Though we know most flour is wheat-based, we've heard pesky rumors that it contains bone char. While we’ve debunked that myth, a few rare ingredients can make flour unsuitable for a vegan diet – read more in our guide to vegan flour below!
Flour is the main ingredient in everyone's favorite food that deserves its own food group: bread!
Vegan carb lovers, don't fret. For the most part, this pantry staple is perfectly safe for vegan consumption.
As every committed vegan knows, though, it's still essential to read your labels closely and understand what some of the more confusing ingredients listed are, because occasionally, a manufacturer may sneak a non-vegan element into their flour.
In this vegan guide, you’ll learn more about flour, the flour-making process, and which questionable ingredients to avoid in your flour bag!
What is Flour?
Wheat flour is an essential human food staple with a history dating back thousands of years. The wheat crop was always resilient and easy to grow, so finding ways to make it consumable to humans helped our ancestors through many periods of famine.
In modern terms, "flour" refers to various ingredients ground into a soft powder. Usually, when we simply say flour, we're referring to wheat flour, but plenty of other flour types are available too, from other grains, seeds, nuts, beans, and even coconuts!
In a nutshell, we can create flour using plenty of starchy and fatty plants.
Can vegans eat flour?
Between wheat flour, whole wheat flour, and other plant-based flours, they all seem to be vegan by nature, but we'll clarify any confusion below.
How is flour made?
When we said flour had been around forever, we meant it. At least, as long as our "forever" – flour dates back to the beginning of human civilization, with archaeological proof as old as 30,000 years.
Historically, we made flour by grinding plant roots between stones or with a mortar and pestle until a fine powder formed.
A Look Into the Flour-Making Process
- The flour mill receives and grades the wheat based on its overall quality.
- Producers clean the wheat in several different steps, involving manual separators and aspirators that vacuum up the foreign matter. The purified wheat is washed and dried and conditioned in cold or warm water.
- Big rollers grind down the flour, and then smaller rollers grind down the flour further. Machines sift, separate, and regrind as needed.
- Manufacturers add small levels of oxidizing and bleaching agents to the flour, along with vitamins and minerals in enriched versions.
Is flour healthy?
Flour isn't inherently bad for you unless you have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, but some flour is healthier than others.
Whole wheat flour contains more of wheat's nutrients than more highly refined flours and offers plenty of health benefits.
Whole wheat flour tends to be relatively high in fiber, which aids digestive function and can keep you fuller for longer, keeping overall calories down. Fiber can also have a positive effect on blood cholesterol.
Along with the extra fiber, whole wheat flour contains more vitamins than all-purpose or white flour, as white flour's nutrients are destroyed during the refining process.
One more great reason to switch to whole wheat is its glycemic index score, which is much lower than regular white flour. Whole wheat won't affect or cause unhealthy spikes in your blood sugar to the same degree that white flour will. Blood sugar spikes can cause fatigue, thirst, and headaches – and they can negatively affect diabetes as well.
Is Flour Vegan?
By nature, flour is vegan because its main ingredients are always plant-based. Some potential issues arise with mass-produced flour, which needs to maintain its quality over a longer time. Manufacturers use additives to prolong flour's shelf life, and though most of these additives are vegan, some may contain animal products.
These are the most common additives you'll see on a bag of all-purpose flour:
- Niacin - vegan!
- Thiamine Mononitrate - vegan!
- Riboflavin or vitamin B2 - vegan!
- Iron or Reduced Iron - Usually vegan!
- Folic Acid - vegan!
Is all-purpose flour vegan?
Almost all of these additives are 100% vegan, though rarely, some manufacturers may source iron from meat. It's unusual but not impossible that a manufacturer may use animal-based iron, as it's generally more stable and better absorbed by our bodies than plant-based iron sources.
Is wheat flour vegan?
It likely is, but it often contains vitamin and mineral additives. The best way to find out if they're plant-based is by emailing or calling the brand that makes the product.
Is bleached flour vegan?
Bleaching agents create bleached flour products, and luckily, the bleaching agents used in flour-making are indeed vegan!
You may be able to do a quick check of your ingredients label to determine if your flour is vegan, as some oxidants used in flour processing react poorly to organic matter, like animal products. If producers used these oxidizing agents on anything containing animal products, it'd cost them more – and if there is one thing modern manufacturers value, it's the bottom dollar!
If a bag of flour contains any of the following, it's very likely vegan too:
- Nitrogen Dioxide
- Magnesium or Calcium Peroxide
- Azodicarbonamide, iodates, or bromates
Do vegans eat flour?
Vegans are more than welcome to eat most modern flours, as the majority are vegan flour brands by nature of the product, but if you're really concerned, try an alternative flour you know to be safe, like oat or chickpea flour.
If most flour is vegan, is bread vegan? Read more on that.
Other Ethical Considerations
While veganism bases its principles on avoiding the exploitation of animals, it also encompasses the exploitation of the earth and other humans.
Generally, producers don't make flour using inhumane practices, but you may want to try to source fair trade flour that offers factory workers living wages and better working conditions.
The flour milling industry is relatively low-impact on our environment compared to other processes – one loaf of bread uses over 1600 liters of water per kg, which sounds astronomical but is on the lower end compared to animal products, such as red meat's 16,000+ liters per kg. Compared to plant-based crops, wheat crops use up to five times more water than a crop of cabbage or tomatoes.
Purchasing flour can reduce transportation costs and carbon footprint when it comes to fossil fuels. Most countries can grow wheat, so it doesn't tend to travel to supply international users.
Does flour contain bone char?
For some reason, this bone char rumor tends to swirl; our best guess is because producers often bleach white sugar with bone char, so perhaps people think producers similarly bleach white flour.
The rumor is unfounded, and you don't need to worry about bone char ending up in your flour.
Final Notes: Make Your Own Vegan Flour
If you find the tiny potential that your flour may contain animal products concerning, try your hand at making some homemade flour.
While we don't recommend the tedious hand grinding method with a mortar and pestle, you can use a small flour mill, coffee grinder, or small food processor to make your own oat, grain, or legume flour at home!