Italian flour: types and terminology

A selection of flours

Today’s bread is being made with farina di farro biologica from the Coop supermarket’s own brand, farina integrale di segale di agricoltura biologica from the Il Frantoio brand, and “Setaccio” farina semi-integrale di grano tenero from Mulino Marino. There really is no shortage of types of flour (farina) to experiment with here in Italy, if you’re into baking and bread-making. In fact, there so many flour varieties and variables it can be boggling.

Over the 20 months or so I’ve lived in Italy I’ve used many of them, but I still get confused. Previously, for example, I wrote about the various types of grain (and flour) known as farro to try and clarify what they were – as they’re often, erroneously, just translated into English as “spelt”. Here I hope to clarify a little more the other types of grain and flour you might encounter in Italy, or be able to buy as imports in other parts of the world.

Anyway.

Italian words for grains and more

A caveat – these are standard Italian words. There are doubtless a gazillion local dialect words as well, but let’s stay on target.

The wheat family:

The word grano (plural grani) means grain, though it’s frequently used as a synonym for wheat.
Frumento is the more specific word for wheat. In the modern world, wheat generally means bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), which accounts for 95% of global production.
Farro is name given to three, older members of the wheat family, “heritage grains”. Briefly it can refer to:
Farro piccolo (“small”) or farro monococco (Triticum monococcum) – that is, domesticated einkorn wheat, also known as enkir.
Farro medio (“medium”) or farro dicocco (Triticum dicoccum, aka Triticum turgidum var. dicoccon) – that is, emmer.
Farro grande (“large”) or farro spelta (Triticum spelta, aka Triticum aestivum var. spelta ) – that is, spelt. (Also known as dinkel.)

Grano turanicum – a name for Khorosan wheat (Triticum turanicum), another ancient grain type.
Kamut – the trade name for Khorasan wheat (Triticum turanicum).
Manitoba – the Italian name for bread flours with a higher percentage of protein, like what we’d call strong bread flour in the UK. It may or may not be from Manitoba province in Canada. Indeed, according to a blurb on a pack of Ecor brand flour, Manitoba flour is also known as farina americana.
Saragolla – another one I’ve encountered, which is proving tricky to identify with any real certainty. One Italian source says it’s similar Khorasan wheat (Triticum turanicum, but refers to it as Triticum polonicum, Polish wheat.

I’ve also seen things labelled with grano antico, which isn’t very helpful, as it could refer to any one of these ancient wheat species.

two old grains

Non-wheat cereals:
Avena is oats. Fiocchi di avena are oatflakes, or porridge oats.
Orzo is barley.
Miglio is millet.
Riso is rice.
Segale is rye.

Wholegrain rye flour

And not forgetting the that poster boy of industrialised, ecosystem-destroying, logical-economics-manipulating monocrop agriculture: maize (Zea mays), or corn: mais in Italian, also granone (“big grain”), granturco, granoturco and various other dialect names.

Polenta is, of course, made from maize, which arrived in Europe from the Americas in the 15th century, replacing earlier gruels made of orzo or emmer. Polenta (cornmeal) comes in various degrees of coarseness, some quite gritty, some more floury. You can also buy amido di mais, which what we’d call cornflour in the UK, or (more descriptively) corn starch in the US.

Other non-cereal flours you may encounter could be made from:
Amaranto – amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus).
Castagna – chestnut (used for Pane di San Martino).
Saraceno – buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). Buckwheat isn’t a member of the grass family like the above grains. Instead, it’s a member of the Polygonaceae family and related to things like rhubarb.

There are see flours made from legumes such as:
Ceci – chickpea (Cicer arietinum).
Lenticchia – lentil (Lens culinaris).
Soia – soya, soybean (Glycine max).

Marino closer

Other useful terms:
amido – starch.
biga – type of low hydration, firm preferment, which can made with a sourdough starter or commercial yeast.
biologico – organic, organically farmed or produced.
chicco – grain (also bean, pellet, bead), eg chicco di grano, grain of wheat
crusca – bran.
germe – germ, eg germe di grano.
glutine – gluten.
integrale – wholegrain, eg farina di segale integrale.
lievito – yeast, raising agent.
lievito madre – “mother yeast”, meaning a natural leaven or sourdough culture.
lievitare – to rise, to raise, to grow (with a raising agent).
lievito naturale – natural leaven or sourdough.
macinata a pietra – stoneground. Always good, as it doesn’t damage the grain as much as modern milling with massive steel rollers, as such maintaining more nutrients and more flavour.
macinare – to mill (flour).
mulino – mill, eg uno mulino a vento is a windmill.
pagnotta – loaf.
pane – bread.
semi-integrale – semi-wholegrain. I’m not entirely sure what the preparation of such a flour involves – more sieving? Or blending?

Hard and soft

You’ll often see farina di grano duro and farina di grano tenero on packets of Italian flours. These translate as “hard wheat flour” and “soft wheat flour” (or, more literally, as “hard grain flour” and “tender grain flour”), but shouldn’t be confused with what we consider “hard” wheat in English, which is generally a higher protein bread flour.

Farina di grano duro is flour milled from the wheat species Triticum durum (aka Triticum turgidum var. durum), with durum and duro meaning “hard” in Latin and standard Italian respectively. Triticum durum is most commonly used for making pasta. It is the second most significant type of wheat grown globally, accounting for about 5% of production. It is ground into products of varying coarseness:
Farina di grano duro – the finest, most floury
Farina di semola – a slightly coarser flour
Semolina – the coarser middlings and yes, the stuff used for old-fashioned British puddings, (though the term is also used generically to refer to other wheat middlings).

Farina di grano tenero is flour milled from a subspecies of the wheat species Triticum aestivum, the most commonly cultivated strain of this useful grass. Also known as bread wheat. In Italy, it generally has a medium protein percentage, around 12%, though it can vary greatly. As with farina di grano duro, it is milled into products of varying degrees of coarseness, which is where the whole “00” thing comes into play. Read on…

Mulino Marino 00

Licensed to bake: the “00” system

When you see a flour graded as 00, it’s not a reference to a particular type of grain or species of wheat, it’s simply a reference to how finely the flour has been milled, and how much bran and germ has sieved out, and what sort of colour the flour is as a result.

The various types are: 00 (doppio zero, the finest grade), 0, 1, 2 (the coarsest grade, more akin to a meal). The coarsest grain is effectively integrale, that is, wholegrain.

Although 0 and 00 are commonly used for bread-baking, both are loosely interchangeable with British plain flour or US all-purpose flour. Indeed, if you look at the dark blue packet in the photo at the top of this page, the Barilla brand flour is labelled per tutte le preparazioni, which could be translated as “all-purpose”, and it’s a grano tenero 00.

The blurb on the side of a pack of ‘Ecor’ flour I mentioned above, also explains that il grado di raffinazione indica la quantità di farina ottenuta macinando 100kg di chicchi. Tanto più alto è questo indice tanto più grezza è la farina: the grade of refining indicates the quantity of flour obtained from grinding 100kg of grain. The higher the grade, the coarser the flour.”

Also, as the first table on this rather technical page indicates, the higher the grade, the higher the ash content and protein of the flour. Though these Italian flours are all still fairly low protein, between 9% and 12%, and different grains would give different results – that is, this table’s data has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

And the rest

I’ve probably missed all sorts of pertinent things, but can add them as and when I encounter them. For specific types of Italian bread and baked goods, I may mention them elsewhere on the site. In the meantime, if, like me, you’re into baking and an English-speaking learning Italian (there must be a few of us in that demographic out there), I hope this has been useful.

Pandi Sempre

Love this spiel “This flour recounts the (his)story of cereal crops. It’s composed of the most ancient grain, Enkir, of farro, and of a careful selection of soft wheats, all naturally stone-ground without the addition of additives or ‘improvers’. Thanks to its varied composition, it’s ideal for every use.”

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63 Comments

Filed under Discussion, Flour & grain

63 responses to “Italian flour: types and terminology

  1. That is a really useful overview! I’ll bring this list the next time I am facing a shelf of Italian mystery flours, wondering what is what and how they’ll behave when baking. Thanks for sharing.

  2. And I buy the de Cecco duro flour here for pasta making.
    Do you happen to know whether farina di lenticchie is available in Rome? A friend of mine was looking for it and ended up thinking the recipe made a mistake and meant ceci.
    Fabulous collection you posted here – mille grazie.

    • Hi Bloghaus – yes, I’m pretty certain I’ve seen farina di lenticchie in NaturaSi (I go to the branch in Marconi, via Oderisi da Gubbio 66). It might be available in Canestro (branches in Trastevere, Testaccio), and possibly even at Eataly.

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  5. pax

    I found some “Di grano tenero” locally and have been trying to understand what it was I bought (and what I ordered more of after making pizza with it) never have I run into so much confusion over flour! Thanks for the information it will come in handy when I take a stab at some Italian recipes this year.

  6. Hi Daniel, thanks for the article! It’s not only useful for those moving to Italy or willing to learn Italian. I found it also very useful as an Italian living abroad. Direct translations of some recipes are impossible and some ingredients are hard to find everywhere else in the world! Now I will have less problems with flour types when it comes to homemade pizza and pane! 😉 Thanks a lot!

  7. Thomas

    HI Daniel
    I read your article on Italian Flour that I found fascinating……it seems that the variety of flours now available in Italy have grown in an incredible way since left more than 20 years ago.
    I would like your advice on this recipe for panettone
    http://www.lavialla.it/uk/images/pdf/panettone14-UK.pdf and the use of “whole wheat flour” that for a sow light and airy cake seems a contradiction
    I have emailed the source and they have replayed

    “Grazie per la sua e-mail e per quanto riguarda la farina, si usa quella integrale nella ns ricetta del Panettone. Comunque, può provare ad usare una farina che pensa che possa andare meglio – e ci fa sapere il risultato? ”
    Is there an “integrale” that is different from the British “Whole wheat flour” ?
    I am a fluent Italian speaker.

    • Hi Thomas. Yes, that’s strange isn’t it? Partly as the first thing that struck me about that recipe is that the photo clearly shows a panettone made with white flour – nothing wholewheat, wholemeal, wholegrain or integrale going on there!

      In Italy I only ever encountered “integrale” that was a pretty direct equivalent to British whoelwheat. As their advice says, try using whatever you like. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any enriched breads made with wholegrain/integrale flour, in the UK or Italy. Strano. Che mistero!

      I was working on a panettone recipea few years ago. It’s in this post on my old blog (scroll down). It worked well, but needs testing more. And a catering tin.

  8. Useful information! Without any doubt, Italy has lots of products and sometimes it may be confusing.

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  10. Himanshu

    Dear Denial,
    Good day,
    can you guide what is “mb “in the terms of Protein?, I mean to say what is Protein% (mb)?
    Himanshu Acharya
    Himanshu.acharya@cotecna.co.in

    • I’m afraid that’s not something I’ve encountered. My only thought is that MB means Manitoba, the name used in Italy for high protein flours, as it’s the Canadian province that produces so much of that type of grain.

  11. Great synopsis of the mysteries of farina! The farro thing is very confusing, especially for those with celiac disease and in Italy ‘farro’ is considered gluten-free…..but spelt isn’t actually gluten-free. Luckily I don’t have celiac! in Puglia, we also have farina di grano arso, a toasted flour that looks like ashes and has a long and interesting history. I wrote a post on it earlier this year. Oh, and si, farina Manitoba is from Canada, although not necessarily from Manitoba! Ciao, Cristina

    • Hi Christina.

      I never saw any farro products in the coeliac section of Eataly in Roma. I think for coeliacs the rule of thumbs is beware all Gramineae grains! Though there are some gluten-free oats on the market these days.

      That’s intriguing about the farina di grano arso. I’ll check out your piece.

  12. Sarah

    What I want to know is wht type of flour should i use if for exsample i want to make a simple batter for fried banana or corn fritters.. tried flour labelled 00 and it was a disaster each and every single time.. too watery no matter how much extra flour i use and it didnt go golden brown after frying. Please help

  13. This is so interesting…I was surfing the web searching for the meaning in italian of strong high grade flour (I’m italian and I didn’t really get the idea of what strong meant) and I found this. It’s pretty interesting to see that in Italy we have so many kind of flour and that no one is actually thinking about how many they are. I’m used to mix them to make bread, pasta, pasta all’uovo and cakes. The best way imho to make bread is to use 60% of farina 00, 20% manitoba and 20% farina di mais.
    Bye, and thanks for the info on “strong” flour.

  14. I’m so glad to have found this information! I spent far too long in the flour section of Esselunga trying to devise the most sensible guess for my challah. I’m saving this for future reference and sharing it with my English speaking friends here!

  15. Robert

    Hi Daniel

    Thank you for the excellent article. As an Irishman new to Italy, trying to find wholemeal flour with which to bake brown bread, what should I be looking for? Grano duro, grade 3 (integrale)? And do you have any idea where it can be found?

    With thanks and good wishes.

    • Hi Robert. Well, grano duro is durum wheat – more usually for pasta – so you might want to get grano tenero (soft wheat) integrale. Enjoy!

      Living back in England now, I’m missing all those nice Italian flours!

  16. Hi
    I am an Italian living in New Zealand and I loved this post. I often wondered what the equivalent NZ flour or an Italian flour is and asked difficult questions to shop assistants who answered me with a puzzled look! So thank you, this helps a lot!
    Cheers

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  18. Thank you soooooo much for this article. I have linked to it in an article about pasta making. You did a FABULOSO job 🙂

  19. Daisy

    Hey, folks! Could you please bring some clarification about farina di grano arso. Should I translate it as Barley Wholemeal flour or Wheat Wholemeal flour?

    • That’s an interesting one – arso means dried, burned or charred (from the verb ardere, related to our English word ardent, word geeks). It’s a toasted durum wheat (Triticum durum, ie hard wheat, pasta wheat) flour, which has its origins in Puglia. After the grain had been harvested, and the stubble burned, people would return to the field to glean the final grains – which of course were now burnt, or heavily toasted. As such, it’s very much the stuff of cucina povera. Apparently used for local pasta, such as orechiette, and for breads, often mixed with white, or at least non-burnt, flours.

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  21. Medusa

    Thank you for such a thorough explanation on the Italian terms for flours. It’s been extremely helpful.

  22. stephanie

    Extremely interesting post ! Thank you very much !
    I still have some doubts about “bleached” and “unbleached” flour… I was following a US recipe and even if I get the litteral translation I have never seen this mentionned in any way on italian flour… Do you think that it means that this kind of process does not exist in Italy? Thanks for your help 🙂

    • Hi Stephanie. That’s an interesting question. If I still lived in Italy I could do some more on-the-ground research, but sadly I’m in (rainy) England now. I suspect Italian flour producers – the larger, industrial ones – use flour improvers and bleaching processes like in the UK and US, but I can’t say for certain.

  23. Thank you, this was just what I was looking for. I’m a Brit living in Italy who loves to bake bread and cakes so I am exactly your audience profile 🙂

  24. Karen

    Hi, is the de Cecco farina di grano tenero “00” flour the same as the all purpose flour used for cakes, shortbread & biscuits in some a British & American recipes?

  25. Today I’m looking into how to reproduce an authentic American burger bun. This is fraught with dangers because I’m British and don’t understand American flours. I found an authentic looking recipe using “King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour” So, first I sought to research American flour and try to find an Italian parallel.
    Here is how the American flour is described: “An essential ingredient for every baker, our unbleached all-purpose flour works in any recipe calling for “flour” or “all-purpose flour,” yielding exceptional results. Unbleached and unbromated, this flour is milled to be versatile: strong enough for bread, and gentle enough for tender, delicate scones and cakes. Use it in any recipe calling for just plain flour or all-purpose flour – it’s a basic pantry ingredient that we’ve perfected and tested with the strictest specifications in the industry, so you can rely on it for all of your cooking and baking needs. Milled from the finest American wheat, our flour is prized by chefs, bakeries, and culinary schools around the country for its consistency and performance. 11.7% protein” Ingredients: Unbleached enriched hard wheat flour; (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin (vitamin b3), reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin b1), riboflavin (vitamin b2), folic acid).
    Well, that phrase “strong enough for bread, and gentle enough for tender, delicate scones and cakes” has me baffled for a start. How do American bakers cope? Anyway – bottom line, do you, wise blogger or any readers have any suggestions please?
    Thank you!

    • Gosh. Well, this gets into difference countries’ baking traditions. In the UK we’ve been using stronger, higher protein flours (say 12% plus) for the past century or so. Italy, on the other hand, has a tradition of making great bread with lower protein flours.

      We tend to use lower protein flours for “plain” flours – for scones and cakes etc. So the flour you’re describing is more like a plain flour, but a strong-ish plain flour. A good baker could use it for bread.

      Personally I prefer to avoid enriched stuff – it’s crazy as the steel roller mills have destroyed the innate nutrients of the grain so they feel the need to add more back. Stoneground is better for retaining the nutrients.

      I’ve never tried King Arthur flours as I’ve never lived in the US. I only really know UK flours well, and Italian flours a bit.

      TBH, my suggestion is always just to try it and see how you get on! Anyway, so much of the fun of baking is experimenting. Unless, you know, you’re having a really important party or making someone’s wedding cake or something…

      • Well, I tried. I had a batter instead of a dough so I just kept chucking flour in until it looked & felt right. They proved & baked OK and they were quite good when fresh out of the oven & the rest of the day. They went stale and crumbly REALLY quickly though.
        Luckily it isn’t the sort of thing I need often; I don’t like ’em much. From now on I’ll stick to bread & pizza, which I know.
        Thank you for the reply, I’m always pleased to hear about the live magic that is flour 🙂

  26. alex

    “Farina di grano tenero is flour milled from the wheat species Triticum aestivum, the most commonly cultivated strain of this useful grass. Also known as bread wheat’ . here my friend you got it “wrong”., grano tenero, which translates tender grain, does not tells us much about the specific type of Triticum aestivum of wheat it is used., there are 5 of them . and in some extend they vary a lot one from each other.. I my self am not sure what they mean by just
    grano tenero. can be soft red wheat. soft white wheat (thou a doubt about this possibility due the fact that the soft white wheat types are relatively new) or just a tender version of any of the hard reds variety. so the mystery still alive. still a great piece about Italian flour.

  27. Aaron Stone

    Thank you for this article. I have been baking bread since November of last year and it has become a hobby that I enjoy a lot. Living in Italy it has been a pleasure of mine to go around and find the different types of flour for baking different kinds of bread. I speak Italian relatively well but sometimes I need assistance and I have to run to this article which has been of great help. Thank you once again.

  28. Linda

    Thanks, It’s also usefull for this Dutch girl wanting to bake a bread (using a recipe calling for all purpose flour) having only grano duro and grano tenero tipo00 in the larder

  29. It’s 2017 now, and I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to find this really helpful site. Italian flour varieties are fantastic in their range and variety, and the info here is a great help. Thank you Daniel! Today’s bread in my breadmaker is 100g Manitoba, 125g locally milled farro, and 250g khorasan/kamut. It makes for lovely toast! It’s taken me ages to find that Manitoba equates to strong flour, and your site has helped me wirk out a flour mix that is lower in gluten than ‘standard’ but which still rises decently. Mille grazie.

    • You’re welcome David. This is fast becoming my most popular post. Wish I lived in Italy still so I could keep updating it.

      Way I thought of Manitoba – in the UK since the industrial revolution we started getting most of our flour from N America, the States and Canada. I don’t know Canada well, but I always assumed Manitoba is one of the main grain-producing provinces, with a history of selling grain or flour to Italy too.

  30. Rossana

    Hi thanks for this useful post. I am italian and I live in London the past 15 years. I really like to bake, specially bread. For some recept I need the flour 1 or 2 but year it’s impossible to find. I use an organic strong white flour but I would like to find the proper one. Any help? Thanks Rossana

    • Ciao Rossana, benvenuto. You can buy some Italian flours in the UK, mail order. Bakery Bits sells Mulino Marino.

      These days I mostly use stoatesflour.co.uk, which is also stoneground but mostly English or international in origin.

    • Joanna Sheldon

      Rossana, I’m a weekly bread baker, an expat USAer living in the UK. I recommend Bacheldre stone-ground flours. I use their rye, and I see their “strong” flour has a protein content of 14.9%, which is quite high. I also sometimes use Mulino Marino’s Manitoba, 15-16% protein (from Bakery Bits) to boost the protein levels in the wonderfully flavoured French flour (Campaillette Grand Siècle) that I buy online from FWP Matthews. Good luck in your bread-making adventure!

  31. Abe

    When Italians say All Purpose flour what do they mean? I have followed this recipe with bread flour but now I wish to go for the flour called for in the recipe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZi2tSwndiU

  32. Hi Abe. See above: “Although 0 and 00 are commonly used for bread-baking, both are loosely interchangeable with British plain flour or US all-purpose flour. Indeed, if you look at the dark blue packet in the photo at the top of this page, the Barilla brand flour is labelled per tutte le preparazioni, which could be translated as “all-purpose”, and it’s a grano tenero 00.”

    • Abe

      Thank you so much Daniel.

      My starter has just matured after a good feeding and ready to start the recipe. Think I’ve seen this brand before so going to take that picture and see if I can get some.

      Really recommend this recipe. If you do try it then just to point out that the 10 hours final proofing is done in the fridge. Not clear in the recipe.

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