Because I think it's easier to use flour than whole grains for baking, my wife and I have decided to store flour instead of grain when it comes to putting together our one years worth of food storage. That's not to say we don't store grain. Rice is wonderful and I ain't doin' without it in my pantry. We've just decided to forgo the huge bags of storage wheat.
When it comes to flour, there are more varieties than you can shake spoon at. However, there are five main kinds of flour that are available in most grocery stores. Each one is a little different.
All-Purpose White Flour
A staple of the kitchen, all-purpose white flour is used for all kinds of things. Breads, pasta, pastries, batters, and as a thickening agent. Sometimes you'll find it mixed with leavening agents and sold as self-rising flour, but don't buy it that way unless the recipe specifically asks for it. It's available in both bleached, and unbleached, varieties.
I'm not sure why this gets thought of as an alternative to white flour. Didn't it come first? I love whole-wheat flour. It provides a mildly nutty flavor, but can produce a heavier result in most breads. Because it contains fat from the wheat germ, it can go rancid and must be stored carefully. Some people suggest that you store it in the refrigerator.
Bread flour is the high-gluten version of all-purpose flour. Because of it's higher gluten content, it's said to be better for baking breads. I've never used it. Instead I buy all-purpose flour (or whole-wheat flour) and add wheat gluten when I bake bread. It comes in both white and whole-wheat varieties.
Most people don't think of flour when they think cornstarch, but that's what it is. This very finely ground flour from corn is normally used for thickening liquids. It's best to mix it with a little cold water to form a thin paste before using it this way, to avoid lumps. It can also be used medicinally in lieu of baby powder. In fact, most baby powder is just perfumed cornstarch.
I had someone tell me that cornmeal was a grain, once. I don't think so. It might have started like as a grain but it's left that world behind. Cornmeal is ground to varying degrees of coarseness. It's a common ingredient in Southwestern and Italian cooking.
Picture by Stefano Barni