is indeed made from the bones of living creatures, to give it that brilliant bright white colour we’re all familiar with.

Well some flour manufacturers are believed to also use bone char with white flour for that very same reason.

Bone char is not only used to help bring out the colour, it is also used to cut costs. Now, before we proceed any further, it is worth noting that there is no definitive proof that certain, less-reputable companies do actually use bone char when making white flour, so 99.9% of the time it is almost certainly vegan.

How To Tell If Your White Flour Is Likely To Be Vegan

how to find out if a flour is vegan

If you are concerned that your flour could be made using bone char for refinement and processing purposes, there are things you can do, including taking a quick look at the ingredients label on the flour’s packaging.

Read the label, and look for ‘inorganic oxidants’. Inorganic oxidants are typically elements such as: Nitrogen Dioxide, chlorine, magnesium, calcium etc (peroxides), iodates, and bromates.

Some labels will even list oxygen on there due to the fact that, as air, it too is an inorganic oxidant.

So, why would having these ingredients listed on the label make a flour almost certainly vegan? Well, the reason is that these elements all have a very strong reaction when combined with organic matter.

In simple terms, if you included animal derived ingredients such as bone char, this would make the inorganic oxidants far less effective so they wouldn’t be as potent and effective and would result in an unnecessary increase in production costs for the company, and no company wants to spend more money than they have to.

This does not guarantee that a flour is vegan but as mentioned beforehand, it is almost certain to be suitable for vegans.

To virtually guarantee that your flour is vegan, you could look for a non-white flour whereby bone char would certainly not be necessary. Whole wheat flour, almond flour, and chickpea flour for example, would all work very well here.

How About Animal-Derived Additives?

a group of cows

Bread made the old-fashioned way by the Romans, would almost certainly have simply been made by taking the ground flour, adding water to form a dough, and cooking the bread over an open fire.

Essentially you would have just two ingredients – ground wheat grains, and water.

Nowadays, though, if you read the ingredients label on the back of, say, a loaf of bread, you’ll find that there are dozens of ingredients listed, some of which you may not have heard of before or would be able to properly pronounce.

Different companies have different recipes and consequently each one will use different ingredients so knowing exactly what each company uses to make their products is difficult.

With that said, most brands of flour are all very similar to one another. Some of the most common ingredients found in most brands of flour include:

  • Iron
  • Niacin
  • Folic acid
  • Riboflavin
  • Thiamine Mononitrate

Of those listed above, the Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid, and Niacin are all vegan. The Iron, however, MAY not be.

Typically, the vast majority of additives found in flour are vegan, though Iron may be the exception. This is because iron comes in two different forms. The first is heme iron, and the second is non-heme iron.

Heme iron is typically derived from red meat and is easier for the body to absorb than non-heme iron, which is plant-based.

If the iron in flour is heme iron, it comes from animals and is not suitable for vegans. However, there is no evidence to suggest that companies use heme iron, especially considering it would be far more expensive.

Now, if you can see that iron is not an additive, this means that you needn’t worry, but if you do see iron as an additive and are not sure whether it’s heme or non-heme, the best advice we can give you here is to contact the manufacturers directly.

Be Wary Of L-Cysteine

As the Ancient Romans have proved when it comes to flour, sometimes less is more, and as the saying goes ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

It seems as if no matter how great a product tastes and functions, or how well it withstands the test of time, we can’t help but mess with it.

The ingredients and additives we listed previously are more common in flour than others, though there are some brands out there that include an amino acid known as L-Cysteine.

L-Cysteine is used to “improve” the flour, which basically means that it can be used to speed up the rate in which the dough rises, as if we weren’t impatient enough, right?

As useful as this can be, the problem for vegans is the fact that this amino acid is synthesized from ingredients such as duck feathers and pig hair. Yuck!

If a flour does contain this ingredient, by law it should state so on the ingredients, so look out for L-Cysteine, Cysteine, or its E number, which is E920.

If you see any of the aforementioned terms, that flour is off limits. The good news is that, because it is deemed unnecessary and also would be an extra expense, most flour manufacturers do not use L-Cysteine making it a very rare ingredient.

Are Different Types Of Flour Vegan?

almond flour

As mentioned beforehand, flour can be made by grinding a number of dried ingredients into a fine powder.

Because of this, there is no shortage of options when choosing a flour.

But what are these different types of flour, and are they vegan as well?

Is Whole Wheat Flour Vegan?

Whole wheat flour is made from all parts of the wheat grain, rather than simply the endosperm. It has a higher protein content and is generally richer in fiber and more nutritious.

It is 99.99% guaranteed to be vegan, although obviously, you will need to look out for honey grain breads, and any of the ingredients we mentioned previously.

Is Barley Malted Flour Vegan?

Barley malted flour is made from hulled and malted barley which enables the barley to germinate very slightly. This gives the flour a richer and darker colour.

As it is plant-based, it is generally vegan, though again, always read the ingredients.

Is Enriched Unbleached Flour Vegan?

Enriched unbleached flour is flour which has been enriched with added minerals and vitamins, like those we mentioned earlier.

As it is unbleached, this guarantees that it hasn’t been bleached or refined to give it a white colour.

Generally, this flour is indeed vegan, although we can’t guarantee for certain that any iron it contains would indeed be plant-based, even though it is very, very likely.

Is Enriched Bleached Flour Vegan?

Enriched bleached flour is just the same as enriched unbleached flour, except for the fact that it has been bleached with chemicals such as: chlorine gas, or benzoyl peroxide, to make it whiter.

There is no solid evidence to suggest that bone char is used in bleached flour so don’t worry about that.

However, most people tend to avoid bleached flours simply for health reasons.

Is All-Purpose Flour Vegan?

All purpose flour is sometimes called plain flour, is usually higher in gluten than usual, and can either be bleached or unbleached.

As you can see by the name, all-purpose flour can be used in a variety of different recipes calling for flour, and in a variety of different ways.

Almost always, all-purpose flour is vegan.

Is Cake Flour Vegan?

No prizes for guessing what the primary purpose of cake flour is.

Cake flour is usually bleached and is very similar to all purpose flour, except for the fact that it has a much lower gluten content. This is deliberate to help give a moist and fluffy texture to the cake sponge.

It too is nearly always vegan.

Is Pastry flour Vegan?

Pastry flour is used primarily for making… yes, you guessed it – pastries.

Pastry flour undergoes additional milling to create a much finer texture. It is also made from soft wheat which also has a lower gluten protein content, making it ideal for baked pastry recipes such as pie crusts and bases.

It too is almost always vegan, though to be certain, be sure to read the labels.

Is Semolina Flour Vegan?

Semolina flour is made from a different type of wheat known as durum wheat. As a result, it has a much rougher texture than flour made from whole wheats. This is due to the fact that semolina flour is made from parts of the wheat plant which have been removed in order to make wheat flour. So, again, the bran and germ.

Semolina flour works very well to make couscous and is nearly always vegan.

Is Almond Flour Vegan?

Almond flour is a very popular ingredient used in vegan baking, and is made from ground almonds.

First, the almonds are blanched in hot water to remove their skins, before they’re dried, crushed, and ground.

Almond flour is usually used as a substitute for flour in gluten-free recipes, or in recipes calling for a higher natural fat content such as keto recipes.

Almond flour is made from 100% ground almonds and is therefore completely safe for vegan diets.

However it is important to know that it takes 1.1 gallon of water to make 1 almond. This it not enviromental friendly so using almond flour is not recommended.

Is Oat Flour Vegan?

Oat flour is made from dried, ground oats and is very simple to make. Basically, oats, such as those used to make oatmeal in a morning, are thrown into a food processor and are blended until they resemble a fine powder.

As you can guess, oat flour is indeed vegan.

Is Corn Flour Vegan?

Corn flour may sometimes be sold under the name ‘maize flour’.

It is made from corn, though please be aware that it is not the same as ‘corn starch’ which is made from the corn’s endosperm, as opposed to the corn kernels.

Used to make a number of popular dishes, including tortillas and tortilla chips, corn flour is also vegan.

However GMO’s are commonly used when growing corn.

Make sure to use corn flour that is non GMO labeled.

Is Coconut Flour Vegan?

Coconut flour is made from ground coconut “meat” and has a high fiber content and that unmistakable coconut taste.

Coconut flour is not as versatile as other flours because of the coconut taste, but for recipes calling for coconut, wow does it work.

Don’t let the coconut “meat” throw you, coconuts are 100% plant-based, making this flour vegan.

Is Chickpea Flour Vegan?

Chickpea flour comes from dried, ground chickpeas, and is also known as gram flour, especially in Indian cuisine.

Used to make flatbreads, or as a binding agent in dishes such as onion bhajis, chickpea flour tastes great and is ideal for consumption on a vegan diet.

Is Buckwheat Flour Vegan?

Buckwheat flour is derived from a plant related to rhubarb, known as buckwheat. Despite the name, there is actually zero wheat contained in buckwheat.

Buckwheat is used in Japanese cuisine to make certain noodles, plus it can be used to make miniature pancakes known as blinis.

As you can see, it is plant-based and vegan.

Is Amaranth Flour Vegan?

Amaranth flour is obtained by extracting the seeds from the amaranth plant, and grinding them into a very fine powder.

This flour is a great gluten-free option and as it is plant-based, it’s also vegan.

Is Cassava Flour Vegan?

Cassava flour is a hugely popular grain-free, gluten-free flour that is native to South America and is made from the cassava root.

Similar to other root vegetables, when ground to a fine powder, not only is this a great vegan flour, it’s also a great flour for people suffering with allergies.

Is White Rice Flour Vegan?

White rice flour is made from ground white rice and can be used in gluten-free baking to make a number of dishes.

As it is made solely from dried ground white rice, it’s completely vegan.

Is Brown Rice Flour Vegan?

Brown rice flour is made exactly the same way as white rice, except for the fact that brown rice is used.

Brown rice has a lower glycaemic index, it is higher in fibre, and it is higher in vitamins and minerals, making it slightly healthier than white rice flour.

Yes, it too is vegan.

Is Sorghum Flour Vegan?

Sorghum flour is native to India, where it is commonly known as ‘Jowar’.

Derived from the sorghum plant, it is gluten-free but can be used as a replacement for flours which provide a glutinous texture, though it usually needs to be used with a binding agent such as xantham gum.

It is completely plant-based and vegan.

Is Tapioca Flour Vegan?

Tapioca flour is actually made from the cassava root, also known as yuca and can be used in baking, especially when making breads and cakes because of the naturally occurring sugars it contains.

It is completely vegan.

Is Teff Flour Vegan?

Teff Flour is made from a grain which has been cultivated by humans for centuries.

This grain comes from a species of grass native to Africa and is renowned for its many health benefits. Not only is it gluten free, it is also rich in dietary fiber, as well as essential minerals such as magnesium, zinc, copper, and iron.

Teff flour is completely safe for vegans.

Is Hemp Flour Vegan?

Hemp flour is derived from hemp seeds. Yes, those hemp seeds, but don’t worry, it won’t get you high or provide any mind altering effects.

Now, hemp seeds are rich in hemp oil, so in order to make hemp flour, the oil must first be extracted. After the oil has been extracted, the seeds are then dried and ground to a fine powder.

Hemp flour makes great savoury baking dishes and is popular in vegan cuisine.

Is Potato Starch Flour Vegan?

Finally, we have potato starch flour. This is the starch which has been extracted from potatoes.

Potato starch flour works incredibly well as a thickening agent and is 100% vegan friendly.

Conclusion

So, is flour vegan friendly?

As you can tell, in general, flour is nearly always vegan, though as we have highlighted above, there are a few pitfalls which you will need to be wary of.

Providing you do your research and read the labels of your flour however, 99% of the time, you will find that your flour is indeed perfectly suitable for your vegan lifestyle.


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