irritations: unbleached flour increasingly difficult to find

summary: failure to find reasonably priced unbleached flour WITHOUT additives in Toronto

In a recent comment, Regina mentioned that she buys Metro’s ‘Selection’ brand unbleached flour. And I remembered that I had started a post about this very flour last November. It’s high time that I finished the post, don’t you think?

Warning!! Warning!! Because it’s about flour, once again there is excessive unintelligible rambling, ranting and raving ahead

In early November, I googled to see if I could buy Rogers Flour in Toronto and came across the following on the Metro site:

Nowadays, flour is bleached artificially, usually with food additives that sometimes contain calcium or phosphorous. Unbleached flour on the other hand isn’t artificially bleached and so has a more natural taste.

– metro.ca: Flours for All Purposes and All Preferences!

Did you know that it is mandatory in Canada to enrich white flour? The flour must contain thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and iron in the amounts required by the regulations established by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Vitamin B6, magnesium and calcium can also be added.

– metro.ca: White flour, bleached flour, enriched flour, all-purpose flour!?!

Unbleached flour is aged naturally; it contains no food additives, no bleaches. It whitens to some extent but remains a creamy colour.

– metro.ca: White flour, bleached flour, enriched flour, all-purpose flour!?!

Googling was useless for discovering various flour ingredients sold by Metro, so (when there was snow all over the roads yet) we rode our bikes to the nearest Metro store.

When we go to a supermarket, we usually shop at No-Frills which is affiliated with Loblaws. Metro and Sobey’s are the other supermarkets nearby. Metro used to be A&P and before that was Dominion. Sobey’s used to be IGA. Sobey’s is notoriously expensive… (As far as I can tell, the only flour that Sobey’s sells is Bob’s Red Mill – the kind that comes in piddling little packages.)

Selection logo Alas, there was no Rogers Flour but the store brand all-purpose unbleached flour in 2.5 kg bags (it was on sale: 2 bags for $5) looked not entirely unpromising.

Ingredients Lists
Selection (Metro)
“unbleached” all-purpose
white flour (contains wheat) niacin, iron, ascorbic acid, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, alpha amylase, folic acid, contains wheat gluten

Well, that’s an improvement – I think – over the “No-Name” (Loblaws/Weston) unbleached all-purpose that contains the bleaching agent azodicarbonamide (ADA).

But, hmmm, no food additives in unbleached flour, eh? And might the white flour in the “Selection” all-purpose unbleached flour contain other grains besides wheat? And what exactly is alpha amylase??

Amylases degrade starch and produce small dextrins for the yeast to act. Gluten is a combination of proteins, which form a large network during dough formation. This network holds the gas in dough proofing and baking. The strength of this network is very important for the quality of all bread raised by yeast. Enzymes such as proteases, xylanases and lipases directly or indirectly improve the strength of the gluten network and so improve the quality the bread.

– Map Enzymes Ltd: Baking Enzymes

Alpha Amylase is included in bread improvers to make the process faster for commercial enterprises.

When making bread commercially, yeast is given either sugar, or sugar that results from Alpha Amylase acting on the starch in the flour. Some argue that industrially, alpha amylase is better than sugar because it releases sugar energy at a rate proportional to the rate that the yeast needs it. But the alpha-amylase damages the flour, by breaking it down to get the sugars out. Consequently, flour that has alpha-amylase act upon it holds less water, so more flour must be used, thus pushing the baker’s cost up.

Using too much Alpha Amylase in a bread dough can make the dough sticky (as it hasn’t been able to absorb enough water), and can lead to undesirably large gas-caused holes in the bread, because the yeast was too active. The resultant crumb will also be somewhat sticky and harder to slice.

– Practically Edible: Alpha Amylase

Workers in factories that work with amylase for any of the above uses are at increased risk of occupational asthma. 5-9% of bakers have a positive skin test, and a fourth to a third of bakers with breathing problems are hypersensitive to amylase.

– Wikipedia: Amylase

[A]lpha-Amylase, an enzyme commonly used in flour additives, has been reported to be an important cause of rhinitis and asthma in bakers […] Patch tests were administered with the International Contact Dermatitis Research Group standard series and a bakery series and scratch-chamber or prick tests were performed with the bakers’ own material and with alpha-amylase powder. [O]f 32 bakers tested, seven had an immediate wheal-and-flare reaction and two also had a delayed eczematous reaction. High dilutions of the alpha-amylase powder still gave strong reactions.

– PubMed.gov: US National Library of Medicine alpha-Amylase, a flour additive: an important cause of protein contact dermatitis in bakers [J Am Acad Dermato, 1993]

That’s right. This study was done in 1993 and still, virtually all flour (bleached OR unbleached) available to us in North America contains alpha Amylase. Isn’t that happy news? :stomp:

But it seems that this is a standard addition, and as Susan (Wild Yeast) says, amylase may well be something we want in our flour for bread making…. Still, couldn’t we add it ourselves?

Malt contains several enzymes; the most significant to bread bakers is amylase, which breaks down the starch in flour into simple sugar. […] Most white flours have malt added at the mill, and even when they do not, both amylase and simple sugars are present naturally in wheat flour.

– Susan (Wild Yeast): Get Your Malt On

Sigh. Things would be so much simpler if our unbleached flour were simply made from ground wheat…. And even simpler if our whole wheat flour … no, wait… DON’T get me started on whole wheat flour! :stomp: :stomp:

Still, the Metro’s storebrand “Selection” unbleached flour is not terrible. Unfortunately, it appears that it is only sold in 2.5kg bags. (Bleached flour is sold in 10kg bags.) And of course, the price for 2.5 kg bags has gone up….

In the meantime, our local “no-frills” supermarket has stopped carrying “No-name” unbleached flour altogether. No doubt because their improved (cough) unbleached flour wasn’t selling well. (Duh… if it were really unbleached flour and was sold in 10kg bags instead of the 5kg bags that had doubled in price, things might have been different.)

In November, I emailed Rogers and Weston. To date, I have received zero replies from either company. I suppose I really should follow up.

And why do I care about this so much? It’s partly because one of us has developed eczema that appears to be much worse after handling flour. And wearing gloves to knead is just not that much fun.

But it’s mostly because North Americans are so busy turning a profit that they cannot (ie: will not) ensure that decent flour is correct and/or available. (Where is the unbleached bread flour and rye flour that used to be available? :stomp:)

I’m wearing out my shoes (stop me now before I go right off-topic to the fact that there are virtually no shoe stores that sell narrow sizes anymore – apparently nobody buys them….) traipsing down baking aisles at various stores trying to find unbleached flour.

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