Flour-based dishes are such a big part of Italian cuisine that a wide variety of Italian flour shouldn’t come as a surprise. Multiple types of grains are used to grind various kinds of flours, and they all have their use.
In our Italian section, you’ll find abundant options of high-quality Italian flour whenever you wish to try your hand at baking authentic pizza, hand-rolling fresh pasta, or simply upgrading the baking you already do with a higher-quality product.
But before you go looking, let’s break down all the aspects requiring attention to choose the suitable flour that fits your intended purpose.
The Types of Italian Flour
There are several ways to categorize classic wheat Italian flour: the type of grain, the gluten protein content (i.e., “flour strength”), and how finely it has been ground. Let’s break down how each of these categories works.
Differentiating between grains is the easiest. Your flour package simply mentions if your flour is rice, barley, buckwheat, etc., unless it’s wheat.
Usually, Italian wheat flour is split into two large groups: Grano Tenero (soft wheat flour) and Grano Duro (hard wheat or semolina flour). All Italian wheat flour fits into these categories one way or another, but this classification doesn’t apply to other grains.
The second big category is flour strength. In Europe, most flour manufacturers denote gluten protein content on the packaging, and Italian flour is no different. “Strength” is crucial when it comes to baking. The stronger the flour, the higher the gluten content. The higher the gluten content, the more water it absorbs and the more gluten proteins bind.
Flour strength is marked with W-value.
Gluten content is just as crucial as grind when selecting the suitable flour. If you want the dough to stay flat and retain moisture, you’ll need “weaker” flour. It would mean gluten content of about 8-9% with a W-value between 90-180.
“Medium” flour gluten content would correspond with a gluten content of around 9-12% (with a W-value over 200 and up to 300).
“Strong” flour would have a protein content of over 12% and a W-value over 300. There is even super glutinous flour with a 15-16% gluten content and a W-value over 350.
Last but not least, Italian flour is categorized by how finely it has been ground. That is the most common denominator for wheat flour, with type 00 flour becoming so famous that even newbie bakers are looking for it “because it’s the best.”
And don’t get us wrong, if you’ve not yet tried baking with type 00 Italian flour, you should remedy that at the earliest opportunity. But all types of Italian flour have their time and place, not just type 00. Don’t overlook them just because you’ve not heard of them as much.
Categorizing Soft Wheat Italian Flour via Grind
Soft wheat, or Grano Tenero, Italian flour is generally split into 4 or 5 categories. The finer the grain is ground, the lower the number, with 00 the lowest and 2 the highest. Gluten content generally corresponds with it (finer the grind, lower the gluten level), but it’s not very straightforward (ex. Type 2 flour W-value can range between 180-350), so you should check for it when choosing the flour.
Type 00 Flour (sometimes called Doppio Zero)
Type 00 flour is the quintessential Italian flour synonymous with quality. It’s extra refined, very soft, and stark white in color because it contains none of the wheat bran. Despite its popularity, type 00 flour isn’t fit for all baking.
Due to the uber-fine grind, its gluten protein consistency is very low, at about 8-9% (and a W-value of 180 at most). It’s ideal for delicate pastries like croissants and cakes, certain types of flatbreads, or fresh egg pasta, but not so great a choice for bread, pizza crust, or hard pasta. At least not on its own.
Matching it to the American flour classification, we’d be closest to pastry or cake flour.
If you’ve never worked with type 00 flour before, try starting with Antimo Caputo 00 flour, as it’s considered one of the most trustworthy brands on the market, with consistent quality.
Type 0 Flour
Type 0 Italian flour often gets overlooked due to the popularity of type 00, but it’s actually the more versatile of the two. Slightly less refined with a bit more wheat bran, type 0 flour is still very pale and virtually white to the human eye.
Its slightly stronger grind ensures its higher gluten content, at about 10-12%. Type 0 is the ultimate “medium-strength” flour, with W-value consistently between 180-240. It’s fit for most baked goods, from cakes to most types of bread, though the results can be mixed in the hands of an untrained baker.
In the American flour classification system, type 0 Italian flour would correspond the closest to all-purpose flour.
Despite type 00 popularity, high-quality type 0 flour is by no means a niche product, with most flour manufacturers offering options.
Type 1 Flour
Type 1 flour is possibly the hardest to describe. It’s not a fine grind anymore, but neither is it so close to whole wheat to be described as “coarse.”
It contains more bran than type 0 flour but is still white. Its gluten content is generally similar to type 0, hovering between 10-12% (and a W-value of 180-240).
With these many similarities between the two types, the main differences are the grind’s coarseness and taste. The higher amount of wheat bran adds a nuttier flavor to the flour. Combined with a coarser but not outright coarse grind, this makes type 1 flour a good fit for certain types of bread, muffins, pound cakes, etc.
It’s hard to fit it into American-style flour classification. Still, the closest it would come to would be bread flour, even though it’s at the lower end of the required gluten content (American bread flour typically has a gluten content of 12-14%).
Type 2 Flour
Coarser than type 1 flour, type 2 is the easiest to describe as semi-whole wheat flour. It’s the first grind on the list we’d describe as outright coarse. It has higher wheat bran content but is not so high to significantly darken the flour color. Because type 2 Italian flour is still white (though dark enough that it becomes visible to the human eye), it’s sometimes called white whole-wheat flour.
Type 2 flour is the one you should pay particular attention to gluten content with. It can be as low as 9% and as high as 13%, with the W-value ranging from “weak” at about 180 to “super strong,” reaching 350.
Like type 1, type 2 Italian flour doesn’t have an exact match in American flour classification, but bread flour comes the closest again. Type 2 flour is best used for savory dishes, like bread, pizza crust, or rustic pasta.
Tipo Integrale Flour
Integrale in Italian means “complete,” so fittingly, Integrale also means “whole wheat” when used to describe flour.
It has a coarse grind and darker color due to wholly retained wheat bran, with a complicated, nutty aroma and a more distinct flavor. Integrale flour is the least versatile among Grano Tenero flours since its strong flavor makes for particular products. It’s barely if ever used for pastries, and even with bread, pasta, or pizza crust, many tend to prefer more finely refined flours.
As Its gluten content range is nigh identical to type 2 flour (around 10-13%, and W-value between 180 and 350), type 2 can often act as a fit substitute for recipes that call for Integrale flour if the flavor is not up to your taste.
Categorizing Italian Semolina Flour via Grind
There’s a prevalent misconception that semolina flour isn’t made of wheat but a completely different grain. Nope. Semolina flour is still wheat, just a different kind.
Durum wheat, used for grinding semolina flour, is a different species, but it’s still wheat. The main difference between the two is that while durum wheat contains a lot of protein, it cannot develop gluten as elastic as soft wheat. The resulting semolina flour is thus high in gluten protein - but not particularly fit for baking due to problems with gluten expansion.
This has earned it the name “macaroni wheat” since semolina flour is perfect for pasta-making.
Semola Di Grano Duro Rimacinata
Italian semolina flour types differ by how finely they’ve been ground, like soft wheat flour. Semola (the Italian word for semolina) rimacinata is basically the semolina flour equivalent of type 00 flour. It’s the finest grind and palest color, though it has the beautiful yellow hue of durum wheat due to high carotenoid pigment concentration.
To achieve the fine grind, semola rimacinata is typically milled twice. Curiously enough, despite semolina flour being deemed “pasta flour,” semola rimacinata is rarely used in pasta-making and primarily acts as bread flour.
Semola Di Grano Duro
Or the grind that’s “responsible” for categorizing semolina flour as pasta flour. Semola di Grano Duro can be both medium grind and coarse grind, and it’s the flour most often used to make pasta Secca, i.e., the dry pasta primarily used for cooking all over the world.
Interestingly, coarsely ground semolina flour is considered the best fit for most pasta shapes. At the same time, medium-grind is typically only used for regional pasta varieties like gnocchi alla Romana and Apulian orecchiette.
Semola di Grano Duro has a deeper yellow color than semola rimacinata, though their gluten protein content generally seems to be around 13%, with slight variation.
Semola Tipo Integrale
Unsurprisingly, Integrale once again denotes “whole,” though interestingly enough, it doesn’t necessarily mean coarsely ground flour. In fact, while semola integrale isn’t as popular a product as standard semola rimacinata, finding semola rimacinata integrale is easier than semola integrale.
Semola integrale simply means that natural durum wheat germ has been preserved during milling. This gives the final product a deeper color and a more distinct flavor, but the grind is similar to standard semolina flour.
It is typically used in bread-baking more often than pasta-making, though it can be used to experiment with homemade pasta.
Special Mention: Italian Manitoba Flour
Manitoba flour deserves its own space on this list because it is a different type of wheat used to make Italian flour. Manitoba is too a type of soft wheat with very high protein content. It’s not uncommon to find Manitoba wheat was used to make super glutinous flour, with its gluten content often reaching 15%.
Manitoba wheat is usually ground into either type 00 or type 0 flour and used for baked goods that require a slow-rising process. For type 00, this would be Italian Panettone and Colomba cakes, German krapfens, or French croissants. For type 0, this would mean pizza dough or certain bread varieties.
Sometimes Manitoba flour is milled and labeled for specific purposes.
Which flour is the best for pizza?
The real question is, what kind of dough are you looking to make? Because there’s really no such thing as ideal pizza flour. Only pizza flour that suits your purposes.
With their raised edges and chewy texture, Neapolitan-style pizzas would need strong white flour with gluten content on the higher side. Classic type 0, type 1, and type 2 soft wheat flours with a gluten content of around 12% would all serve the purpose.
But neither is considered to be the ideal flour for Neapolitan-style pizza. That would be high-gluten 00 flour, like Antimo Caputo 00 flour we mentioned earlier (its gluten content is around 14,5%).
On the other hand, if you’re looking to make thin-crust pizza, you’d need lower gluten content to prevent it from absorbing too much moisture and puffing up. Classic low-gluten 00 flour would work best. If you have trouble finding 00 flour with around 8% gluten content, you can try lower-end type 0 or type 1, with a gluten content of about 10%.
And there’s another question of how long you intend to let your pizza dough rise. The higher the protein content, the longer the dough will need to rise (for example, the aforementioned Antimo Caputo 00 flour would need to be proofed for around 48-72 hours to develop fully).
Which flour is best for pasta?
You’d think the answer would be straightforward Semola Di Grano Duro. You’d think. But the honest answer is that there’s no such thing as the best pasta flour. There are so many varieties that the best pasta flour choice heavily depends on what type of pasta is it exactly you’re planning to make.
Since you aren’t likely to dry your pasta, wheat flour would fit your purposes just as well as semolina flour. In fact, type 00 flour with its fine grind would do best if you want to try your hand at making fresh egg pasta.
When choosing pasta flour, there’s one rule: it needs to provide elastic, plastic dough. Elasticity for the dough to stretch and plasticity so that the dough can be shaped. This means higher gluten and protein content (one of the reasons why semolina flour, with its 13%, is a popular choice).
As long as you get the gluten content right, you can make good pasta with most grinds. However, the grind you choose will affect both the taste and texture of your pasta. Coarser grind means coarser texture, and more wheat bran means a nuttier, more potent flavor.
Sometimes flour packages are labeled as pasta flour. It usually means that the flour has the suitable gluten and protein content to make the elastic and plastic dough pasta requires. These are safe choices if you have trouble deciding for yourself.