0, 00, 1, or 2? Italian flour can be confusing. Put it all straight with this quick guide.
Once, I thought I knew flour: plain, self-raising, strong, wholemeal—each with their own uses, each with their own consistencies. And then I moved abroad. It was while shopping in Switzerland that I first noticed alarming range of flours with unrecognizable names. I thought it would be a matter of just looking in a dictionary, but no. It wasn’t the names of the flours that were different; it was the flours themselves.
After two years in Switzerland, and having become an expert in making my own self-raising flour, I moved to France where, once again the flour was different. Here at least there was a system. Flours are given a type number based on the weight of the ashes which remain after 100g of flour is burned. The higher the number, the more glutens there are and the stronger the flour is. So there is T45, T55, T65, T80, T110, and T150. The lower numbers are used for patisserie, the higher ones for bread. The baguette de la tradition française uses T65.
When I moved back to Italy, I quickly discovered that there was a system, like in France. At first it seemed quite simple and only a matter of translating numbers. T45 = 00, T55 = 0, T80 = 1, T110 = 2, T150 = farina integrale. This was born out by experience of using these flours in French style patisserie where they produced the same results. These flours are all labelled farina di grano tenero (soft grain flour) but then I began to notice some others labelled farina di grano duro (hard grain flour). What could these be?
In effect there are two basic types of wheat grown and used in Italy: grano tenero (triticum aestivum) and grano duro (triticum durum). In English the latter is often called durum wheat. In theory, durum flour isn’t even called flour, it’s called semola, which is much more grainy than flour: think polenta. There are different grades of graininess (semola, semolato, semola integrale, and semolina). In English, it’s all called semolina.
So what do all these flours get used for in Italian cuisine? A lot of them are used for different types of breads. Remember that Italian cuisine is very regional and the types of bread found throughout the peninsula are very varied. But the basic list is as follows.
00 – patisserie without yeast and fresh pasta, pastry cremes, and sauces
0 – patisserie with yeast and flatbreads
1 – bread
2 – bread
integrale – whole wheat bread
Semolina is often used mixed in with the above flours, or as in my bringoli recipe, to stop fresh pasta sticking to each other when drying out. It’s also used in the production of dried pasta. So what’s the difference between fresh pasta and dried pasta? Well that’s a whole other blog post.