The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Can you really tell bleached from unbleached flour?

copyu's picture
copyu

Can you really tell bleached from unbleached flour?

Hi all,


I hope this topic hasn't been 'done to death' already, but I was wondering...Can any of you guys actually see (or taste? or feel?) a difference between bleached and unbleached wheat flours? My search of this topic on TFL yielded lots of cries for help that usually start: "My recipe calls for unbleached APF, but..." and the usual responses are to visit KAF online.


SOME BACKGROUND: I live in Japan and, last Xmas, I went to Australia, where I picked up a lot of groceries that are either completely unobtainable [or 'almost unobtainable'] here and shipped the stuff back to Japan. My 'stash' included 1kg of 'organic unbleached plain flour'. To be quite honest, I can't tell, by looking at it, that it's any different from the usual "Nisshin" brand of plain/regular flour that every supermarket sells here. We also have a 'specialty' baking store that sells a huge variety of goods, with a slant towards home bread-baking. However, I can't tell any difference in color among their flours—or between them and the regular flours that I can buy in the supermarket. I can't see any difference, either, between the specialty flours and the Aussie unbleached. Recently, a very good flour called "Kobe Flour" with 11.8% 'gluten' has appeared on supermarket shelves at a very good price—for me, that's a good 'bread flour'. I've been told (by a University Professor, who is also a home-baker and actually teaches baking techniques as a volunteer) that you can't get unbleached flour here. [I later found out she wasn't 100% correct—it's for sale online at about US$5 per pound from the "Foreign Buyers' Club" Japanese website.]


So, I'm wondering—what is all the fuss about? Japan has virtually the same rules as the EU for imported flours. Top of the list: NO BROMATED FLOUR is allowed to be imported. I don't know what bleaching, if any, IS permitted, however. Is it *just possible* that all of the US / Canadian flour we buy here is just your regular, non-organic, unbleached flour? If there's a visible difference, would someone please let me know what I'm missing? Thank you!


 

BettyR's picture
BettyR

This is one of those subjects that if you ask 100 people the same question you will get 100 different opinions.


 


I live in rural Texas...it's not Japan but I can't get bread flour or unbleached flour unless I want to drive 70 miles (one way) to the nearest city. I don't. I use the cheapest all-purpose flour I can find...which is a 25 pound bag at the farmer's market that I pay $6.00 for and add gluten. I make all our bread products myself, that includes sandwich bread, tortillas, hamburger buns, hot dog buns and so on, and my bread is good. My family and I are happy with it... so if it aint broke don't fix it...is my opinion.  

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Bleached flour is whiter than unbleached.  I compare it to the difference between looking at naturally white teeth versus the chemically bleached teeth that make you wish you were wearing sunglasses.


Quoting from Cooks Illustrated:



A second important difference in flours is whether they are bleached or not. Technically, all all-purpose flours are bleached. Carotenoid pigments in wheat lend a faint yellowish tint to freshly milled flour. But in a matter of about 12 weeks, these pigments oxidize, undergoing the same chemical process that turns a sliced apple brown. In this case, yellowish flour changes to a whiter hue (though not stark white). Early in this century, as the natural bleaching process came to be understood, scientists identified methods to chemically expedite and intensify it. Typically, all-purpose flours are bleached with either benzoyl peroxide or chlorine gas. The latter not only bleaches the flour but also alters the flour proteins, making them less inclined to form strong gluten. Neither chemical, however, poses any health risks. Today consumers prefer chemically bleached flour over unbleached because they associate the whiter color with higher quality.



The CI article notes that some of their testers did discern a taste difference.   It also makes sense that other ingredients would mask any hint of the bleaching chemical.


The "fuss" for many is the issue of adding unnecessary chemicals to food for cosmetic purposes.   


Can I personally taste a difference?  I don't use bleached flour for any purpose,  but I do find a difference in the taste of commercial baked goods found on the market shelves.  Whether it's from the bleaching agents or all the other additives added to the product,  I don't know.   


Maybe Pat (Proth5) will pop in with some advice on the available flours there since she is currently in Japan.

proth5's picture
proth5

I have not yet enough confidence in my Japanese language skills to know exactly what I am buying.  Maybe later...

GaelicGrime's picture
GaelicGrime

It depends on what I am making.


In ordinary bread with out flavoring including sponges unbleached is the only solution we enjoy.
Cakes the texture of unbleached is a little different and preferred.
As a thickener we differ, I don't care and my wife finds bleached more to her liking.


In general use anything with a strong flavor we don't care but anything without a strong flavor we head in the unbleached direction.


Now texture... this is a pretty wild bag of snakes and I suspect from reading the previous post there is an effect based on which bleaching process is used explaining our random results in texture (we just but what ever bleached flour is less expensive the day we are shopping, in a 5# bag).


We were given a 25# bag of graham flour by a friend who owns a bakery and changed brands. This may become our bread flour of choice


We have the benefit of living with 70 miles of two roller mills, one of which makes their products available in grocery stores and even Costco (nationwide) so Turkey Brand from Lehi Roller Mills is our default flour for everything except pastry and thickening (Rye, gluten, etc. comes from several sources) though even for some pastry I have been adding gluten and liking the results so Turkey AP may become my only wheat flour in the house.


It looks like generally we are liking the texture with higher gluten, less bleach, more solid bits. In taste everything except thickening (my wife thinks unbleached tastes like stale cracked wheat cereal) we also tend toward unbleached.


 

La masa's picture
La masa

but you went ahead :-)


I know that flours from differents parts of the world are not comparable,


I learnt it the hard way by trying to replicate some recipes I found on the net and ending with a crepe instead of a bread lots of times, a lot more times than an intelligent person would try :-/


Flours often have a small amount of additives added (can additives be substracted?) and that depends not only on local laws, but on local habits too.


I was about to post a new thread making the point that I'm now using a great flour, a white, organically grown, stone milled wheat flour, and despite of that my breads are flatter than before.


This night (now) is the third time I try this flour, so I can confidentally tell that is the flour, and not my handling, what is different.


But I really love this flour, I'd like a fluffier bread, but if I have to choose between fluffiness and taste, I'll choose the second one without any doubt.


My point is that I was using a very strong flour till now, bought at a confectioner-patisserie ( I don't know the word to use), and I was having very beautifully risen boulees with that flour, but I rather stick with this very tastier one.


And I'm sure if my English were better my post would be a lot shorter :-)



copyu's picture
copyu

All responses are very helpful and much appreciated. I definitely WOULD choose unbleached, too, if it were easily available. (Avoiding UN-necessary artificial chemicals is an instinctive human reaction, I suppose. Why buy 'contaminated' goods when you can get the same, but 'uncontaminated' goods easily?)


My only grizzle was that I couldn't see or taste any difference when using the regular flour or the unbleached. The Japanese are VERY 'picky' about food quality and baking is a reasonably popular (but quite expensive) hobby in Tokyo. Most baking books wax eloquent about the yellow, buttery appearance of breads made with unbleached flour. I've only been able to get that effect by adding a good proportion of durum semolina, so far.


From LindyD's post, it looks as if my flour is already 'naturally bleaching'...I bought this stuff a few days before Xmas and it was delivered early in January. Even two months ago, though, I couldn't spot any real difference. I packed a few spoonsful into a 'baggie' and took it with me when I went shopping for bread flour. The bulk stuff is usually packed in clear plastic here. Shop lighting is often fluorescent and that doesn't help much. I tried to spot a difference in daylight, but nothing different that I could see...


For now, I'll just have to stick with my "Kobe flour" [At only US$1:74 (¥158) per kg, it's the best flour bargain available in this country.]


Cheers, everyone


[PS: La masa, your English is very good! copyu]

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

Hi Copyu


 


Here in NZ the flours are unbleached.  RLB calls for bleached flours in many of her cake recipes, I simply ignore this and enjoy the delicious results using her recipes with our flours (and wonder whether I'd choose to use bleached flour were it available......) Then a couple of days ago she put up on her blog the results of some experiments with unbleached flour in cakes which might interest you:


http://www.realbakingwithrose.com/2010/03/the_power_of_flour_part_one_of.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+RealBakingWit...


 


I did a quick google search in Japanese on bleached flour. I haven't found the regulations but both the webpages I link below indicate that flour sold in Japan、both domestically produced and imported is unbleached. At one time it was bleached but this was discontinued in 1973 for household use and in 1977 for industrial use.


http://www.anew.co.jp/manabu/archives/qa200507.html


http://www.daikoku-ya.jp/contents/food/guide_203.html


I used to use Nisshin's 'kameriya' but checking their website I see they have a wider range of "strong' flours now. 


http://www.nisshin.com/products/flour.html


Sounds like you're happy with the 'Kobe' flour anyway.....


dewa, Robyn


P.S. Not sure if the link to RLB's blog (realbakingwithrose.com)will work. The post titled The Power of Flour, Part One of Two was posted on 6 March  


 

copyu's picture
copyu

The RLB link worked just fine. Thank you very much. She's great! I have to buy some of her baking books, now.


Did you ever work out what the 'flower' names (or 'flour' names) were all about? 'Camellia' and 'Violet' and 'Super Camellia', etc...I just checked the 'tan-paku-san' [protein] percentages and country of origin, if I had the time...


I am still bamboozled by the "SO-RE-DO-RU" label on a strong bread flour which was reasonably priced. It's written that way in kana and romaji on the package, but no-one I knew could work out what the name was 'supposed' to mean. Close to 'sun' plus 'gold' in several romance languages, but nowhere NEAR accurate enough for any European person to work out. Music? Tonic sol-fa? 75% OK! It obviously wasn't 'sourdough' either...[Probably one of those "school-kid howlers" that so often slip through the net here in Japan???]


Cheers,


copyu


 

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

Hi there


Just as Nisshin marketing people seem to have had fun playing with using flower names for flours, it would appear that SO-RE-DO-RU is a product name for a flour for use in making French bread , but getting back to the correct French pronunciation (and any possible meaning) from the katakana is always a challenge. (I often have to repeat katakana words aloud 'til I finally click what has been transcribed and Japonified from the original English)


This online store lists 146 (!!) items for flours for bread (some flours are listed under more than one weight), with plenty of details about what wheats are used in manufacture, with protein and ash data and recommendations of how to use too (have fun!!):


http://www.cuoca.com/category/11.html 


Amongst them the ソレドォル is said to be good for baking French breads in particular large boules and is listed as having Protein 12%±0.4% and Ash 0.41%±0.03%


http://www.cuoca.com/item/70041.html


There is also a リスドォル with Protein 10.7% and Ash 0.45 which is said to be particularly popular with bakeries making french bread


http://www.cuoca.com/item/12018.html 


Cheers, Robyn

copyu's picture
copyu

Thank you very much for that—those links are very good. (I had trouble with one of them...it may be 'broken', but I'll try again later.)


The main reason I asked about the 'SOREDORU' label is because I've worked mostly in multi-language schools here in Japan and most of our instructors had prodigious linguistic skills—3-7 languages each, apart from whatever Japanese they'd picked up. Nobody could make any sense of it!


I figured it must've been derived from some technical baking term that I hadn't come across yet. All of the Europeans were big 'bread fans' but I suppose they didn't know much about actually baking the stuff. Oh, well!


Thank you once again for your generous help.


Cheers,


copyu

Falsehat's picture
Falsehat

I only use unbleached APF for bread making.


Using the basic Lahey method, the baked bread has a slight tan cast to it. As flour, I cannot tell the difference in color or texture.


I find it tastier than APF. Unbleachde APF has more more food value than APF


In 10kgm bags, it is the same cost as APF.

copyu's picture
copyu

...those links are amazing! Thank you very much for your trouble in putting that all together. It seems you've answered the last question I asked in my original post. I've been wondering about this for many months, now. If I hadn't picked up the Oz flour, I would've lashed out for a kilo of the American stuff (from FBC, for about US$10 plus shipping) and gone through the same, probably fruitless, exercise.


I actually read somewhere on the internet that Japanese flour was unbleached, but there was no 'authority' behind the pronouncement. I didn't completely ignore it, obviously, but I couldn't take it seriously. It was a pretty low-grade, general, very casual University kids' cookery blog, where some guy just baldly, almost insultingly, stated in a comment to someone that: "'Bromated' flour was outlawed in Japan about 50 years ago; therefore Japanese flour is unbleached. QED!" The poster didn't seem aware that there were many other ways to bleach flour. Maybe he DID know something, but he didn't have the manners or brains to explain it to anyone, so I flipped off that site pretty quickly.


I did all sorts of 'little tests', but nothing like RLB's cake-baking experiments. I concluded, from my narrow perspective, that; either I AM using unbleached flour right now, or; the whole issue is just a 'crock'. Maybe my professor friend had said: "You can't buy...um...bleached flour in Japan..." It's quite possible I misunderstood her. We were in a very large group lesson at the time and there were only two of us bakers in the group, so I couldn't push the point and bore all of the other students...It was an English class, so *I* was the 'professor', that day and had to move the discussion beyond baking...


Thanks again to Robyn and to all respondents. You guys are very generous and helpful. Thank you, everyone, for your valuable time.


Best to all,


copyu

saraugie's picture
saraugie

I only use a bleached flour in Queen Guinevere cake flour.  The reason as I recall reading was, it has the lest protein which is what the two recipes I most use call for.  FYI, they are Orgasmic Brownies and N.Y. style crumb cake.


Can one buy BROMATED unbleached flour ?  I have no idea why one would, but usually flour that's bleached are bromated too.  Uhhh, what does bromated mean, airy ?

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-bromated-flour.htm


"Bromated flour is flour which has been enriched with potassium bromate, a maturing agent which promotes gluten development in doughs. Some commercial bakers use bromated flour because it yields dependable results, and it makes stronger, more elastic dough which can stand up to bread hooks and other commercial baking tools. Home bakers may choose to use it for much the same reason, when they can obtain bromated flour. Ascorbic acid has replaced potassium bromate as a food additive in a number of areas.


Potassium bromate is classified as a potential carcinogen, meaning that it may be harmful when consumed. In theory, the substance is supposed to bake out of bread dough as it cooks, but if a residue remains behind in the bread, it could be harmful in the long term. A careful balance is required of manufacturers, since they must add enough of the substance to bromated flour to make it perform as expected while not adding too much. Many flour producers have switched to ascorbic acid, which has similar properties without the potential health risk.


In some countries, bromated flour has actually been banned out of concerns about health risks. In the United States, bromated flour is legal, although state by state labeling laws may dictate that a flour producer clearly label flours which contain potassium bromate. Some organizations such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest have lobbied the Food and Drug Administration to ban potassium bromate as a food additive in the United States. Many bakeries and flour mills pride themselves on using unbromated flour, and market their products accordingly.


Typically, bromated flour is used in bread production. Adding potassium bromate makes the bread stronger and more elastic, and also promotes big rises of bread. The resulting bread tends to be strong and springy, well suited to commercial production especially. The substance also bleaches the flour slightly, creating the creamy white color which most people associate with flour. It tends to be used in low protein flours more commonly, since these flours do not develop enough gluten on their own.


Consumers who are concerned about using bromated flour can seek out flours which do not contain potassium bromate. When baking bread, a high gluten flour is very useful, and many flour mills formulate products specifically for bread production which will be clearly labeled as "bread flour." A number of options including whole wheat and white unbleached are available."


 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

But the OP asked about bleached versus unbleached flour.


Bromating flour is not the same as bleaching flour.  Bleaching is probably the lesser of two evils.

saraugie's picture
saraugie

Then I asked about bromated flour and what it meant.  Was there something wrong with my Q and then the A, here.  Do we have to be topic specific, regarding what the "op" posts ?  LOL  I know of another website that is regularly policed for things, maybe not so minor as your the point you brought up.  PM me and I will give you its address.


In the meantime have a kneading day ! :>)

copyu's picture
copyu

thank you for your input. You're both correct, actually, so don't worry, or argue too much! LOL! Saraugie you asked a question and got a very detailed answer. It IS related (indirectly) to my original post...


'Bromating' flour was discovered to be a good way to 'age' flour quickly, way back when people actually *demanded* the whitest flour they could buy. [In Europe, especially, the rich ate white bread and the poor ate black or brown bread...]


The only other way known to 'age' flour without using common bleaching agents, was to keep it in storage for several months and let it 'oxidize' naturally, before selling it. However, that wasted space and time and, therefore, MONEY! 'Oxidizing' the flour means it becomes whiter than when it was first milled. It's explained very well in MrFrost's post and in almost every baking book I've ever read.


No-one, back then, likely had a clue that Potassium Bromate might be harmful to health. [I think it probably isn't, if it's used correctly by suppliers and the bread is well-baked—but who wants to be a 'guinea-pig'?]


Keep cool, and thanks for the input. I certainly appreciate it.


Best,


copyu

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

As you now see, the post was in reply to one that did ask about bromates.

LindyD's picture
LindyD

That you took offense at my response.  I didn't see your question and certainly didn't mean to offend you.

saraugie's picture
saraugie

Sorry, I wrote that at all.  I was at the LAS airport, waiting for the beggining of my trip home, after not much sleep, the plane delayed an hour....Still no excuse for my bad manners.  Please except my apologies Lindy.

RiverWalker's picture
RiverWalker

well I never realized there was a substantial difference, as some I read claimed there to be.


but I got some unbleached on sale, and tried it, made some good breads.


week or two ago, after having made some very simple breads (as in, just flour, water, salt and yeast) with using ONLY some left over cheap, bleached ap flour..... and they came out terribly bland. the texture was just fine, it handled fine, but it was noticably just had almost no flavor.  the only substantial difference between this and batches of the same recipes were bleached vs unbleached flour.


and to my eyes, the bleached flour is visibly a little more snow-white rather than slightly off-white.


the foolishness that seems to be so common in habits and social standards with food relating to what was once regarded as what wealthy or poor people ate, is strange.

dutchmilkmaid's picture
dutchmilkmaid

Last month I bought an electrical grain mill (a Fidibus). I now mill any type of grain I want. I have two sieves, a coarse and a fine one. For wholemeal I don't sieve, for white flour I use the fine one and for something in between the course one (the bits I sieve out go in the yoghurt with some fruit or I use them when making meatballs or other stuff). I buy (eco-) grain in bulk which works out very cheaply (o.k., the mill wasn't cheap) and hang it in linen sacks (old rice bags) from the rafters. The mill is fast and very efficient (I get 390 grams of flour from 400 grams of wheat grain). It's so little bother, I don't mill in advance, but let the mill run while I compile the other ingredients for my bread. The end of having a million different bags of different flours, spoiling in my cupboards and attracting mealybugs and I mix my own flours as I see fit. Very happy with this solution!

ronhol's picture
ronhol

copyu,


thanks for the thread, yesterday I bought a 25 pound bag of flour at Sams club for $6.80, so cheap I could not resist.


Add 2 pounds of Fleishmans yeast for $4.80, I'm in bread baking heaven. lol


Then I got concerned how it would work.


Bottom line, it's six bucks, what the heck.


I just pulled my first loaf from the oven, when it cools, I'll find out.


I just started baking my own bread, using the 5 Minutes a Day to Artisan Bread book as my guide and inspiration, so I'm a real newbe.


My favorite breads however, are Italian loaves from the local grocers in store bakery, (at $2.99/loaf) which is awful white compared to the unbleached batch I made last week, so maybe I'll prefer it this way.


I did the math, and figure it's going to cost me about 30-40 cents a loaf at this rate.


Now let's hope it's edible!

ronhol's picture
ronhol

I just tried my first loaf with bleached enriched flour from Sam's and I love it.


I'm sure to be laughed off this forum, but it's lighter than the unbleached loaf and closer to the in store bakery Italian I'm used to.


I can't imagine people cant tell a difference between the flours, but then again, maybe it had to do with the hydration of the mix, but this batch is far lighter drier and as a rersult, tastier.

copyu's picture
copyu

You've scored a real bargain there and I'm sure you're happy that the bread tastes so good. I find the same, regardless of the flour I use. The home-baked bread beats anything I can buy locally.


I've watched dinner guests at my place, who rarely eat bread, polish-off almost an entire loaf that accompanied a filet steak dinner. (And I thought the STEAKS would be the centerpiece of the meal!)  


Cheers,


copyu

rana0x0's picture
rana0x0

I have always been able to tell the difference in taste between baked goods that are made with unbleached versus bleached.  I much prefer bleached flour baked goods.  I have a very sensitive sense of taste and smell (born that way), and dislike greatly unbleached due to a grainy plant aftertaste.  My family makes fun of me and doesn't believe me.  I wouldn't eat my mother's unbleached baked goods for anything when I was very young.  I can now tolerate it, but if I HAVE to use unbleached flour in a recipe due to cost, I always supplement the aftertaste by adding Vanilla, honey or applesauce to the recipe to offset the aftertaste for myself.  Not enough to make it taste like apple or honey, just to offset the grainy taste with something sweeter but still natural.  If you do ever notice a grainy taste in some recipes that you don't like you can always add a sweetener like Vanilla, applesauce or honey.  I use all three as needed per recipe.