The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Can flour with similar protein percentage work the same?

JanetF's picture

Can flour with similar protein percentage work the same?

 I'm an amateur baker in China. I can find 3 types of flour in the market: a. flour made from North American or European wheat by local factory; b. so called "bread flour" made from local wheat by local factory; c. high-gluten flour or AP flour made from local wheat by local factory. Type A is said to be like North American or European. Type B is promoted as suitable for making bread. Type C is usually used for steamed bun and other staple food of North China. These dough usually is dry with 50% water. They can have the same protein percentage. They're prices vary. For normal flour: a = 2b = 4c. I can buy organic type c flour with normal type a flour price.

I want to practise my skills and it must consume lots of flour, so I want a cheap deal. 

I read the handbook of TFL and many other blogs in English. It seems like I can use any flour as long as it has the right amount of protein. Is it right? Or some other factors should be considered?

clevins's picture

If they're all wheat, yes, protein is the most important thing. If not, then I'd be cautious as not all flours are the same. 

But assuming they're all some kind of wheat, I'd try to get a kilo or two of each and experiment. 

troglodyte's picture

I am a beginner, not an expert. What I am writing here is what I learned from several books I recently read. I have been waiting and hoping to see more expert responses in this thread. 

What I remember is that wheat flour is composed of several different protein types. The most well known ones are the glutenins and the gliadin protein types. When you add water to flour and knead the bread, the glutenins and gliadins combine to form gluten - the rubbery strands of protein that confine the expanding gas as the bread rises. 

Even though two separate flours may have the same percentage of protein, the ratios of the different types of glutenins, gliadins, and other proteins in the two flours may be different. It is those differences that result in breads with different properties and flavors, even though the protein percentages are the same.

I do not know about the flours you have in China. If I lived there, I would buy small amounts of each flour (say 1 or 2 kilograms each) and try making different breads to see how they feel, bake, and taste. 

I am interested in this thread because I would like to understand why my friends say that the baguettes they remember from when they lived in France (baked by French experts) cannot be matched by our expert bakers here in the USA. Some people say that it is the difference in the wheat flour that they use in France compared with the wheat flour we have here in the USA. I would like to understand this better. I hope that more experienced people will join in. 


idaveindy's picture

Protein % is one rule of thumb. But when comparing flours from one country to flours from another country, other technical characteristics of flour often come into play.

One thing I have learned at TFL, is that when recipes from one country are used with flour from another country, the recipe and procedures usually have to be adjusted.  In other words.... all bets are off -- and experimentation is usually needed.

Further confusion is that a company's word description of flour varies from company to company and country to country.  Words mean different things to different people.  And even in one country, the words can have different technical meaning from company to company (meaning factory or milling compqny.)

So in the end, I support clevins' suggestion to buy a kilogram or 2 of each kind of flour, and just experiment -- make a very small loaf or a few dinner rolls with each type. And maybe combine two of the three flours to see how they work. Small batches using 100 to 120 grams flour may be useful.

Good luck, and bon appétit.

pmccool's picture

I faced a similar situation (although I had a wider range of choices).  I conducted a series of small test bakes with varying hydration levels to get a sense of how the flours behaved.  That gave me enough of a baseline to know how to adjust the recipes for my breads.  It only takes 3 or 4 hours to work through half a dozen samples; you could probably do even more in that amount of time. 


mariana's picture



JanetF's picture

Sadly, I'm asking this because good local baker don't use local flour, especially those who make lean bread. They all use inported flour😂. And I'm giving up refering to Chinese writer's bread blogs or books because they hardly discuss about science (like you do) and hardcore skills and I really don't know what's wrong with my bread. There's not enough population base to get a small group of people to discuss about slightly serious bread problems, considering though billions have bread as snack occasionally, most of them won't buy an oven at home and making bread. 

JanetF's picture

troglodyte's last paragraph reminds me something. My friends and family have similar comment in rice. Though rice may look the same, some can have amazing smell and some just never have. I spoke with a scientist who majors in rice farming once. He told me environment (climate, earth ect.) and cultivars mainly make the difference. So I read some papers in wheat.

Many countries have their own cultivars which suits for environment and they have highest yield, and taste and other characteristics that local market like. A cultivar can produce top flour in a place but doesn't work in another. In China, most cultivars do have high protein but that's not the glutenin protein. So people can make stem mantou with classic no open crumb inner. In recent years, more and more people like to eat bread in China, so scientists are breeding wheat suit for it. These types are just planned in large scale for few years. 

For bread making, cultivars should be able to produce flour with long stability time, big extensibility area and good ductility. Normally speaking, higher glutenin the cultivar has, the better ability it has. Glutin is a kind of protein, so you may find flour with protein having more glutenin and help you make better bread.

But here're some exceptions. French cultivars don't have that much glutenin, but their flour still have great ductility so they have the best baguette with open crumb.

In the factory, they may mix several cultivars together to make flour with certain characteristic. Some manufacturer may put additives in flour so are more stable when using. All additives are mandatory to write on lable here and I don't buy this kind of flour. I don't know if every country is the same.