These days, the variety of flours available on grocery store shelves continues to expand. What hasn’t changed, however, is the option of bleached versus unbleached flour. So, what sets these two types apart?
Processing and Treatment
Technically, all flour is bleached and reduced to fine particles by grinding in a mill. But, it is the aging process distinguishes bleached from unbleached flour.
To begin with, bleached flour is treated with chemical agents to speed the aging process. For example, benzoyl peroxide, potassium bromate, and chlorine gas. In effect, the bleaching chemicals speed up the aging process and also impact the overall look and texture of the final product. As a result, the treated flour is generally brighter in color and softer in texture.
Although the aging process of bleached flour is sped up through the use of chemical agents, unbleached flour undergoes a natural aging process. Unsurprisingly, the natural process takes longer and is more expensive. Indeed, bleached flour circumvented this long natural aging process. Without additional treatment, unbleached flour generally has an off-white coloring, less refined grain, and rougher texture.
Uses in Baking
Generally, the use of bleached and unbleached flours in baking are essentially the same. Yet, the differences in texture and color between the two flours can alter the final product or baked good. That is why each flour may suit one baked good over the other.
Bleached flour has many unique characteristics that make it a better option for certain types of recipes. For example, bleached flour is lighter in texture. As a result, products made using this flour often reflect this and by extension, have more volume. Hence, this flour is great for items such as pancakes, quick breads, cookies, and muffins.
In addition, the coloring of the baked good made using bleached flour can also be subtly brighter in color. Consequently, this makes baked goods brighter in appearance. Also, bleach flour’s treatment impacts the taste of the final product. The difference in taste has been described as being “chemical” or “bitter.”
On the other hand, unbleached flower has characteristics that make it the best option for other types of baked goods. For example, unbleached flour’s texture is rougher and denser texture that unbleached flour. That is why unbleached flour is a good ingredient to use in products that are reliant on a firm structure, such as breads, pastries, and desserts made from choux paste.
Bleached and unbleached flour’s use is interchangeable. Ultimately, most people generally prefer one flour over the other, and will use that flour across all of their recipes. That said, the quantity of chemical agents used in bleached flour and its health effects make some people uncomfortable. While approved for human consumption, many question the safety of the chemical agents in it.
What’s the Bottom Line?
In short, bleached and unbleached flours vary by their aging and treatment process. Bleached flour is treated with chemicals to increase the speed of the aging process. It has a brighter color and finer texture. Unbleached flour ages naturally and for a longer time. Because of this, it is often a little more expensive in price. It also has an off-white coloring and a tougher overall texture. While interchangeable in use, the properties between these two types of flours can make them better to use for certain baked goods and recipes than others.
Ultimately, it is up to you on which flour you decide to use. Your baked good will still be delicious either way!