Wheat isn’t white. Flour is made out of wheat. So why is flour white?Flour

First of all, all of the major flour producers, such as Pillsbury and General Mills, do make unbleached flour, which many bread makers prefer. But the vast majority of flour sold to consumers is in the form of all-purpose bleached white flour, which is a combination of hard wheat flour (high in protein and best for making breads) and soft wheat flour (lower in protein and the best consistency for cakes and pastries).

Freshly milled white flour has a yellowish tinge, much like unbleached pasta, which consumers reject in favor of a pristine white. Flour processors have two ways to eradicate the yellow from wheat flour. If flour is stored and allowed to age naturally for several months, the yellow disappears as it is exposed to oxygen. But the cost of storing the bulky flour is prohibitive, so commercial flour is bleached artificially with bleaches such as benzoyl peroxide. Artificial bleaching works better than natural aging, which doesn’t yield uniformity of color or maturation.

Mature flour produces better baking results and has a longer shelf life. So along with being bleached, all-purpose flour is artificially aged. While benzoyl peroxide merely bleaches flour, other agents such as azodicarbonamide and potassium bromide artificially age the flour as they bleach. The whole process is performed in twenty-four hours, and the bleach eventually decomposes into a harmless residue called benzoic acid when the flour is used.

Is there a down side to the bleaching process? Certain nutrients are lost, which is why all-purpose flour by law is enriched with nutrients. Some nutritionists are not sanguine about the results. The late Adele Davis was particularly rabid about the subject. She felt the machinery that grinds flour overheats it and gives it a pre-cooked taste “comparable to last night’s chops reheated.” But she was particularly skeptical about the value of enriched flour:

“So-called ‘enriched’ flour is my idea of outright dishonesty; at least 25 nutrients are largely removed during refining, and one-third of the original amount of iron, vitamin B and niacin may be replaced. Such flour is ‘enriched’ just as you would be enriched by someone stealing 25 dollars from you and returning 99 cents.”

Flour enrichment was mandated by the federal government in the early 1940s to compensate for the loss of nutrients that are eliminated from white flour. The flour industry contends that Adele Davis and other critics’ objections to enrichment overstate the case. Although they concede that the bran and germ of wheat kernels in whole-wheat flour contain more nutrients than white flour, those nutrients lost (e.g., calcium, phosphorus, and potassium) tend to be found in other foods, and few consumers look toward baked goods as a source for these nutrients.

Although health-food advocates tend to belittle the nutritional value of white flour, the flour companies stress that bleaching in itself has never been a health hazard. The alternative to bleached flour, they say, is a vastly more expensive flour.

 Posted by on 08/10/2012 Food  No Responses »