The Ingredient That Makes Southern-Style Biscuits Taste Better

How delicious are fresh-baked biscuits? Whether you like yours with buttermilk, scallions, cheddar, or maple, there's just something irresistible about a warm, steaming, flaky biscuit that's waiting to be slathered with plenty of butter.

Many associate biscuits with the American South — and for a good reason. This baked good typically accompanies a variety of Southern comfort food classics, ranging from fried chicken and country ham to pulled pork and baby back ribs. Southern-style biscuits are extra light and tasty; there may be a scientific reason why. As explained by Reader's Digest, these biscuits are traditionally made with flour ground from soft wheat, a variety of grain that grows readily in the American South due to its warm, humid climates. This type of wheat has about half as much gluten as hard wheat — the type of wheat used in bread flour. Because gluten lends structure and chewiness to baked items like bread, less gluten means a more tender result — and a good Southern-style biscuit sure is tender.

Bakers prize soft wheat flour for the biscuits it turns out

The role of soft wheat flour role in turning out tender biscuits is so prized by Southern bakers that some believe it's impossible for Northerners to make good biscuits. One thing's for sure — soft wheat flour is not a common ingredient up north, and without it, biscuits are just heavy and regular (via The Atlantic). White Lily, a popular brand of soft wheat flour, is widely regarded as playing an integral role in the level of success a biscuit baker will achieve.

But other chefs contend that making flaky biscuits isn't only about the type of flour that's used. Former "Top Chef" contestant Carla Hall told NPR that she kept soft wheat flour on hand for biscuits and all-purpose flour on hand for fried chicken at her now-shuttered Brooklyn soul food restaurant, Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen. But after the staff kept mixing up the flours, the team performed a taste-test, baking up biscuits with both types of flours.

"The biscuit had a darker color. It had more structure. It was more crunchy but still soft," Hall said of the all-purpose flour biscuit. Hall goes on to say, "It was everything I like in a biscuit, plus I only had to purchase one kind of flour for the restaurant."

No soft wheat flour on hand? Don't fear. There are plenty of other methods to help you turn out tender biscuits. For example, you can use plenty of cold butter. You should also avoid overmixing the dough before baking. No matter what type of flour you have at home, with a few simple techniques, mouthwatering biscuits are within your reach.