The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Costco ConAgra Harvest Flour

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Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

Costco ConAgra Harvest Flour

OK so I've been having an AWFUL time trying to make my bread come out right and I finally found out what's wrong.


ConAgra Harvest All Purpose Flour is about the same protein content as biscuit mix.  It's barely above a cake flour. At least what's available in MY area is.


I had to call ConAgra to get this information and if you are in some other part of the country it's going to be different.  Unlike King Arthur, Con Agra does not mill their wheat to meet any particular definition of what we would typically think of as "bread flour" or "all purpose flour".


SO for the South East, that would be from AT LEAST North Carolina down and I'm not sure how far west; the ConAgra mill is in Alabama.


All Purpose Flour coming out of that mill is 9.2% protein  (compare to 11.7% protein for King Arthur)


"Bread flour" coming out of that mill is 11.6% protein  (compare to 12.7% protein for King Arthur)


Kyrol "high gluten" flour is 13.8% protein (compare to KA Sir Lancelot at 14.2% protein) - not all Costco's carry this, mine unfortunately does not.


The ConAgra representative to whom I spoke swore that although the ConAgra Harvest flour available at Costco is bleached, it is NOT bromated.  I could have sworn the bags I bought actually did say it was bromated, but I've long since repackaged the flour and tossed the bags.  It'll be a couple of weeks yet before I can get to Costco to double check that.


Typically we think of bread flour being something close to 13% protein, high gluten 14% to 15%, all purpose around 10% to 12%, pastry flour at about 9%, and cake flour being about 6% - 8%.  Or at least I have, up to now.  (Then there's White Lily, which historically was around 8%, not sure what it is now that it's been sold off)


This means the ConAgra Harvest AP flour is actually a PASTRY flour.  No wonder none of my AP bread recipes were coming out!  And I guess maybe some of the credit for the success I've finally had with pie crust is due to the flour rather than my increased prowess at pie making.  *sigh*


Even the ConAgra Harvest Bread flour is too low in protein to actually qualify as a bread flour - it's slightly lower in protein than King Arthur's All Purpose flour!


Most national store brands of AP flour are nominally listed at 10.5% protein though I'm told in actuality they vary regionally from around 10% to 11%.  National brands have a bigger stake in maintaining some level of consistency I guess.  I'm talking Pillsbury, Gold Medal, etc.


SO, if you want to use the ConAgra Harvest flour from Costco, and you're in the SE, you may want to avoid the AP flour and stick to the Bread flour, treating it like it's equivalent to King Arther AP.  It should be roughly equivalent for recipes on the King Arthur website that call for AP flour.


Adding vital wheat gluten to the ConAgra Harvest Bread flour will probably bring it up to the range of actual bread flour - I'm told it adds about 1% to the protein content when used as directed.

mcs's picture
mcs

Keep in mind, I don't work for ConAgra.  However, this is what I understand about their Harvest flour:


-it's called 'Harvest Flour' as in 'sounds like Gold Medal brand 'Harvest King'
-it has almost identical specs to 'Harvest King' ie., 11.8% protein vs. 11.9%
-it's actually their 'Minnesota Girl' flour renamed for Costco
-it's unbromated


-Mark


http://TheBackHomeBakery.com

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

Thanks for the info Mark.


Have you used the ConAgra Harvest? Do those specs bear out in your baking(i.e., CA Harvest very similar to GMHK?)


Thank you both.

mcs's picture
mcs

I moved from VT where we used KA all-purpose in the bakery I used to work at to Hawaii where I used ConAgra and others for 6 years (basically whatever was cost effective), to Montana where I use Wheat Montana. 


In my very un-scientific studies, I found CA Harvest to be similar to GMHK.


-Mark

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

Thank you.

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

Was that ConAgra Harvest AP, or bread flour?


Being clear on the other side of the country (and across the ocean) your ConAgra Harvest would not have been coming from the same mill as mine here in the SE.  I can't say how it compares without checking specifically with ConAgra.


People need to be careful about equating this particular brand to other brands because according to ConAgra, it WILL vary widely depending on which mill it's coming out of.

mcs's picture
mcs

The flour I had was the Harvest AP and behaved as I would've expected.  If the flour you had was 9.2% as the ConAgra rep told you, then IMO it should've been labeled differently.  As you said, this is far too low to be AP, and ConAgra should've labeled it accordingly.  Regardless of where it's grown or where it's milled, ConAgra (and every other flour company) has specific labels for specific flours based on the type of wheat, protein content, ash content...  If the flour doesn't fit the label, then it should be in a different bag.


-Mark

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

I agree with you 100%.  Here I was baking blithely along, thinking I had AP flour when what I had was pastry flour!


This may be great for people who want a bulk source for cake, pastry, or biscuit flour, but not so great when you're trying to make bread.


The other thing that fooled me was thinking that because Costco is a national chain, the flour they sell under the same brand lable would be consistent across stores.  Therefore I was going by the (few) reports from other people about the protein content of this flour.  These reports were no doubt accurate for the specific regions where those people live, but not for me here in the SE.


All this time I've been beating myself up and blaming my poor Zojirushi, it was the flour all along, LOL!


Sadly, apparently I have to give up the idea that I've finally figured out how to make a flaky pie crust.  It's much easier not to screw pie crust up when you're actually starting with pastry flour, LOL!

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

I spoke directly with the guy in charge of their technical specs at ConAgra.


Let me reiterate, the actual protein content of their AP and bread flours varies from region to region.  The stats I listed are valid only for the SE region.


You don't mention which part of the country you are in.  


Also, are you talking about the bread flour or the AP flour, for whatever region you are in?


 

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

I respectfully suggest that lack of protein is likely not the issue, perhaps technique...


There are many recipes that work fine with AP or flour at the lower end of high protein resulting in a great loaves characterized as slightly softer texture rather than overly chewey which can result from very high protein levels.


Many of the well known books say that bread results are more influenced by technique rather thant protein per se.  See Tartine P 70 and  Hamelman's "Bread" p365 - where the flour analysis uses 11.78% protein vs. the 11.6% above- not far off enough to really matter.  Dan Leader's "Local Breads" on p18 says "Home bakers often assume that more protein makes better bread, but the best hand-crafting bakers like a balanced flour, between 11.3 and 12.2%, with enough strength to hold the gases within the cell walls to give the bread a high rise but still soft enough to chew."  Leader also says to use unbromated flour same as you mention above.


As MRFrost says, useful to try a different flour for comparisson which may allow you to point to technique?  Higher protein requires a higher hydration ratio so adjusting up or down to get the right feel is perhaps needed too.  There may be legitimate issues with the flour you cite other than protein content. 


And see the Tartine book - great results only by hand mixing.  Keep at it, this post is meant to be helpful as we all have been there and more than occasionally are.  Keep us posted!

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

I'm not sure what you're responding to, but my posting was about using a flour labeled AP that turned out to be a pastry flour.


So we're not talking about a .18% difference, we're talking about the difference between 11.7% and 9.2%, or 2.5% lower protein in the flour ConAgra Harvest AP flour available in MY region (the SE US).  The difference may be less in some other region for the same brand of flour coming out of a different mill.


This is essentially trying to use pastry flour to make bread.  I don't think anyone suggests this is a good idea.  9.2% DOES NOT fall into the range of 11.3% to 12.2% that you mention.


 

NCGrimbo's picture
NCGrimbo

Interesting information.  Thanks for sharing.  After reading, I did a quick google search to see if there's a way to determine the %'s and I located this page: http://www.thebreakfastcook.com/tag/cake-flour .  Near the bottem is a simple way to use the amount of protien and the weight per serving from the nutritional label to determine the protien %.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

The information on a U.S. flour "nutrition label" is not accurate enough to determine gluten content. Sources that say otherwise should be spanked and sent to the back of the class.


Why? rounding


U.S. law allows suppliers to round to a whole number, so to use their example 4 grams of protein could really be anywhere between 3.6 grams and 4.5 grams. So carrying out the calculation, that flour has somewhere between 10.58% and 13.23% protein/gluten.


That's rather a large range. The bottom line is with a typical "serving" size (1/4 or 1/3 cup, in any case a lot less then the minimum 100 grams to make the information useful to bakers) the U.S nutrition label (perhaps unlike ones in Europe) can't be used to calculate meaningful gluten content.

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

Yes, this is why I called ConAgra to find out what was going on with my flour.  The nutritional label on both the ConAgra Harvest AP and Bread flour was EXACTLY the same. 


I hated to think there was something wrong with the flour but none of my bread was coming out even remotely right anymore.  My earlier attempts at baguettes were better than my later attempts at just regular sandwich bread.


Now I know why - I ran through the KA and Gold Medal bread flour with the baguettes and started on this ConAgra AP flour.


Next time I'll skip the Conagra AP and stick to the bread flour.  I guess it's a good thing I only got 25 lbs of the AP, and 50 of the bread flour, LOL!


Again, if you're in a different part of the country the difference may not be so pronounced as it is here.  I knew that the actual protein content in the south tends to be lower, but I didn't expect a flour from a national brand labelled AP to fall below 10%.  Going by information I'd found elsewhere about ConAgra's Costco flour, I thought it was at least 11% - that was wrong because that information was posted by people in other regions.  Or at least it was wrong for ME.


Because Costco is a national store, I kind of assumed that the flour would be distributed from a central warehouse.  Instead, it comes from whatever mill is closest.


Just FYI.  I wish they would publish this information like King Arthur does.  It would have saved me a LOT of trouble, and it might actually improve their reputation with bakers, who would know what they're getting when they buy ConAgra products so we wouldn't end up being disappointed.  OF COURSE a flour that is 9.2% protein will not work well in a recipe intended for flour that has 11.7% protein! 


I'll switch all my AP bread recipes to the CA Bread flour, and when a recipe calls for bread flour, I'll add gluten.  Then we'll see where we're at.


One good thing - it looks like there will be a lot of pie in our future, LOL!

DianaM's picture
DianaM

I went to the link provided but I couldn't see what I was looking for.  Could you be a little more specific regarding where to look for the information.


 


Thanks!


Diana

Chuck's picture
Chuck

You cannot usefully determine the protein/gluten content of flour from the information on a U.S. nutrition label, no matter what! (Bakers in some other countries with slightly different nutrition labels can  ...but not in the U.S.) There's no point in trying to locate any description of a method, because it will just be misleadingly incorrect (without even realizing it). See my posting earlier in this thread titled "Bullocks".


So where must information about protein/gluten content come from? Occasionally it's on a website (like King Arthur Flour). Mostly you just have to find someone who's communicated with the company directly and asked them and gotten an answer and published it. Some information is available on TFL; there's a lot more in the table at the bottom of http://home.earthlink.net/~ggda/flour_test.htm .


No-name flour out of a bulk bin is particularly problematic. Sometimes you can get a helpful grocer in that store to tell you what it is; often there's no way to find out except try it.


If you have a query about a flour for which you can't find information, try to get it from the company, then publish it. If our stock of numbers keeps growing a little bit at a time, eventually it will cover the majority of brands.


The webpage referenced above is no longer available  (possibly because I pointed out to the owners that they were publishing hopelessly incorrect information:-).

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Many brands of flour divide the U.S. into two parts ("the south" and "everywhere else"), and supply AP flour with a lower gluten content to "the south". They do this because their southern customers "expect" it (or more bluntly "make a lot of biscuits").


Some flour suppliers will tell you the difference, some will hide it inside their "range", and some (like King Arthur Flour) don't do it at all.


And what do I mean by "hiding it inside the range?" Well, the published range for Gold Medal AP is 9.8%-11% protein/gluten. That gives them some wiggle room for year-to-year differences and different growers. It's a pretty good guess though that flour destined for "the south" will be toward the lower end of that range, and flour destined for everywhere else will be toward the higher end of that range.


(BTW, the idea that "protein" is all "gluten" is just a convenient approximation for north american wheat flours. Selective breeding has made it nearly true for some strains. But the convenient approximation may not hold for other areas and other grains; for example "quinoa" is very high protein yet is gluten-free.)

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

Just FYI, I called ConAgra back to check on what bleaching agent they are using, if the flour I'm getting here in the SE isn't bromated.  Which they insist it isn't, although I could SWEAR that both bags listed Potassium Bromate as an ingredient when I bought them a few months back.


Incidentally, if the flour is bromated, it is required by law that that be listed as an ingredient.  Otherwise it just says "bleached".


However, the representative I spoke with checked all the nearby mills (just in case Costco here had got a batch from a different mill) and NONE of them are using potassium bromate at this time.


The bleaching agent being used here in the SE is benzoyl peroxide - yes, the anti-zit medication we all know and love.  LOL!


At any rate, according to "How Baking Works", benzoyl peroxide has no effect on gluten strength.  Just FYI - many bakers object to the use of anything other than unbleached flour because they think all bleaching treatments weaken the gluten.  Of the bleaching treatments I'm aware of only Chlorine actually weakens the gluten.


The reason Potassium bromate was used is because it actually strengthens the gluten.  Ascorbic acid does this as well.  Natural aging strengthens gluten. Benzoyl peroxide has no effect.


So if you want to use this flour for bread making, keeping in mind the actual protein content is lower here in the SE and this information about BLEACHING AGENTS is ONLY valid for ConAgra Harvest King flour coming out of mills in Ohio, PA, and AL (not sure about GA) and sold through Costco, it seems like adding a little ascorbic acid (you can use Fruit Fresh) should get you the extra boost if you still need one, even though the flour is bleached.


I have no knowledge of protein content of the flour coming out of any of the mills other than the Decatur mill.  I only asked about bleaching agents this go-round.

HMerlitti's picture
HMerlitti

I just went to Costco Portland OR.   3000 miles away from some of you.   I could not see any difference in the protein specs on the bags of Conagra AP vs Bread flour.


This was puzzling.   Then I came back and read the above posts.


I will go back and take a photo and post it.

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

The differences between the two are often so small as to not show up in the specs. I think you will notice that this is also probably the case with King Arthur All Purpose and Bread Flour. Same specs as listed on the labels(retail packages).


Just depends on what the actual values are before rounding to the nearest whole number.


Hypothetical example: King Arthur All Purpose flour may have a protein level of 3.5 grams per 30 grams of flour. This round off to 4 grams per 30 grams.


KA Bread Flour may have a protein level of 4.1 grams per 30 grams of flour. This would round off to the same 4 grams as the AP.


Please note that these are not the actual values. Just trying to illustrate how the numbers on the labels could be the same.


KAAP Nutrition label link:


http://dailyburn.com/nutrition/king_arthur_all-purpose_flour_unbleached_calories


KABF:


http://dailyburn.com/nutrition/king_arthur_flour_king_arthur_unbleached_bread_flour_calories


 

HMerlitti's picture
HMerlitti

For $7 and change for a 25# bag I thought it was worth looking into.  

3 Olives's picture
3 Olives

I love the Hodgson Mills Naturally White (All Purpose) and Bread Flour but have no idea what the protein % is. Does anyone know?

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

As of the 2006 Artisan Flour Test, the HMAP was noted to have a protein level of exactly 10%.


No info on the bread flour.


http://www.theartisan.net/flour_test.htm


As noted in the comment section of the test results, Hodgson suggests adding vital wheat gluten to the AP if using for yeast breads.

lupine's picture
lupine

The information below is copied directly from an email I received from ConAgra as of 4/8/11 regarding flour sold at Costco in Portland Oregon: 


 "Both the Eagle Mills AP 2/10# flour and the Harvest Bread 50# flour have a 11.9% protein level, which would make great bread.  However, the Eagle Mills flour is much better nutritionally as it has 2 grams of fiber and 9 grams of whole grains versus nothing for the Bread flour.  Also, the Bread flour is bleached and the Eagle Mills flour is not bleached." 


The 50# bag was $16.39.  Eagle mills was within a cent or two figured by lb.


Thought you all would like to know. 

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

Eagle Mills AP(EMAP) is essentially a blend of 70% unbleached white all purpose flour and 30% white whole wheat flour. The whole wheat portion is supposedly ground super fine(it probably really is as I don't recall being able to notice any bran specks).


I am about half way through my second 5# bag of EMAP. The one time I used it for yeast bread, I was not impressed. I think I get much better results(higher rise, less dense) when doing my own blend of whole wheat flour and GM Better for Bread(same ~11.9 %) at the same ratio.


I guess on my next batch off yeast bread, I'll try the EMAP again to see what the results are.


Now I do recall using the EMAP with the King Arthur Donut Muffin recipe, and got very good results.


Basically, don't expect the EMAP to produce the same type bread(texture, volume) as bread flour or any flour suitable for making a wide variety of breads(eg, KAAP).

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

Just a follow up - I have since moved to another region of the country, where there is no Costco.

However the Baker's & Chef bulk flour carried by Sam's Club is also out of ConAgra mills.

My local Sam's Club carries only the Baker's & Chef in bulk, some much more expensive stuff from Prairie Mills (which seems to specialize in corn meal/flour mostly) and some survivalist stuff.

The only viable bread flour is the B&C bread flour (out of ConAgra).

I haven't contacted the mills for exact protein content and probably won't unless I have some trouble with that flour and my bread.

Sadly King Arthur AP flour is over $5 for a 5 lb bag in the grocery stores here - compared to $7.27 for 25 lbs of ConAgra (Bakers & Chefs) bread flour, well, there's just no comparison.

If I can still get the KA AP at local WalMarts for the roughly $3.50 I was paying in the SE, I'll still occassionally buy the KA AP (11.7% protein, it's bread flour for all intents and purposes), the problem being there are like 8 WMs in town and they are badly and unevenly stocked - I'm neither willing nor able to run all over town looking for a bag of KA flour, LOL!