The word “Bleached” often appears on grocery store and commercial flour packages alike. As most critical consumers know, there is a story behind almost every word printed on packaging, especially in the retail environment. It’s correct to assume that “bleached” means whitened. But how does it get that way? Even more importantly, why?
Let’s start with why. Freshly milled four is an off yellow color, very much like the semolina flour commonly used to make pasta. As flour ages and oxidizes, a couple of important chemical changes naturally happen. The most obvious is a lightening in color. Second, is the strengthening of the gluten that makes up the body of the flour. This gluten is absolutely crucial to proper dough development and elasticity in wheat bread baking. Like so many other natural processes, aging flour takes time, a lot of time. The aging process can take several weeks to several months. In this time, the flour mill is taking risk and spending money. The aging flour requires valuable silo space and resources to maintain temperatures and freshness. Many commercial mills simply do not want to spend the time and resources to naturally age their flours. This is where bleaching comes in. Bleaching cuts down the extensive time needed to just a couple of days. In addition to whitening the flour, the bleaching process also strengthens gluten somewhat similarly to the natural aging process.
Bleaching is accomplished a few different ways. The most common is a gas bath. Chlorine dioxide gas is pumped over the flour causing a reaction that mimics the aging process. Chlorine dioxide is the same stuff used to sanitize municipal water and bleach wood pulp for paper. Other common additives include peroxides, including benzoyl peroxide (think acne treatment). Unfortunately, like so many unsavory facts of large-scale commercial food industry, it can be extremely difficult to find detailed reports on what other chemicals, and in what proportions are used. It is easy, however, to find out what chemical processes and additives are banned in other parts of the world. Chemically bleaching flour currently is banned in Australia, the European Union, and many other countries across the globe due to the carcinogenic properties of the chemicals used. These facts aside, the bleaching process can also impart a bitter aftertaste and off odors. Both of those would be enough to make an artisan baker squirm.
The entire ethos of our business revolves around our commitment to producing the most natural artisan breads available. We know that real quality takes time. That’s why we never have, and never will, sacrifice quality for haste, both in our production or the ingredients we source. The highest quality UNbleached flour is our starting block for baking the breads you love.