As soon as I learned that I could buy unbleached flour, I stopped buying bleached. Why would anyone want to bleach flour anyway? The word “bleach” used in association with food alone just intuitively seemed wrong. Then the other day a friend of mine asked me the difference, and I realized I couldn’t exactly say.
Clearly, I’m not an avid baker. (I mostly fall into the savory camp.) Any dedicated baker knows that different flours produce different results in baking. The methods used in processing (and the types of wheat used) affect the chemical and structural properties of the flour, which in turn affect the volume and texture of whatever you’re baking.
In a nutshell? Bleached flour works better for cakes, pancakes, waffles, cookies and pie crust. Unbleached flour works best for yeast breads, cream puffs and popovers. For a foodie or passionate cook looking to bake cake with the perfect texture and crumb, bleached flour (also cake flour which is bleached) could be imperative.
How exactly does flour get bleached, I wondered? Apparently, it’s gassed with chlorine oxide during processing. Egads! That’s an appetite buzz-kill! Yet, after doing a bit more research, it seems there aren’t any conclusive studies that prove that eating bleached flour is actually harmful or at least not in the quantities that can be reasonably consumed by any human being.
Still, science has its limits. And most of us know that wheat bread is healthier than white bread, for example, as the nutrients in flour are mostly removed through the refining process to make bleached flour. As the old, Italian saying goes, “the whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.” Anyone focused on a healthy lifestyle knows to avoid as much processed food as possible.
Yet I have a feeling that if you’re planning on baking a cake, health may not be first and foremost on your mind.