The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bleached Plain Flour

liseling's picture

Bleached Plain Flour

Hello, I've been a member of TFL for a few months now, but this is my first post. I was wondering how one can tell whether their "plain flour" (as it's called in the UK - I think in the US it's "all purpose flour") has been bleached? It certainly doesnt say so on the packaging, which doesnt really suprise me. Is all plain/all purpose flour bleached? If so, how can I find white flour that is not? Are there some key terms or flour jargon that I should be aware of that indicates bleached or not bleached? I'm looking primarily in the grocery store... I'd love to be able to grind my own flour and get into all that, but I depend on public transportation and somehow doubt that farms/mills where I could get some whole grains are conveniently near to tube/train/bus stations. And the shipping costs for sending them are through the roof - probably because they are heavy. So I'm dependent on grocery store flour for now I'm afraid.

Also, the reason I'm trying to find unbleached white flour is because I read somewhere (probably on this site!) that bleaching the flour does something to it that makes it not work very well in the baking process - can someone clarify what that is and why bleaching has this effect? I use primarily wild yeat - does it not like bleached flour? Thanks in advance for all the information!

PaddyL's picture

Here in Canada, it's clearly marked on the bag, unbleached or bleached, but I've used both in my bread baking and have not found a great difference.  For years, I used the store brand bleached all-purpose flour because it was cheaper and I never had any problems.  Same goes with the sourdough.  When I was in Ireland, I had to look for 'strong' flour for bread baking, but whether it was bleached or not, I don't know.  It still worked and made beautiful bread.

proth5's picture

That is the question.

Not really.

All white flour needs to be oxidized prior to its use in baking.  This oxidation process essentially strengthens the gluten so that the flour acts better in the baking process.

This will happen naturally over the course of three to four weeks.

Or, you can use chemical agents to accomplish this in a much shorter period of time.  Obviously since time is money (or rather inventory carrying cost over time is money) some flour producers (and industrial bakeries) use these chemical agents.

There are a variety of agents that can be used ranging from the benign to the possibly carcenogenic.  Some of these agents are not legal in Europe.

Although the chemically bleached flour will "perform" well in baking (volume, extensibility, elasticity, falling number, etc, etc), chemically bleached flour will have been stripped of its carotenoid pigments and the flavor/aroma/etc of the finished product will be compromised.

"Unbleached" or to be more precise "naturally oxidized" white flour (because we home bakers will almost never have access to "green" or unaged white flour) is preferred by us "serious home bakers" who are after great taste.

I used chemically bleached flour for many years - because that was all we knew when I started baking bread (and dinosaurs roamed the Earth) - but I would not go back to it now.

Hope this helps.

liseling's picture

Thank you all for your help. So the chemically bleached flour will WORK just fine, but it's less nutritious and doesnt taste as good. Those are good enough reasons for me not to use that variety, as I've anyway started to make almost exclusively whole wheat bread for the health benefits. I just wanted to know in case I saw any exciting recipes for "special occasion" white bread.

I'm American, but have been living in the UK for a few years now. I guess that I dont even really need to worry about this bleached flour issue if they dont do that here! That's good.

PeterS's picture

they should tell you.