PNG images: Flour

Flour is a powder made by grinding raw grains or roots and used to make many different foods. Cereal flour is the main ingredient of bread, which is a staple food for many cultures, making the availability of adequate supplies of flour a major economic and political issue at various times throughout history. Wheat flour is one of the most important ingredients in Oceanic, European, South American, North American, Middle Eastern, North Indian and North African cultures, and is the defining ingredient in their styles of breads and pastries.

While wheat is the most common base for flour, maize flour has been important in Mesoamerican cuisine since ancient times and remains a staple in the Americas. Rye flour is a constituent of bread in central Europe.

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Cake flour in particular is nearly always chlorinated. There is at least one flour labeled "unbleached cake flour blend" (marketed by King Arthur) that is not bleached, but the protein content is much higher than typical cake flour at about 9.4% protein (cake flour is usually around 6% to 8%). According to King Arthur, this flour is a blend of a more finely milled unbleached wheat flour and cornstarch, which makes a better end result than unbleached wheat flour alone (cornstarch blended with all-purpose flour commonly substituted for cake flour when the latter is unavailable). The end product, however, is denser than would result from lower-protein, chlorinated cake flour.

All bleaching and maturing agents (with the possible exception of ascorbic acid) have been banned in UK.

Bromination of flour in the US has fallen out of favor and while it is not yet actually banned anywhere, few retail flours available to the home baker are bromated anymore.

Many varieties of flour packaged specifically for commercial bakeries are still bromated. Retail bleached flour marketed to the home baker is now treated mostly with either peroxidation or chlorine gas. Current information from Pillsbury is that their varieties of bleached flour are treated both with benzoyl peroxide and chlorine gas. Gold Medal states that their bleached flour is treated either with benzoyl peroxide or chlorine gas, but there is no way to tell which process has been used when buying the flour at the grocery store.

Milling of flour is accomplished by grinding grain between stones or steel wheels. Today, "stone-ground" usually means that the grain has been ground in a mill in which a revolving stone wheel turns over a stationary stone wheel, vertically or horizontally with the grain in between.

An important problem of the industrial revolution was the preservation of flour. Transportation distances and a relatively slow distribution system collided with natural shelf life. The reason for the limited shelf life is the fatty acids of the germ, which react from the moment they are exposed to oxygen. This occurs when grain is milled; the fatty acids oxidize and flour starts to become rancid. Depending on climate and grain quality, this process takes six to nine months. In the late 19th century, this process was too short for an industrial production and distribution cycle. As vitamins, micronutrients and amino acids were completely or relatively unknown in the late 19th century, removing the germ was an effective solution. Without the germ, flour cannot become rancid. Degermed flour became standard. Degermation started in densely populated areas and took approximately one generation to reach the countryside. Heat-processed flour is flour where the germ is first separated from the endosperm and bran, then processed with steam, dry heat or microwave and blended into flour again.

The FDA has been advised by several cookie dough manufacturers that they have implemented the use of heat-treated flour for their "ready-to-bake cookie dough" products to reduce the risk of E. coli bacterial contamination.

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