Monday, June 18, 2012

Farine - Flour. The flour in your French bread, crepes, and other delights.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated September 2017
Field of Wheat
Farine on French menus.

Farine is flour, but this is not a post on cooking with different flours or baking bread, that is not the purpose of the blog.  The blog and its posts are taken from my book on French cuisine. The book is written for those who enjoy French dining but prefer to leave the cooking to others. The types of flour in this post include those you may see on menu-listings. Some of the other names you may see on bread in supermarkets and boulangeries. This post explains the differences in usage and where I can, the tastes.
There are many flours and seeds behind French bread, risottos, pasta, and stews, so many that I could never remember them all. With all the information I collected, I made a list of those that I think are important. When a French menu listing includes the word farine, flour, this post will help.

For the Different Types of French Bread click here.
French chefs use the many different flours to create the widest range of tastes and textures. Other flours have specific purposes like gluten-free flours.  It is the many choices that make life interesting

In the beginning.

A very long ago someone discovered that wild wheat could be used to make beer. Then, along the way, someone else found that wheat could be ground into flour and that flour could be made into bread.  Over 4,000 years ago the Egyptians used yeast, definitely for beer, as well as for bread. Soon after the Egyptian discoveries the Mediterranean sea-going wholesalers the Phoenicians sold the secrets to the Greeks and Romans.  The Phoenicians were already trading with Mediterranean France, and somewhere down the timeline, France learned the secret of cultivating wheat and making bread.  The grains included early types of wheat such as Épeautre and Petit Épeautre, Spelt and Small Spelt. Those grains are not usually in the bread you buy in French supermarket and boulangeries.  Nevertheless, in France, these grains will be on menus in Provencal dishes, and in a few local breads and beers in Provence.
Spelt Bread
Over thousands of years, the method of making bread did not change very much. The shapes may have changed, the grains may have changed, but the technique of bread making did not change until the 17th century. Still, in the early 19th century, for many of the European poor, corn (maize), bread along with soups made from bones, and any gathered herbs and vegetables was all that they had to eat. The constant famines and changes in the price of bread were important to the peasants who supported the French revolution. (The French revolution itself was led by the rising middle class with help from above and below).

The white, enriched, flour in our white bread today is devoid of bran and much more. Enriched bread with added vitamins does not come close to replacing what is taken out. One hundred and fifty years ago those who relied on bread for food, would have died of malnutrition with today's white bread.
By the 17th century, the French were very much among the leaders in the development of different flours. Then the intention was to change the way bread would taste.  Only in the first part of 20th-century flour were the vitamins, proteins, fiber and complex carbohydrates understood. By the middle of the 20th-century changes in production removed many of the things that made bread the staff of life, but it gave us white bread. Today, we may receive the essential proteins, bran, and vitamins from the other foods we eat, not from bread.
The flours of France:

Farine d'Amande  - Almond flour. The Romans brought almond trees to France. They introduced dishes made with almonds and that included almond flour. Almonds are used in many French dishes including French Marzipan which is made with almond paste and almond flour.
Almond lavender biscotti
Farine d'Avoine - Oat flour. Oat flour is gluten-free. Mixed with regular wheat flour, it produces a unique flavor used in pastries.
Farine d'Orge - Barley flour. Barley flour is a trendy alternative to wheat flour, but unlike many non-wheat flours, it contains some gluten
Farine Biologique, Farine Bio –  Organic flour from organically raised wheat.  Any additives to this flour must be must be 95% organic. French and EU organic regulations are much stricter than those in the USA or Canada.
Farine Complète Whole-wheat flour.
Farine de Blé, Farine de Blé Blanche, Farine de Blé Enrichie Blanchie    The enriched wheat flour in the white bread on 80% of French breakfast tables.  The flour is bleached so that we will like the color of our bread. This is the wheat flour that all the flour mills want you to buy.  Wheat begins as whole wheat that is full of many important things, but most of them are removed to bring us white bread.
Farine de Blé Entier or Farine de Blé Complet  - Whole-wheat or wholemeal flour. .Bis - Wholemeal bread or flour.  The word biscuit is old French, and the word bis today is used for wholemeal flour while the word cuit means cooked; so bis cuit means cooked flour and that it is, it will produce a biscuit. Whole-wheat flour is made from grains that have not undergone heavy processing and is used in baking bread and other baked goods when mixed with lighter bleached flours.
An old flour millstone in France.
Farine de Blé Noir, Farine de Sarrasin or Blé Noir – Buckwheat flour. This flour has a distinctive, mild, nutty taste.  The darker color comes from the seed’s coating.  When some of the buckwheat seed's coating is left in the flour that gives the flour its color. Buckwheat is gluten-free. The French name for buckwheat flour, Farine de Sarrasin stretches back to the crusades. 
During the crusades, the French first met up with the dark-skinned Saracen warriors and also were introduced to their dark buckwheat flour.  They took the flour home and among the flour’s various names is the name of their Saracen foes; today that would not be politically correct. The galettes de blé noir,crêpes, pancakes of buckwheat flour, are traditional in Bretagne, Brittany.   Buckwheat flour is in use all over France. (Japanese soba noodles are buckwheat noodles). 
Photograph by RazvanPhotograph through
Farine de Châtaignes - Chestnut flour. Naturally, gluten-free chestnut flour will be in cakes, gnocchi, and desserts. The Farine de Châtaigne Corse, the Corsican chestnut flour, is the only chestnut flour with an AOC.  
Farine de Froment or Farine de Blé Tendre  Wheat flour. The flour one step before it becomes bleached and enriched all-purpose flour.  The second name noted here, Farine de Blé Tendre translates as soft wheat flour. That name points to the difference between this flour and harder wheat flours like those made with durum wheat; the hard durum wheat is used in the best pasta.
Farine de Graines de Tournesol - Sunflower seed flour is a nut-free replacement for almond flour and a favorite for those with nut allergies.  

Inside the petals are all the seeds.
Farine de  Maïs or more correctly Semoule de Maïs Cornflour. Cornflour was brought to Europe by the conquistadors.  Corn, the plant adapted very well in Europe and saved millions from death during the constant European famines.  The corn fed the people, and the rest of the plant was fodder for their animals during the winter.
Farine de Pois Chiches  - Chickpea flour, garbanzo wheat flour or gram flour.  Chickpea flour is behind Socca or Socca Niçoise. Socca is a hot and crispy chickpea pancake made with chickpea flour. It is the quintessential street food of Nice on the Cote d'Azur. Chickpeas are also behind that wonderful Middle Eastern food hummus.
Farine de Pomme de Terres.  - Potato flour. Potato flour is made from whole potatoes. The flour is a dense, cream-colored flour with a distinct potato flavor and gluten-free. More often the part of a potato used in French cuisine is Fécule de Pomme de Terre, potato starch. Potato starch works well in recipes as it leaves no potato taste. When mixed with gluten-free flours, potato starch lends a light, fluffy texture
Farine de Quinoa - Quinoa flour began reaching French restaurant kitchens about 20 years ago.  Quinoa comes from the High Plateaus in South America, and despite quinoa not being a real cereal it is highly valued. Quinoa is gluten-free and rich in proteins, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins.  Quinoa  is used by French chefs for its different taste and texture
Tri-color quinoa
Farine de Sésame - Sesame flour.  A gluten-free enriched flour, rich in minerals and made from sesame seeds.  Sesame flour has a slightly sweet taste and is used as an alternative to almond flour.
Farine de Seigle – Rye flour. Rye is a grain related to both wheat and barley. Apart from flour rye is used some American whiskeys, some vodkas as well as being an important animal fodder.

Farine de Semoule – Semolina.  This is wheat flour made with the bran and the germ removed. In France semolina is often made with durum wheat and that makes for a light yellow flour. Whole durum flour is often used for making couscous.     From my childhood I only remember semolina in England as a warm, soft mush served with a blob of jam in the center; then it was one of the worst desserts served with school dinners.
Aile de Raie aux Câpres, Semoule de Blé – Skate, the fish, prepared with capers and served with wheat semolina. (see the appendix Fish  -  Raie).
Carré d'Agneau et Semoule aux Senteurs Orientales – A rack of lamb served with semolina prepared lightly flavored with oriental spices. (see the appendix Beef, Lamb and Veal : Agneau, Carré d'Agneau).
Gâteau de Semoule aux Fruits Secs – A semolina cake made with dried fruits.
Breads that have names not related to the flour used:

Pain au Son -  Bran Bread. Bran bread is made with regular flour with extra bran added.
Pain Campagrain – The name used for a high-fiber bread. Campagrain breads may use up to seven different grains. The grains include wheat, malted corn, rye, oats, barley as well as sunflower, sesame and flax seeds.     
Pain d'Épice   - Gingerbread.  There is no ginger flour to make gingerbread.  Gingerbread is made with ordinary wheat flour and ginger, the spice, is the flavor.
Gingerbread house.

For more about French bread click here.  
Flour in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - farina  ), (Dutch - meel ), (German - mehl), (Italian - farina ), (Spanish - harina).
Connected Posts:
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2014, 2017.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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