Guide to Flour

Flour: komugiko (小麦粉)
Komugiko is a general term for wheat flour–not whole-wheat flour, but flour made of wheat rather than soba, rice, etc.

Cake flour: hakurikiko (薄力粉)
8-10% gluten. This is the easiest kind of wheat flour to find in Japan. Your average grocery store will have at least 2-3 brands of this. Cake flour has lower gluten content and lower viscosity, so it’s softer and fluffier. Japanese recipes for cakes and cookies tend to call for this. The kanji mean “weak-strength flour.”

Bread flour: kyôrikiko (強力粉); kyôriki komugiko (強力小麦粉)
12-14% gluten content. This is the second-easiest type of wheat flour to find. Bread flour has higher gluten content and viscosity, yields a denser product, and weighs more by volume than cake or AP flour. This is the flour I use (usually mixed with whole-wheat flour) in pita, bagels, and pizza dough because the gluten in it works very well with yeast. Bread flour tends to be slightly more expensive than cake flour in my experience. Lit. “strong-strength flour.”

All-Purpose Flour: chûrikiko (中力粉)
8-11% gluten content. AP flour is basically a mix of bread- and cake flours to create something with a medium level of gluten and viscosity–hence the name “medium-strength flour.” This flour can be harder to find than cake- or bread flours, but large grocery stores should stock it. Sometimes just referred to as “flour” (komugiko, 小麦粉)–ALWAYS check the label on the bag. There are a couple ambiguous flours that are usually cake flour.

Pastry Flour: okashiyô no komugiko (お菓子の小麦粉)
A type of soft flour with low gluten and high starch content to yield a more tender product than flours with higher gluten content. Similar to cake flour.

Whole-Wheat Flour: zenryûhun (全粒分)
Whole-wheat flour weighs more by volume than regular wheat flours. If you would like to substitute regular flour with whole wheat to get more whole grains/fiber, try substituting half the total volume with whole-wheat.

Whole-Wheat Pastry Flour: okashiyô zenryûhun (お菓子用全粒粉)
A softer whole-wheat flour with lower gluten content (10%) and made with whole grains.

Whole-Wheat Bread Flour: panyô zenryûhun (パン用全粒粉)
A whole-wheat flour with higher gluten content (13%) and made with whole grains. This is what I use in my whole-wheat breads.

Note: because I often substitute half the flour with whole-wheat flour in my baked goods, I try to balance the combination to get a good texture. Whole-wheat bread flour is cheaper than whole-wheat pastry flour in my area, so I tend to buy that, but when I lived in the country, I only had access to whole-wheat pastry flour. In my personal experience, whole-wheat bread flour mixed with cake flour for muffins or mixed with bread flour for bagels and pizza dough has yielded good results. I haven’t had good luck with whole-wheat bread flour mixed in with cakes or cookies, though.

Graham Flour: gurahamuko (グラハム粉)
A type of whole-wheat flour, graham flour is a mixture of finely ground endosperm and closely ground bran and germ. This type of flour has a very short shelf-life and needs to be refrigerated or stored in the freezer.You can usually substitute graham and whole-wheat flour 1:1 but graham flour is coarser. Named for Dr. Sylvester Graham, who invented and popularized the flour and Graham crackers during the 1820-30s health boom. Not to be confused with gram flour, which is made of chickpeas.

Rye Flour: rai mugiko (ライ麦粉)
Rye flour is made from the berries of rye grass. It contains wheat gluten but is lower in gluten than wheat flours.

Soba (Buckwheat) Flour: sobako (そば粉)
Gluten free. Used to make soba noodles and oyaki, soba flour is made from ground buckwheat.

Rice Flour: komeko (米粉)
Gluten free. The texture of the flour is very fine and powdery. Used in some Japanese baked goods. Fairly easy to find at the grocery store.

Glutinous Rice Flour: mochiko (もち粉)
Gluten free. This flour, used to make mochi, dango and other Japanese sweets, has high starch content and a fine, powdery texture that turns sticky and glutinous when mixed with liquids. Fairly easy to find at the supermarket.

Corn Meal (コーンミール) & Corn Grits (コーングリッツ)
Gluten free. A flour made of corn. Corn meal and corn grits (coarse corn meal) are both sold in Japan; corn meal has a finer texture than corn grits.

Buying Flour
In my experience, the following types of stores tend to have the following types of flours. This list is Ishikawa-specific and not comprehensive but should give you an idea.
Local rice seller (Kanazawa Fûdo in Omicho Market, your local JA): rice flour, mochi flour
Local grocery store (Dontaku, Marue): cake flour, bread flour
Large supermarket (Marue, Apita, AL Plaza, Aeon): cake flour, bread flour, AP flour, whole-wheat pastry flour (in baking section), rice flour, soba flour, mochi flour
Import store or gourmet grocery store (100-Ban Mart in Kanazawa Station, Kaji Mart in M-ZA, Kaldi Coffee, Yamaya, Diamond in Omicho Market, Noppo-kun): whole-wheat flours, corn meal, corn grits, rye flour, graham flour.

Websites
If you can’t find the kind of flour you want in your area, you can purchase flour online at Foreign Buyer’s Club (whole wheat, organic; website in English or Japanese); Tomizawa (any kind of flour imaginable; site in Japanese); or Paudo (パウド) (a large selection of brands and types of flour in bulk; site in Japanese); Tengu Natural Foods (organic flours and other Alishan-brand foodstuffs online in English); Natural House (organic goods sold in online shop, stores in Greater Tokyo area).

Major Brands

  • Nisshin (日清): national brand of wheat flours found in most grocery stores. Makes cake flour, bread flour, AP flour, and pastry flour.
  • Awajiya/Homemade Cake (アワジヤ・ホームメードケーキ): This manufacturer specializes in ingredients for baking–flours, flavorings & liqueurs, nuts, yeast, baking soda, etc. Sold in most grocery stores; has an online shop.
  • My Kitchen/Watashi no Daidokoro (MY KITCHEN/私の台所): This manufacturer specializes in ingredients for baking–flours, decorations, dried fruits, chocolate products, spices, flavorings, food colors. Found in most grocery stores.
  • Tomizawa (TOMIZAWA/富沢): A food manufacturing company that makes a wide variety of flours and baking supplies. Their flours are sold in many major department stores and import/gourmet grocery stores as well as in their online shop.
  • Alishan: organic ingredients and meals. Available in most import/gourmet stores as well as organic food sellers. Sold at the online shop Tengu Natural Foods in English or Japanese.

Resources
The Joy of Baking has a handy chart of flour substitutions in metrics and imperial measurements.

The Cook’s Thesaurus: Substitutions for wheat flours and non-wheat flours

All Recipes: All About Flour

Wikipedia entries on 小麦粉; Flour

The Fresh Loaf: Handbook: Basic Flour

25 thoughts on “Guide to Flour

  1. ahh! thankyou for linking to this!! I feel so much better when not on gluten, so this post is just brilliant.

    Ia ctually bought chestnut flour the other day, accidently, because I couldn’t figure out the kanji and the picture onit kind of looked like potatoes… anyway, I am booking marking this :)

    1. Thank you–glad it’s helpful! If you’re interested in how to make Japanese dishes gluten-free, Just Hungry often includes instructions on how to make gluten-free versions of her recipes when she can.

  2. Hey there , i was wondering if this hakurikiko VIOLET flour by nissin that i ve managed to procure would be a good stand in for cake flour like softasilk or swans down? IE is it bleached and low gluten ? Much thanks in advance =)

    1. According to Nissin’s website, Hakurikiko Violet is a cake flour which Nissin recommends primarily for cakes because of its softness and whiteness. Cake flours are lower in gluten than all-purpose and bread flours, so I imagine it would be a good substitute. Hope this helps!

  3. thanks leah, im more concerned abt the bleached bit , by whiteness im hoping they mean bleached.. do they mention it though?

    1. They don’t mention it on the site using the words 漂白小麦粉 (bleached flour), but the description for Violet specifically mentions the “whiteness” whereas their regular cake flour does not. Bleaching agents are listed on the Nisshin website as one of their food additives. Also, a discussion on The Fresh Loaf in which someone was looking for unbleached flour leads me to believe that most non-specialty flour in Japan is bleached. Sorry I couldn’t find a more definitive answer, but unbleached flour seems uncommon here, so the chances that Violet is bleached seem good.

  4. I’ve been wanting to buy organic flour online from a US-based company (since I already buy other things from it), but I was under the impression that one could not import flour into Japan. Have you or someone you know successfully bought flour from overseas?

    1. I’m pretty sure that you can’t have your friends send you a box of flour from abroad, but if the seller has international shipping and tariffs included, you should be able to do so. If you’re looking for organic flour in Japan, have you tried Tengu Natural Foods/Alishan? They sell in some brick-and-mortar stores (health food, vegetarian cafes), too.

      1. It’s impossible to buy flour from the US, for example a huge vendor selling goods to Japan, iHerb, has all flours, grains and seeds as “not allowed” to ship to Japan due to the customs regulations.

  5. I have a question about “corn grits” that are available in Japan. I bought a pack from pioneer-kikaku.co.jp and I am now wondering in they are made from hominy, or raw corn?

    1. Hi, there! I took a look at the site you linked and the ingredients just say “corn”–no clue as to how it’s prepared. This site lists hominy grits as ホミニーグリッツ, so my guess is that regular grits are raw corn. If anyone else knows, please comment!

  6. The best place to buy foreign flour and corn grits is Nissin World Delicatessen in Minato-ku. It’s a large supermarket that stocks all sorts of foreign foods, meats, cheeses, etc. My son has lived in Shinjuku for a year and it is the best downtown. He found he had problems with Japanese flour as it is all bleached. Any flour and all bakery goods gave him a headache. Flour is bleached with some nasty chemicals which are banned in EU, but ok to use in USA and Japan. As well, I read the Japanese add phosphates to their flours. If you feel tired and slow thinking after eating bread in Japan, it is likely you have a sensitivity to the amount of agents used to enhance its “whiteness” they so aptly describe on their packaging.

    Another option is to order it from iherb.com which stocks organic flours, with cheap shipping options to Japan. They also stock foreign snacks, vitamins, etc. Many Japanese order from this site based in California.

    Enjoy baking!

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