Why So Many Flour Varieties?
When browsing the baking aisle, the variety of flour options can make choosing flour for your recipe seem daunting. Sometimes, it seems easier to reach blindly for a bag when deciding which flour to use for baking. For this article, I will cover how to choose flour and the differences between them. The core variance in all types of wheat flour is whether or not it contains edible bleaching agents. The bleaching agent directly impacts the decision between purchasing bleached or unbleached flour.
What's the Difference Between Bleached and Unbleached Flour?
The physical differences between bleached and unbleached flours lie in the processing. Before milling, bleached flour has the bran and germ kernels removed from the wheat. Unbleached flour will keep the bran and germ and doesn’t lose the nutrients within the bran. The next stage for both flours is to be milled and turned into a fine powder. Once milled, all flour begins as a light yellow powder. Unbleached flour then whitens naturally through an aging process. If flour whitens naturally, you may be wondering why bother bleaching it?
Bleaching flour started in 1906 under the Pure Food and Drug Act to reduce production time and cost. Consumers desired whiter flours for a better presentation of baked goods. Before introducing bleaching agents, flour would take three to eight months to whiten naturally through oxidation. Adding bleaching agents was a way for millers to shorten the processing time and lower the cost for consumers.
Does Bleached Flour Affect the Flavor?
Whether or not the bleaching agent affects the taste is not a simple yes or no answer. As far as the bake, the differences are minimal between recipes using bleached or unbleached flours. Those who may notice a difference are those who have a more sensitive pallet.
Some friends pinpoint all of the spices I use in a recipe, while others can only guess the primary top-note flavors. If you don’t have a sensitive pallet, chances are you may not notice the added bleaching agent. On the other hand, if you are more susceptible to tastes or wish for an all-natural bake, unbleached flour may be the choice for you.
Will There Be a Difference in Texture?
When comparing the texture of baked goods using bleached or unbleached flour, it’s similar to the flavor aspect. There will be differences, but not enough to ruin a bake, depending on your choice. The most noticeable difference will be the structure of the dough or batter and the texture once baked. When baking with unbleached flour, the absence of the bran and germ before milling creates a more refined flour. A finer texture makes delicate cake sponges, pancakes, and muffins.
While you gain a more refined texture with bleached flour, you lose the nutrients and protein in the bran and germ. However, if you are baking recipes with yeast, the additional protein in unbleached flour creates a better growth environment for the yeast. The result is a dough that holds its form better, making artisan bread, pizza doughs, and eclairs easier to shape.
How I Choose Flour
I would love to have a full kitchen baker’s kitchen complete with a walk-in pantry in a perfect world. Floor-to-ceiling shelves with every spice, type of flour, and sugar available is a dream. Unfortunately, for most, including myself, that isn’t a reality. Whether it’s a lack of storage space or even budgeting, it can be tough having a variety of baking ingredients on hand. With that in mind, if I had to choose one flour to have on hand, it would be all-purpose unbleached baking flour.
I would choose unbleached flour as it’s a better choice for the environment and also more versatile. The particular flour I buy is King Arthur’s unbleached all-purpose flour. While the added bran and germ may not make for picture-perfect cupcake interiors, the added flavor and texture are worth it in my eyes. So whether you are making cakes, bread, or pizza dough, they will bake beautifully.
What's an Easy Way to Choose Flour?
When shopping the grocery shelves or your pantry, you may be having a tough time deciding which flour to use. I use a simple trick to choose bleached or unbleached flour for a recipe. If you are making a recipe with more wet dough, such as pancakes, cakes, or pancakes, I would suggest bleached flour. With recipes that contain liquid and don’t form a ball, especially if there isn’t any yeast, the protein content isn’t a factor that will affect that bake. However, when baking doughs that require rising and shaping, unbleached flour is a good choice. The added protein will help improve the flavor and overall structure of the bake.
If you only have bleached or unbleached flour on hand, you can always use what you have. We’ve all been guilty of doing so, and let’s be honest, cake and bread will always be good, no matter the flour used. Do you have a personal preference for flour? If so, let us know why in the comments!
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