Today’s consumers pay close attention to what they eat, from examining nutrition labels to seeking out less processed foods. Thus, bakers now find themselves looking for cleaner ingredients that will still yield the quality and consistency they have grown accustomed to for their breads and baked goods.

Flour obviously plays a crucial role in baking success, and while new alternatives for “cleaner” or untreated flour have emerged, some bakers may be hesitant to change from what has worked for them in the past.

At General Mills, where we mill a wide range of flours to give bakers maximum consistency and baking performance, we recognize that it can be confusing to weed through the myriad of flour types—let alone the terminology—to make an informed decision. To help our customers, we share a primer on flour types before launching into a thorough conversation about the customer’s distinct needs and then work alongside them to adjust any formulas or handling requirements.

Flour Terms to Know

Bleaching makes the flour whiter. Technically speaking, the carotenoid (yellow) pigments in the flour are oxidized to produce whiter flour. Oxidization will occur naturally, over time, with the exposure of flour to air. Historically, millers would age flour for several weeks to achieve white flour. This natural oxidation, however, was an irregular process requiring considerable time and space.

Bromating includes adding potassium bromate, an oxidizing agent that allows faster dough development. This permits slightly easier dough handling and a nice rise in the oven.

Enriching replaces the vitamins and minerals lost during the milling process. The standard flour enrichment includes iron, B vitamins, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid. The enrichment of flour has no effect on the baking performance or caloric value of flour.

Malting refers to adding malted barley flour to hard wheat flours with yeast fermentation. During the dough-forming stage, malted barley flour provides specific enzyme activity that converts the starches in the wheat flour into simple sugars. These sugars are then available as a food source for the yeast to maintain proper fermentation activity. Malted barley flour also aids in proper crust browning.

Fully untreated flour is:

  • Not bleached
  • Not bromated
  • Not enriched
  • Not malted

Organic flour is untreated flour that is grown in certified organic fields without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. It must meet additional stringent requirements about how it’s grown, e.g., how long the field must remain fallow before planting.

Unbleached, unbromated flour may be:

  • Malted and enriched
  • Malted only
  • Enriched only
  • Not bleached or bromated

Treated Versus Untreated Flour

Operations weighing whether to go with an untreated flour may wonder about the impact on the end product.

An unbleached flour will have no different functional effect on baked goods for handling, taste or texture—it is purely an aesthetic difference. Unbleached flour will cause dough to be a little less “white” with a slightly creamier color.

An unbromated flour may function a little differently in the dough-forming stage and will produce a slightly “weaker” dough. While the difference is minimal for some items, like pizza dough, it is still a difference that may require an adjusted mixing time or reduction in water to achieve the same dough strength.  

In conclusion, there is no one-size-fits-all-approach to choosing a flour type; however, bakers should not be hesitant to explore their options, particularly if they are interested in transitioning to untreated flour. While some bakers may feel “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” and want to stick with their old standby flour, others are finding they are able to convert with minimal adjustments. Thanks to advancements in flour milling and the widespread options available today, there is a flour to meet every baker’s need.