I remember when white whole wheat flour started to get popular quite a few years ago. There was definitely some confusion and everyone was asking, “What is white whole wheat flour?” Clients and patients were anxious to know how it was different and if it was just as good as plain old “whole wheat.” The confusion comes in when we are told to avoid refined “white” grains, choosing “whole” grains instead. So when a product is labeled with both many people find themselves confused and wondering if it is just a marketing tactic.
What We Already Know: Basic White Flour vs. Whole Wheat Flour
Wheat has three main components: bran, germ, and endosperm. While whole wheat contains the whole grain with nothing removed we know that refined white flour has the bran and germ removed and is only made of the endosperm.
Where does this leave white whole wheat flour? The real question is how is white whole wheat flour made and which part(s) of the grain does it include? What is the differentiating factor between this and your “typical” whole wheat?
What is White Whole Wheat Flour
It’s a bit of contradiction in terms since we used to consider a white flour to be refined, but a white whole wheat is a whole grain flour made from the bran, germ, and endosperm just as typical whole wheat flour is. This means, the flour is still higher in fiber and vitamins.
The difference refers to the type of wheat berry used to make the flours.
The Difference in Wheat and Flavor
White whole wheat carries a milder flavor, making it a popular choice for those not used to the flavor of classic whole wheat bread as well as a more favored choice for baked goods.
White whole wheat is made of white wheat berries whereas most whole wheat is made of red wheat berries. This is what essentially ends up creating the difference in flavor. In fact, I recently learned from The Whole Grains Council that white wheat actually does not have color genes and they even describe it as albino wheat. As it turns out, these compounds that give red wheat it’s color also add an element of flavor. Therefore, without these compounds white whole wheat is a milder tasting choice.
The red whole wheat ends up having a nuttier, heartier flavor due to these genetic differences.
How Did White Wheat Come About?
Most red wheat berries have three genes for bran color. However, some strains only had 1-2 genes. The crossbreeding of these strains produces some that have no genes for color, resulting in what we know today as white whole wheat.
The Nutritional Profile
White and red wheat share very similar nutrition profiles. While there are some small differences in the vitamin content (red generally being higher) these are very small and not enough to impact a decision based on vitamin content alone. There are numerous varieties of both red and white wheat including hard and soft in both.
Hard vs Soft Wheat
Both red and white wheat come in hard and soft varieties which impacts the nutritional profile of the wheat. Hard wheat varieties are generally higher in protein and gluten content which makes it ideal for yeast baked goods. Soft wheat has a larger percentage carbohydrates and makes an ideal pastry or cake flour.
You can easily substitute whole wheat flour for white whole wheat flour at a 1:1 ratio. If you are attempting to transition your family to whole grains you may find that the white whole wheat flour is a better choice since the flavor is milder. You can also ease into whole grains by substituting only half of the white refined flour for whole wheat flour. As tastes change over time it will become easier to make more substitutions and add more creativity (and nutrients) to your foods. For more on making recipes healthier check out my post on healthier recipe substitutions.