What Is Durum Wheat? (& How the Heck To Bake With It)

Resident Bread Baker, Maurizio Leo, shares how to turn this high-protein flour into a golden loaf of bread.

February 24, 2021
Photo by Maurizio Leo

The Perfect Loaf is a column from software engineer-turned-bread expert (and Food52's Resident Bread Baker), Maurizio Leo. Maurizio is here to show us all things naturally leavened, enriched, yeast-risen, you name it—basically, every vehicle to slather on a lot of butter. Today, how to turn high-protein durum flour into a golden loaf of bread.

If you’re a fresh pasta-maker, chances are high you’re familiar with durum wheat. Though the species is most commonly used to make pasta, it’s also an excellent choice to incorporate into bread. It’s a hard wheat—hence the name durum, which is Latin for “hard,”—and is so-called because of the strength of the durum berry itself, requiring significant force to mill. The grain has a high protein percentage, but the gluten quality in durum flour doesn’t have the same gas-trapping characteristics as traditional wheat. This means when using even finely-milled durum flour. The resulting bread will have a tighter, more cake-like crumb, or internal structure, somewhat akin to a loaf of whole wheat bread (as opposed to a super-light loaf with large inner holes, like a country loaf). Though there are visual and textural differences to a loaf of bread made durum wheat, there’s no compromise made: The color, aroma, and flavors from durum are all quite striking when used in bread, yielding a more rustic loaf but nonetheless delicious.

I’m eager to share a few tips I’ve found helpful when using finely-milled durum wheat in bread-making. But first, let’s clarify common source of confusion: If durum is typically used in pasta, what’s the difference between durum flour for bread and semolina, the coarse durum wheat?

Durum flour versus semolina flour

You undoubtedly see packages of semolina at the market, with its grand yellow hue and sandy texture. Semolina is made from durum wheat, the same as durum flour. The difference between the two is mainly in texture: durum flour is very finely milled, whereas semolina is coarser-milled. If you rub semolina through your fingers, it feels more like beach sand or fine breadcrumbs; durum flour feels powdery-fine, like most other flours in your pantry.

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Top Comment:
“From my limited knowledge, one shouldn’t exceed 25% durum wheat in a flour- yours is more so that means it’s not true? Whilst awaiting to hear from you, my compliments and thanks for your help. Brgds, Malu”
— Malu

Coarse semolina is primarily used in pasta-making, as it makes for a pliable, elastic, and easily workable dough that can be rolled, re-rolled, and cut. Were you to use this same coarse semolina in bread, you’d end up with a very gritty dough that doesn’t entirely come together, and an extra-dense loaf.

Finding durum flour suitable for bread-making can be challenging, especially here in the U.S. However, more and more millers are now offering it in their lineup, and the flour can be ordered online from purveyors like King Arthur Baking Company, even in large quantities. Still, when sourcing durum flour for bread, be sure it’s labeled explicitly "finely milled durum flour," "extra fancy durum wheat," or "semolina rimacinata" (which means twice-milled semolina).

Left: Semolina; Right: Durum flour, or semolina rimacinata Photo by Maurizio Leo

How to bake bread with finely-milled durum flour

Go all in, or blend with a traditional wheat

While it’s possible to bake fantastic bread with 100 percent durum flour, my preference is to blend durum with traditional wheat in varying ratios. The benefit in blending, as is the case with loaves made with other combinations of flours, is you get the best of both worlds: a bread with more volume and an open interior than all-durum, but with the golden tint, sweet and nutty flavor, and aroma—somehow reminiscent of freshly-made pizza—that comes with using durum wheat.

After a bit of testing, my preferred sweet spot is 25 to 35 percent durum wheat to total flour in the recipe (for example, if there were 1000 grams of flour in the recipe, I’d suggest 250 to 350 grams durum). With this ratio, your loaf will have an amber-colored crust and yellow-hued crumb, but the loaf will be light, airy, and texturally satisfying to eat. In testing, I’ve pushed the durum up to 75 percent to total flour, which worked out just fine, but the resulting loaf was tighter inside, with a moist, but cake-like texture (but still very tasty!).

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Increase the hydration

Bread dough with finely-milled durum wheat can typically take on more water than the equivalent quantity of traditional whole wheat flour. When developing my Rustic Italian Sourdough Bread recipe, I slowly increased the hydration percentage bake after bake until the dough felt sufficiently hydrated at the end of mixing.

When using durum wheat, expect that your dough may need more water than in a typical mix. But as always with dough hydration, be conservative and work up the added water amount slowly. A dough with a moderate to high percentage of durum can quickly go from feeling just right to over-hydrated, resulting in a loaf with a lackluster rise and a potentially gummy interior texture.

A longer autolyse

When using durum, you’ll find your dough will typically be very strong and stiff. As a result of high protein content of the grain, and the characteristics of the proteins that make up durum itself, the dough will be firm and elastic. To help offset this, I usually perform a longer autolyse—which is simply allowing the flour and water in a dough recipe to rest before adding the salt and preferment, or levain—brings much-needed extensibility to the dough.

Think of extensibility as sort of the opposite of elasticity: Where an elastic dough is one that resists stretching, an extensible one stretches farther before snapping back or tearing. The dough’s added extensibility helps it expand further during fermentation, giving space and openness to the loaf as it rises during fermentation.

While it’s likely the increased extensibility is primarily due to the softening of the traditional wheat in the recipe rather than the durum itself, for such a simple step, it’s an easy way to improve the volume of the final loaf of bread.

Embrace the rustic crust

A hallmark of using durum flour in bread is the crust’s rustic charm, brought about by seemingly random fissures here and there on the loaf’s exterior. When baked at a high temperature for longer, as I do in my Rustic Italian Sourdough recipe, the result will be a vivid, amber colored-crust contrasted by light golden splits at the areas where the dough is scored.

While I might typically see these splits as an issue with insufficient scoring depth or quantity, they fit in wonderfully with the overall aesthetic of this rustic bread. A loaf that begs to be torn by hand at the dinner table, with less pretension and more to the business of nourishment and flavor.

Mix gently

I like to think using durum is a way to channel bread-makers from an age before the advent of mechanical mixing. In my experience, while you could place the dough in a mechanical mixer for a few minutes, when the dough is mixed by hand, bread with a moderate percentage of durum wheat bakes off with a taller rise and lighter internal structure. Hand-mixing also ties in beautifully with the history of the grain itself, used for thousands of years to make all types of pasta and bread, all without mechanized assistance. Ultimately, durum flour helps create inherently rustic loaves that are as beautiful to look at as they are delicious.

Have you tried made anything with durum wheat? What else do you want to know about the wide world of bread-baking? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • dickensthedog
  • Malu
  • Paul
  • gaurav
Maurizio is the software engineer-turned-baker behind the award-winning sourdough website, The Perfect Loaf. Since baking his first loaf of bread, he's been obsessed with adjusting the balance between yeast and bacteria, tinkering with dough strength and hydration, and exploring everything sourdough. His New York Times Bestselling sourdough cookbook, The Perfect Loaf, is now available.


dickensthedog January 2, 2023
Thank you for this great information. We loved the baguette served with dinner at an inn in VT. The crust was wonderfully crunchy. The interior was soft, tender, and moist, without open holes, yet almost stretchy vs cakelike. It tasted so much like pasta to us, that I asked our server whether the bread was made with pasta flour. Sure enough, it was! I assume that it was durum vs semolina flour, because there was no roughness to the crumb, but I could be wrong. I would like to try recreating the bread at home. Do you advise using all durum flour, or do you think that mixing it with bread or all purpose flour might give us what we are looking for? Any other tips would certainly be appreciated, along with all the wonderful information you have already shared.
Maurizio L. January 2, 2023
You're very welcome! Yes, I would do a mix of durum and another wheat flour, like all-purpose. While 100% durum bread is fantastic, chances are, the one you had was a blend. I have a recipe in my cookbook (The Perfect Loaf) called "Pane Pugliese" that's similar to what I have in mind, it's mostly modern wheat (ap/whole wheat) with durum added for crunch, crust color, and flavor!
dickensthedog January 2, 2023
Oh my goodness. That was so nice of you to get right back to me. And I will look for the recipe in your book : )
dickensthedog January 2, 2023
I just ordered your book from the library : )
Maurizio L. January 3, 2023
Wonderful, I hope you love it!!
TRADOLOGIE G. August 22, 2022
Thank you for providing such an enriching piece of information. Your way of putting things out was simply brilliant. Just to add, Tradologie is an online B2B marketplace where you can buy these good quality agri-commodities at the finest price. To know more, you can visit
Durum Wheat
TRADOLOGIE G. August 22, 2022
Thank you for providing such an enriching piece of information. Your way of putting things out was simply brilliant. Just to add, Tradologie is an online B2B marketplace where you can buy these good quality agri-commodities at the finest price. To know more, you can visit
Durum Wheat
Malu June 1, 2021
Dear Maurizio, thank you so much for solving my query if it’s possible to make a mix of other flours with durum wheat. Just wondering, before trying it, would it be a good idea to use poolish and if so could you give use the formula/ recipe. From my limited knowledge, one shouldn’t exceed 25% durum wheat in a flour- yours is more so that means it’s not true?
Whilst awaiting to hear from you, my compliments and thanks for your help.
Brgds, Malu
Maurizio L. June 1, 2021
Happy to help, Malu. Well, there are plenty of breads in Italy that use over 25% durum! In fact, in the Puglia region, there are 100% durum loaves. You can certainly go with a poolish if you'd like, but unfortunately, I don't have a formula. I don't work much (at all, really) with instant yeast! I'd say mix up a poolish like you would with any other hearth style loaf with a high percentage of white flour, it should work similarly. Hope this helps!
Malu June 1, 2021
Thank you for your prompt reply. I admit I too use only sourdough but was hoping that a poolish would give me an open crumb even if with durum flour. I’m hoping I can use a ‘Lievito Secco ‘ which is active saccharomyces cerevisiae’ or does it have to be instant yeast, nothing else ?
In your suggestion to use white flour in the poolish, can I use bread flour (protein 13g) or whole grain (protein 12g) instead ? My semola rimacinata integrale has 15g protein.
Thanks in advance. Your help would be greatly appreciated.
Maurizio L. June 1, 2021
I'm not sure using fresh yeast will help you achieve a more open crumb, but it might be fun to experiment with. I would use your white bread flour in the poolish.
ryutensha October 27, 2021

For a durum recipe that uses a dry or fresh yeast preferment (as opposed to a levain or sourdough), look for a copy of Carol Field’s The Italian Baker. She has a biga based version of the traditional Altamura durum loaf. Her biga is made with AP flour but I’ve long used a durum biga; just give the biga a longer ferment, along the lines of 24 hours as opposed to the typical 12 hour max of an AP biga.
Paul February 26, 2021
Hi... I was wondering if you have experimented with methods to increase salt content. I would prefer a bit saltier bread than with the usual approx 20g / 1000g. I guess all,the usual suspects: increase levain, increase ferment etc. Any comments would be appreciated. Thank you!
Paul February 26, 2021
PS: Cairnspring Mill has a great Durham ...!
Maurizio L. February 26, 2021
Hey, Paul! I actually am always trying to go in reverse, to drop salt content as low as possible but still have delicious bread. My salt levels are almost always at 1.8% to total flour (i.e. 18g / 1000g flour). I've experimented up as high as 2.3% in the past, but haven't gone past that. Usually, I just give the dough more time, but you could offset with a slightly higher levain percentage as well.

I can't believe I missed the durum at Cairnspring Mills—will definitely get some next order!
Susan March 13, 2021
Have you tried the Cairnspring Mills Durum and if so do you recommend it for your bread recipes?
Maurizio L. March 13, 2021
I love Cairnsprings flour, but I haven't tried their durum yet!
gaurav February 25, 2021
Durum wheat is used for making Indian flatbreads called rotis/chapattis - we always have a large container of durum whole wheat flour at home(any Indian grocery store will sell it as chapatti flour). When I first tried my hand at bread baking, I used durum flour with disastrous results! I'll have to try again and report!
Maurizio L. February 26, 2021
Yes, that's right! In fact, making roti is on my list to experiment with again soon (I've done it in the past). They're typically not leavened, but so good!
gaurav February 26, 2021
Will share my results of making rotis on your instagram! Of course they are no match for my mother who cranks them out like a machine while everyone else is eating!
Maurizio L. February 26, 2021
Please do, I'd love to see!
gaurav February 26, 2021
Sent them, feel free to share them!
Smaug February 24, 2021
In my experience (and reading) at any rate semolina is rarely used for fresh pasta. It's said that the rather rugged dough that it produces stands up well to the rough handling of industrial pasta machines, so it's commonly- almost universally- used in dried pasta.
Maurizio L. February 25, 2021
Interesting! I've used it here for a long while to make some nice pasta, and a few recipes I've read call for it. Although I tend to use whatever I have on hand and I usually do a blend of semolina + wheat.
Smaug February 25, 2021
I first got that from Giuliano Bugialli's "Fine Art of Italian Cooking", which was my main introduction to Italian food, and Marcella Hazan pretty much backed it up. It would be fun to wander into a couple million Italian homes to wee what really goes on, but probably not happening. I've never been really fussy about flour for pasta either- I usually use KA's all purpose, but I've used everything from bleached white to bread flour to imported 00- they all worked fine.
Maurizio L. February 25, 2021
I own both of those great books. Well, I can say when visiting my family in Italy, they most certainly use whatever they have on hand and make it work. Always delicious in the end! I took use ap, 00 when I have it, even whole wheat—why not!