The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Different Brands of Flour

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Capn Dub's picture
Capn Dub

Different Brands of Flour

I have noticed something interesting about flours that I thought to share with y'all.  I'm wondering of one of you real flour experts, perhaps someone who runs or has worked in a mill, can explain it to me.  I have tried every brand of AP flour available to me, and have noticed little difference in their performance in my particular application--until now.

For some time now I've been using King Arthur Unbleached All-purpose, mostly for feeding my starter.  A couple of weeks ago I bought a sack of Red Mill Unbleached.  (It doesn't say all-purpose, but I assume that's what it is.)  As soon as I opened it I noticed a definite difference in its appearance.  All the other brands have a "flat" appearance, but the Red Mill has a slight gloss to it.  Furthermore, it felt somewhat different--looser, perhaps; I don't know how else to describe it.  Upon using it, I found that it wet much more easily when mixing into my starter, and the starter was somewhat stiffer.

Being the curious type, I decided to investigate.  Weighing a cup of KA, using the "spoon and scrape" technique, I found that the average of five trials was 116 grams.  (KA says a cup weighs 120 grams.)  The Red Mill came in at 124 grams.  Now that would explain the difference in the stiffness of the starter, but it says nothing about the gloss and the wetting properties of the different flours.

Does anyone know why the difference in the appearance, feel, and wetting characteristics?

Regardless, I have become a fan of Red Mill.  Being basically a lazy man, I like the fact that it's easier to mix.  My father always said "If you want to know the easy way to do something, ask a lazy man."

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

I purchased a case(4 x 5 lb bags) of the Bob's UBWF from Amazon this past summer and my experience was somewhat the opposite of yours.

Your experience, and the "loose specs" that Bob's allows for the Unbleached Flour, leads me to confirm what I suspected about their Unbleached Flour. That is it may vary noticeably from crop to crop, region to region, etc.

My usual flour is Gold Medal Better for Bread (which has a very similar protein level to KAAP). I also use White Lily Bread flour, which supposedly has the identical protein as KAAP(11.7%). All of these flours, except BRM, performed very similarly to me. I doubt if I could tell a difference in handling doughs made with them in a blind test.

This past summer, I lost the use of my car so I had to buy my supplies from the closest store in walking distance. The only somewhat suitable flour they carry for making bread is bleached Gold Medal AP, which supposedly has 10.5% protein.

I keep a firm 50% starter that I can knead cleanly in my hands with the KAAP, GM Bread and/or the WL Bread. Obviously the GMAP was noticeably stickier to handle when kneading the starter. Not impossible though.

Suffice it to say that, for me, the Bob's UB was as sticky to knead as the 10.5% protein GMAP. It felt and performed more like the GMAP than the other more "suitable for bread" flours. This is in spite of protein spec they give on the web site(which is pretty loose):

http://www.bobsredmill.com/faqs.html#SP6

"What is the protein content of your unbleached white flour, whole wheat flour and organic hard white whole wheat flour?
  • Unbleached White Flour = 12-13% protein..."

Sure doesn't feel like it. That's a pretty wide range and I suspect the reality is it's even wider.

Capn Dub's picture
Capn Dub

Very interesting, mrfrost.  Most definitely could be regional or the particular wheat crop--or, as you say, loose specifications.  I remain curious about the unique appearance and feel of the dry flour.  I'll get another bag when this gets low, and I'll compare the lot numbers to be sure I'm getting a different lot.  Will report back here on my findings.  Thanks for the ideas.

hanseata's picture
hanseata

I agree with mrfrost, flour will vary a bit, depending on different harvests. Also, flour changes with length of storage (unbleached flour gets whiter), and environment (humidity).

After measuring all my flours and comparing my measurements with those I found in different baking books and websites, I would only use volume measurement for cakes, never for bread, since they are so inaccurate. The spectrum for the weight of 1 cup of AP differed up to 30 g or more. This might not matter much for small amounts, but if you bake several loaves, it is a big difference.

I also found that the volume of the same brand of flour differed even when I compared a new delivery with a bag I ordered  before.

And here is a comparison of protein content of different AP-flours available at supermarkets. KA's and Hodgson Mill's AP can basically be interchanged with bread flour.

King Arthur: 11.7%
Hodgson Mill: 11.5-11.9%
Gold Medal: 10.5%
Pillsbury: 10.5%

Happy baking,

Karin

 

Capn Dub's picture
Capn Dub

Karin, I agree with almost everything you said, except “I would [never use] volume measurement[s] . . . for bread, since they are so inaccurate.”  I realize that most of us use weight to measure our ingredients, but I do so because weighing is faster and easier, not because volume measurements are inherently inaccurate.  Now, I know I am going to start a firestorm here, but please read on before you condemn me.

The tests that I mentioned in my original post revealed something besides the difference between two flours: volume measurements need not be as inaccurate as to affect our bread making—at least not nearly as much as other flour-related factors, e.g., wide variances around already loose specifications.  First, let me outline my methods and results, then explain my conclusions.

Observations:

A bag of Red Mill Unbleached Flour exhibited a different appearance and texture than I had ever before observed.  The flour had a conspicuous gloss as compared to the flat appearance of other flours, and its texture was looser and more slippery.  When used to feed my starter, the Red Mill wet quicker and easier than other flours, but quickly formed a slightly stiffer batter (100% hydration).

Hypothesis:

The stiffer starter might be related to the relative density of the flour.

Method:

Density being the ratio of weight to volume, the accuracy of both types of measurement was critical to the validity of the experiment.  The first step was to verify the accuracy of the digital scale used for the weight measurements.  This was done using a set of laboratory weights of known accuracy, and the scale was found to be correct within ±100 milligrams.  The volume of the measuring cup was checked by weighing it filled to the brim with 55°F water.  The net weight proved to be 231 g, as compared to a standard of 236 g, or 2% low.  The same cup was used throughout this experiment.

Since it is often said that the “scoop & scrape” method of measuring flour is grossly inaccurate, I felt it was necessary to verify this assertion.  This was done by using the measuring cup into a sack of flour until it was overfilled and scraping off the excess with a straight edge.  Repeated measurements produced weights ranging from 134 g to 146 g.  King Arthur Flour Company publishes the weight of a cup of flour as 120 g, which demonstrates the “scoop & scrape” is inherently inaccurate, and the range of my weights shows that method produces unpredictably varying results.

Six samples of King Arthur Unbleached All-purpose Flour (KA) (reported as only five in my original post) were taken by lightly spooning into the cup until the cup was overfilled and scraping off the excess, then weighing the contents.  Five samples of Red Mill (RM) were taken using the same method.

Data:

The KA measurements gave a range of 0.9 g with a mean of 115.3 g and a standard deviation of 0.5 g, while those of RM produced a range of 3.0 g, a mean of 121.9 g, and a standard deviation of 1.2 g.

Conclusion:

The hypothesis was not disproved by the experiment, although a substantial difference in density of the two flours was clearly shown.  On the other hand, it was not proven either, since the density difference might be due to several factors, including the moisture content or fineness, to name just two.

The experiment did reveal one surprising result, however.  Examination of the above statistics shows that proper measuring techniques can produce results that are sufficiently accurate for bread baking.  For example, using the worst case of the eleven measurements, i.e., a sample of RM which weighed 124.0 g, it can be seen that it deviated from the mean by only 2.1 g.  If we assume that same positive error in each cup in a six-cup recipe, we would have only five teaspoons of excess flour, a surplus easily corrected with two teaspoons of water.

In conclusion, I would have to say that volume measurements are good enough for government work.  For myself, however, I will continue to weigh because it is easier.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

labels on flour sold in grocery stores to be less than ideal.  The cheapest AP store brand flours say 3g of protein for 30g of flour or 10% .  Since there are no decimals to tighten this up, by rounding to the whole number the protein could actually be 2.51 g and the flour amount could be 30.49 and  2.51/30.49 is 8.23% rather than 10% you would think or it could be 3.39/29.51 = 11.49%,  So the range could be cake flour to bread flour and still meet the label specifications.

The bread flours say 4g of protein to 30 g of flour which would be 13.33% but it could also be 11.51% on the low side using 3.51 for the protein and 30.49 for the flour.  On the brighter side it could also be 4.49/29.51 = 15.22% on the high side.

My rule of thumb is to assume they are selling on price and we know that low protein flour costs less so I use the smaller calculated protein % and add VWG to get protein to the level I want to use and at least I know that is high quality protein that is gluten.  This seems to work very well. 

We also know that the protein level for whole grain berries change every year across the America depending on the weather and fertilizer used.  More fertilizer means higher protein.  

Just because a manufacturer say their flour has 11.7% protein does not mean that this is true.   Even KAF who does not mill there own flour and supposedly uses tight spec's was recently found to have a falling number tested in a lab that was way outside KAF spec's by a Fresh Lofian a couple of weeks ago, 

The taste of the flour is the most important for me and none of them even comes close to home milled fresh flour. Guess that is why so many Fresh Lofians mill their own flour.   Still the protein level listed for the whole berries may be fictitious.     .