What Is the Difference Between Bleached Flour and Unbleached Flour?

Bleached and unbleached flours and grains

 

You’ve passed over one or the other every time you go grocery shopping, but do you know what the differences are between bleached and unbleached flour? They bake differently, they look different, and to some, they even taste different.

Which one you use in your kitchen might play a subtle role in the way your breads rise, and even the nutritional content of the flour you use. If you’re ready to settle the score once and for all and know which flour is best for your kitchen, here are the facts.


Why and How Is Flour Bleached?


After flour is milled, it’s generally a nice off-white color. While this doesn’t bother some, many consumers prefer a pretty, pure white flour, so companies begin a chemical bleaching process to refine the flour further.

Benzoyl peroxide and chlorine gas, to name a few, are used to bleach the flour, refining the texture to a lighter flour, and removing the natural yellowish tone. The result is an ultra-white, ultra-fine flour that can rise faster in breads, and maintain a sharper color in baked goods.

On the other hand, unbleached flour is still naturally bleached, simply because it is exposed to oxygen. When the flour is exposed to the air, it naturally whitens to a certain extent, though this does not affect the texture of the flour.


Why Is Bleached Flour Not Ideal?


Child making dough


While we’re all for fast-rising breads and vibrant rainbow cupcakes around here, we’re not terribly crazy about bleached flour, for a couple of reasons:

  1. Bleached flour is less nutritious.

During the bleaching process, a chemical breakdown occurs which diminishes the amount of nutrients in the flour — particularly vitamin E. As a result, these nutrients typically have to be added back in.

  1. Bleached flour sometimes has a bitter taste.

Though it’s very subtle, those with a sensitive sense of taste may notice a distinct bitter aftertaste in bleached flour.

  1. Chemicals are used to bleach the flour.

There are about 20 different chemicals used by companies to bleach flour, though only a few may be used at a time. Most are considered safe and food-grade, but many question the safety of long term consumption to foods that have been treated with chlorine. These preservatives remain in the flour after the bleaching process, and inevitably, in whatever you bake with it.


Does Unbleached Flour Make a Difference in Baking?


Unbleached flour


The short answer is, not a big one. Unbleached flour is naturally aged, so it’s ever so slightly more coarse than bleached flour. However, there’s none of the bitter aftertaste of bleached flour, and the slightly coarser grain of the flour means that baked goods just hold their shape a little better.

Though unbleached flour is slightly beige and a bit more coarse than bleached flour, it’s still perfectly easy to color for fun baked goods, and rises very well for yeast breads. Though many consider bleached flour ideal for cakes and pie crusts and quick breads, the reality is that the differences in how these flours bake are quite subtle — the greatest difference is in how they’re made and what’s in them.


Go With Your Gut


Wheat Montana all natural burger buns


Unbleached flour is not necessarily unsafe, but the process of making it requires more chemical involvement, and ultimately, you know less about what’s in your food. Here at Wheat Montana, we think that sometimes the simplest things are best, which is why we age all of our flours naturally, from our all-purpose to our whole wheat flours.

Unbleached flour is ground wheat, milled into its simplest form for baking, just the way nature intended it. Don’t believe us? Have a slice of our bread, or stop in one of our restaurants for a homemade cinnamon roll, and you’ll see that wholesome, unbleached flour, bakes just fine.