Here we have a far easier animal to classify, since whole wheat flour (called “whole meal” flour in other parts of the English-speaking world) is a 100% extraction flour, simply whole wheat berries ground to a fine powder. The types of wheat used in whole wheat flour may vary from mill to mill, but in general whole wheat is a very high protein flour, up around 12-15 percent. That protein figure is deceptive, however, since high protein is usually associated with an open, light crumb, and as we all know a 100% whole wheat loaf can be rather, well, dense.
The reason, because a significant amount of the protein in whole wheat flour isn’t actually network-forming gluten from the endosperm, but rather a hodgepodge of miscellaneous proteins from other parts of the wheat berry. Other aspects of whole wheat flour also work to undermine a whole wheat dough’s ability to rise. Notably, the jagged bits of bran it contains, which interfere with and/or slice to pieces the gluten networks that try to form. So in terms of performance, whole wheat flour should be considered a modest-to-low protein flour.
Whole wheat flour, because it contains the entire berry, contains more nutrients than white flour, especially in terms of vitamins, minerals, fat and fiber. It also has a much wheatier, more complex flavor. The main drawback of whole wheat flour is its storability. Because whole wheat includes the ground germ of the berry, it’s about 2.5 percent fat. The fats it contains, for those of you who’ve followed previous posts on fat, are mostly unsaturated, which means they go rancid rather quickly — in as little as a month. Which means whole wheat flour is best stored in the freezer, where it will keep for up to a year.
Whole wheat flour comes ultra fine, fine, medium, coarse and stone ground.