The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


CountryBoy's picture


I don't believe I am reading the bread books and this forum with enough background knowledge.  On the one hand I see people saying that Bread flour is used for bagels and other high gluten baking.  On the other hand I see most people here using AP flour for bread.  My question is why do they call it Bread flour if everyone uses AP instead for bread? 


JMonkey's picture

AP, Bread, and High-Gluten are categories of flour that are only vaguely defined. Basically:

  • AP flour has 10-11% protein
  • Bread flour has 11-12% protein
  • High-gluten flour is 13-14% protein

The type of flour you should use for any particular recipe depends on what you like from your bread. The higher the protein, the higher the rise and the chewier the crumb. If you like the traditional super-chewy bagel, use high-gluten flour. If you prefer a more "bready" bagel, use bread flour.

A lot of folks here use King Arthur Flour, which is pretty high in protein. Their AP flour, for example, has a protein level of 11.7%, which essentially makes it a weak bread flour. In fact, there are a number of other brands of "bread" flour that are exactly as strong as King Arthur's AP flour.

I prefer their organic artisan flour, which at 11.3% protein, produces exactly what I'm looking for: a tender crumb with a nice high rise.

Likewise, KAF's bread flour is just shy of high-gluten flour at 12.7% protein. I only use it when I'm making a white bread with a lot of stuff in it (nuts, raisins, grains, etc.) or if I'm making a pizza -- then I blend it with AP flour to get something in between the two. By itself, KAF Bread flour makes the crumb too tough for my taste.

King Arthur's high-gluten flour (Sir Lancelot brand) clocks in at 14.2% which, I believe, makes it the strongest flour on the market. Makes for a great, super-chewy bagel.

Another way of looking at it is the the type of wheat. I grind my own whole wheat flour most of the time, and, since the bran interferes with the rise, I want the highest protein grain I can find, which means I want hard spring wheat. AP flour usually comes from hard winter wheat. Soft wheats are so low in protein, they won't make good breads, but they make excellent waffles, muffins and pancakes.

So, in sum, what you use just depends on what you want from your bread!
Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Overall an excellent post, but there are a couple of bones to pick...


King Arthur's high-gluten flour (Sir Lancelot brand) clocks in at 14.2% which, I believe, makes it the strongest flour on the market. Makes for a great, super-chewy bagel.
I think that Wheat Montana claims around 15% on their white flour sacks, and has told people in emails that it is usually closer to 17%. However, it's not like most of KA or Wheat Montana's customers are suffering from protein deficiency. And the high protein bread flours I have tested largely don't taste as good as lower protein flours. One exception is General Mill's All-Trumps.

AP flour usually comes from hard winter wheat.

That's partially true. Actually, all purpose flour is a blend of hard winter wheat and soft wheats to reduce the protein. In the double blind testing I did, most breads made with all-purpose flour tasted better to the testers than breads made with bread flour.

By blending for a lower protein level, the all-purpose flour makes acceptably risen breads, while still making acceptable cakes, biscuits and other quick breads.



JMonkey's picture
I think that Wheat Montana claims around 15% on their white flour sacks, and has told people in emails that it is usually closer to 17%.
17%?! Wow. That's astonishingly high.
That's partially true. Actually, all purpose flour is a blend of hard winter wheat and soft wheats to reduce the protein.

Ah, that's right -- I've been baking with KAF for so long, I'd forgotten that AP usually is a blend. Does that explain why the KAF AP is so strong? According to the bag, it's just hard winter wheat.

CountryBoy's picture

I appreciate the comprehensive answer. countryboy

sphealey's picture

I think you will find that Bread Flour is a marketing term that came into use as bread machines started gaining popularity. The higher protein/gluten content of the Bread Flour works well in bread machines which are good at kneading but also knead more thoroughly than most people do by hand.


Rosalie's picture

When I buy a bag of flour in the market, how can I tell percentage protein?  They don't put it on the package.  And what about bulk flour?  I've seen recipes that specify protein percentage, but how can I know?


mse1152's picture


On the nutrition information panel, it shows the serving size and the grams of protein per serving.  For example, my Bob's Red Mill unbleached flour has 4g of protein per 34g serving.  So the percentage is calculated thus:

Divide the protein amount (4g) by serving size (34g) and multiply by 100.

4 / 34 = .1176 * 100 = 11.76% protein.


Rosalie's picture

Thanks for the formula, Sue.

But Math don't scare me....  I was a MATH MAJOR (yea me!).

leemid's picture

Another problem with the math is legaleze. All of this label stuff is defined by legal parameters, thus 4% isn't guaranteed to be actually 4.0%. It could be 3.5%...or 4.4% or anything between, and I can't say my numbers represent the legal terms either. Nevertheless, the fact is, 3.5% / 34 = .1029 * 100 = 10.29% which is significantly different than 11.76%! So in truth, label numbers don't tell you what you need to know. Sad, but true...

That's my story,


mountaindog's picture

Perhaps with the exception of the bulk flours you may get in unmarked bins at your healthfood coop, most flour producers have websites where you can look up their stated protein contents of their various flours. If not stated on their website, a phone call to their customer service will also usually yield the answer if you manage to speak to someone who knows or can look it up for you.

Cooky's picture

May I say that this discussion is exactly the kind of thing that makes this site so addictive. Thanks for the high-quality info-sharing. It really does help clarify some of the confusion one encounters out there floating around.




"I am not a cook. But I am sorta cooky."

Elagins's picture

I don't know that I've ever really been able to find a significant difference between yeasted breads baked with AP vs bread flour; my palate's simply not that attuned to that level of subtlety. What I have noticed, however, is the enormous difference the preferment makes ... whether it's wet or dry, retarded or done at room temperature, how many times I've fed the sponges and with which flour (rye/white/whole wheat). I bake almost everything with wild yeasts now (except for my pizza), using as much preferment as I can comfortably get into the recipe, which is ordinarily determined by the hydration of the dough, since I favor wet starters.

In the face of the huge differences in taste the preferments make, I think the taste differences among flours is pretty academic.

leemid's picture

What I am finding is that there was such a HUGE improvement with preferments that I didn't have time or interest in the other details. Now that I have more experience, some of the other things are rising in importance, but I suspect that compared to the difference attendant to preferments, the other details are small...


Nigelba's picture

Does anyone know where or how I can get 20lb bags of flour. I've been using Bob's, but King Arthur, Giusto, or any comparable quality would be great.

I go through 5lb bags so quickly. The other problem of course is the cost of shipping. I don't want that to make it cost prohibitive.

Any ideas?

bakinlady's picture

I want to figure out a recipe for a batch of bakery cookies that were SO good.  I know about scaling and have copied the ingredients on the box.  My only question is the first ingredient, which is unbleached flour, has in parentheses the ingredients in the flour, the first of which is barley malt flour.  Now, does all unbleached flour contain barley malt flour?  If I use my present unbleached flour, do I have to add the barley malt flour, or is it already contained in it?   I found that barley malt flour is diastatic malt powder, which I have.  Can anyone give me any help here?

Elagins's picture

barley malt is a pretty standard ingredient in virtually all nonorganic wheat patent flours and it's important because the diastase enzyme it contains contributes to the breakdown of starches into simple sugars -- which is mainly important in bread baking.  Since no microbial, i.e., yeast-driven, leavening happens when you make cookies, the presence or absence of diastase is totally irrelevant, especially since (a) there's no time for the enzymes to work in cookie doughs that are baked immediately; and (b) cookies usually contain so much sugar that any sugar production by the malt enzymes would be completely overwhelmed.

Net-net, use your unbleached flour for the cookies without any concerns. Obviously, the manufacturer did too, but probably because it was cheaper for them to buy bulk commodity flour than to spend the extra dollars on a custom blend.

Stan Ginsberg