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Basic Information

Flour is a starchy powder made by milling grain (or occasionally other vegetable materials such as roots, beans or nuts). Its' primary use is for baking into bread, cake and similar goods, but it may also be used for other food purposes, notably as a thickening agent in soups, stews and various sauces - or even tea, as in the Tibetan dish tsampa (made by blending roasted flour, tea and yak butter). As such flour may be considered a vital step in the diets of many cultures. The quality of flour is usually determined by the source material (most cultures have a hierarchy with wheat (if available) or rice at the top, beans and nuts at the bottom and things like oats, barley, rye and maize in-between) and the content of foreign matter (variously straw, husk, insect parts and bits of millstone). The best flours are often repeatedly sieved, giving a pure, soft white powder, with consequent costs in labour and wastage - fraudulent producers may be tempted to bleach cheaper material and/or adulterate with chalk dust. Modern flours (at least in the developed world) are frequently vitamin enriched and the preference for pure white flour may be reduced in favour of coarser grades. Flour may also be termed meal - depending entirely on the context, the two words may be used interchangeably, or may indicate specific grades or source materials (for example meal may mean coarse ground flour or you may contrast wheat flour and oatmeal).

As a convenient source of carbohydrates, once milled, flour must be protected from damp (which will cause it to rot), excessive air (which will also spoil it) and everything else that wishes to eat it - preserving flour was an ongoing battle and flour chests and other storage solutions were the subject of much ingenuity. In more primitive settings, where milling was generally done with a quern or other hand-mill, the usual solution was to only produce as much flour as was needed. This took significant labour ("the daily grind") but at least served its purpose1. In other times and places milling grain was often a monopolised and taxed process, encouraging our ancestors to mill less frequently and but in larger quantity - in which case balancing the costs of milling against the household's flour demands and the lifespan of stored flour was all part of the fun of being a housewife. Travelling with flour could be even more tricky - obviously no-one could mill on the road, but keeping your flour fresh and dry whilst travelling using pre-modern, portable storage was no fun at all. Again, in the modern era, cheap commercial milling, ubiquitous retail, flour preservatives and a dearth of home baking have removed most people from this problem - in the developed world at least.

Non-food uses for flour focus on its starch content - either as a glue or as a stiffening agent for cloth. As a flammable dust, flour is also, technically capable of being used as an explosive - although this is hard to apply deliberately and frighteningly easy to do by accident. Potentially a coating of flour on the ground can act as a security system, causing anyone sneaking by to leave footprints - but other powders are probably better as flour is prone to attract vermin.

Wood flour - a very fine form of sawdust - is a component of a variety of industrial processes. Sadly, this have historically be known to include baking where unscrupulous individuals are concerned.
Bonemeal - unsurprisingly made from ground bones - is primarily used as a dietary supplement (mostly in animal feed in the modern era) or as a fertiliser.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • PCs will almost certainly try to blow things up with catapults and sacks of flour. Unless you want that sort of thing in your campaign, feel free not to allow it. historically working thermobaric weapons were almost impossible to develop - and into the modern era, if acceptable performance could be managed with something as cheap as flour, it would be. It isn't.
  • For fantasy situations, another non-food use is to coat invisible creatures to make them at least partially visible.
  • Likewise, bone meal may be of more use in fantasy settings.
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