Thursday, November 5, 2009

All Flours Are Not Created Equal

Today is Part 2 of a series on Whole Wheat Bread Baking. If you missed yesterday's post, you may wish to read it first (See Below or click here).
It's true. Flours are very different. Obviously there is a difference between bleached and unbleached, whole wheat and white. But what? Aren't they all flours that one can use to make bread? Yes, but they can't be used interchangeably. Adjustments have to be made. Bread is one of the most finicky things I've ever made. It's a lot of science and a lot of art combined into one product. And while most of us find the "art" part easy, we want to skip over the "science" aspect. But if you want to make bread successfully, it helps to know at least a little bit of grain knowledge. Also, if you want to make a healthier product, you'll need to know what's in each flour you are considering.

Backing up to the beginning, a kernel of wheat has three main parts: the germ, the bran, and the endosperm.

bran: The bran is the dietary fiber we are all familiar with in our cereals. This portion of the wheat kernel also has a small amount of protein and a lot of vitamin E as well as B vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.

germ: The germ is the embryo part of the seed which contains some protein and a larger portion of B vitamins and trace minerals. This is the part that is removed from flour that is packaged to go to the stores because it will quickly go rancid and limits the flour's shelf life.
endosperm: This makes up the bulk of the wheat kernel and what is ground for white flour. The endosperm contains the largest portion of protein, carbohydrates and iron, as well as the four major B-vitamins, such as riboflavin, niacin and thiamin and folic acid.

So, when you buy white flour at the store, you are purchasing a product that has all the germ and bran removed. You can check out this chart to see what happens from grain to final product when they are creating white flour. If you have trouble viewing it on this blog, click here.

Approximately ninety-five percent of white flour is enriched. This means they've added nutrients back in, namely three of the vitamin B's, iron, and folic acid. But what about these smaller nutrients that are naturally occurring in the wheat kernel when left unrefined? According to Sue Becker's article, Exposing the Deception of Enrichment, 25-30 nutrients have been drastically or completely eliminated!

Back to the making of bread. The type of flour you use greatly changes the final outcome of the bread based on the amount of protein left in it and whether it has the bran and germ. The protein (in the form of glutenin and gliadin), when mixed with liquid creates the gluten which is what gives the bread structure and elasticity. All that will vary if the amount of protein is different. If you use a hard red winter wheat flour as opposed to a soft white spring wheat flour, the outcome of your loaf will be different because the protein content varies between the two. (NOTE: Soft white wheat is typically used for cakes and cookies, not bread).

I hope I'm not boring you, but it boils down to this... pick one kind of flour and stick with it when making bread until you get it down pretty well. Then you can start trying other flours. But, again, if you are a beginner, pick a brand and type and don't deviate until you like your final product and you are getting the results you want consistently. This single tip can make a big difference.

Let me encourage you to try using whole wheat flour. In another post I will talk about the benefits of milling your own, but for now, consider making the switch to whole wheat if you haven't already. And now there are lighter whole wheat flours if you don't want a strong nutty flavor. King Arthur Flour makes one of the best out there. If you can't find it at your local store, you can have it shipped directly to you from their website. Another alternative would be to go to your local health food store and purchase some Bob's Red Mill Stone Ground Whole Wheat or Arrowhead Mills Stone Ground Whole Wheat. Just don't buy pastry flour for bread.

Tomorrow, I will be posting a recipe I like to use when making whole wheat flour along with some additional tips.


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