Bleached and unbleached flour are two forms of wheat flour that have many properties in common but also a few important differences. When choosing one or the other, you will have to consider factors like color and how well they perform in recipes for baked items and stovetop dishes. We will look at what bleached and unbleached flour bring to your table in the SPICEography Showdown below.
How does bleached flour differ from unbleached flour?
The most obvious difference between bleached and unbleached flour is the color. Bleached flour has been treated with chemicals to lighten its color; unbleached flour is a dull yellow because the wheat grain has a yellowish tone to it.
The point of bleaching is to remove that color quickly and make it as close to perfectly white as possible. Flour naturally loses its color over time, but the chemicals speed up the whitening process. The bleaching agents used to make flour whiter include benzoyl peroxide, potassium bromate, and chlorine gas.
There are also differences in flavor between bleached and unbleached flour. Bleached flour is sometimes said to taste bitter or described as having a flat flavor; unbleached flour has the fuller, nuttier flavor we expect from wheat flour. It is important to note that differences here are very subtle and only seem to be detectable in baked goods with high proportions of flour and few other ingredients.
The ability to provide structure in baked goods is another key difference between bleached and unbleached flour. Bleached flour does not provide the same kind of structure that you get from unbleached flour.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
The differences between bleached and unbleached flour do result in some subtle differences between baked goods. Along with a lighter and bright color, bleached flour results in baked goods that have a softer texture and a finer grain.
You may be able to detect unwanted flavors if you use it as a substitute in recipes for white bread, biscuits, and other items where there is little to compete with the flavor of the flour. These flavors will likely not be an issue in recipes that contain chocolate, oatmeal, or cornmeal since the taste will be obscured by other ingredients. Similarly, differences between the two flours will be difficult to detect in dishes where they are used as thickeners.
Unbleached flour makes baked goods with a denser grain and a harder structure, so you can expect this if you use it in place of bleached flour. Keep in mind that the color of an item made with unbleached flour might be duller and yellower than one made with bleached flour.
The slight flavor and textural differences will be imperceptible to most people. Similarly, unbleached flour will usually work as a substitute for bleached flour in most recipes without posing a problem.
When should you use bleached flour and when should you use unbleached flour?
Because of its softer texture, bakers usually prefer using bleached flour for cakes as well as for pie crusts and other light-textured baked goods. You will want to use bleached flour in white cakes and angel food cakes to preserve the white color.
Unbleached flour is chosen when more structure is needed for yeast bread and similar items like cream puffs and cookies.