What's in your white flour?
I don't know about you but, many people think that when you buy a bag of white flour from the grocery store, you are getting ground wheat and that's it. But this is not true. Many of the large flour producers add different things to the flour. I thought it would be good to go through what some of these ingredients are in your white flour.
Wheat flour - This is exactly what it states, ground wheat.
Benzoyl Peroxide - This is an interesting one - Benzoyl Peroxide and Calcium Peroxide are a food additive, both are used to whiten flour through oxidation of the carotenoids that naturally occur in ground flour. It seems that our governments and food manufacturers feel that the consumers here in North America and other parts of the world prefer bleached white flour over the light yellowish natural color.
When flour is freshly ground it has a light yellowish color to it. Over a period of time ( 30 to 60 days ) the flour will naturally whiten. Large flour producers find this too long and expensive to hold the flour for that period of time. So, by using Benzoyl Peroxide you can cut that time down to 2 or 3 days. Countries such as the European Union, Japan and even China have banned the use of Benzoyl Peroxide and Calcium Peroxide as a additive to flour. One interesting note is that China was only using a maximum of 60mg/kg, which is much lower than most international levels - for example 75mg/kg, level recommended by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an international organization that develops food standards.. So, even at 20% lower level - Benzoyl was banned in China and is still being used in Canada and the USA. From my understanding in Canada the maximum level is 150mg/kg of Benzoyl Peroxide.
Amylase - Amylase is an enzyme and used for proper baking to occur. The amylase breaks down starches to provide sugars and a sweeter taste, it also helps with the fermentation process. What is important is that the amount of this enzyme can have a direct bearing on the quality of bread produced. If the right amount of amylase is used, a high volume bread with firm and soft texture is achieved. If it is too high, a sticky bread crumb and low volume could result. If it's on the low side, a dry bread crumb with large holes could result.
Because many large flour producers use grains from all over, they may get weak grains that produce low gluten - not good for bread making. By using this enzyme it helps to raise the protein levels, producing better gluten and in turn allows the bread to rise higher and faster then it would have.
Ascorbic Acid - This is a form of Vitamin C and also helps to form gluten. It also encourages the maturing of the flour. Many times while harvesting you get ripe and unripe wheat grains. Ascorbic Acid helps to force ripening.
Niacin - is Vitamin B3 and is what causes your packaging to say fortified or enriched. Niacin will also help flour to retain it's white color.
Reduced Iron - I have no idea why it's called "reduced iron". You read that and you would think iron was removed wouldn't you? But that's the opposite of what has happened. They have added Iron to your flour. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but some have said, that reduced iron can not be absorbed by the body … so why have it in my flour?
Thiamine Mononitrate - or Vitamin B1, is part of the enriching process in flour. Thiamine is water-soluble, this means the body can expel excess amounts to stop side affects.
Riboflavin - is also known as Vitamin B2 and is produced by micro-organisms and plants. So, riboflavin can be found naturally in flour. However during the stripping away of the bran and germ to make white flour, it is removed and must be added back.
Folic acid - is a Vitamin B9 and is water-soluble. It's very important for women of child-bearing years to take folic acid. It can also be found in many dark green vegetables.
Other ingredients you may find in your flour is L-cysteine. While some L-cysteine is directly synthesized in laboratories, most of it is extracted from human hair. The hair is dissolved in acid and L-cysteine is isolated through a chemical process, then packaged and shipped off to commercial bread producers and flour producers. Besides human hair, other sources of L-cysteine include duck feathers, hog hair. This is a non-essencial ingredient added to flour as a conditioner, in order to speed up the industrial processing.
It's funny, when most of us would be appalled if we found a hair in our food at a local restaurant. But, to think that we are eating hair in our white flour or baked goods everyday, is enough to gross anyone out. I guess it's like that old saying " what you don't know won't hurt you" lol.
Azodicarbonamide - is used to create foamed plastics, such as PVC's and imitation leathers. However it is also used in the food industry as a food additive, a flour bleaching agent and an improving agent. In the UK, the Health and safety executive has identified azodicarbonamide as a respiratory sensitizer (a possible cause of asthma) and determined that products should be labeled with "May cause sensitisation by inhalation."
In Canada and the USA, you will not find white flour without many of these Vitamins and additives added to them. In the case of the vitamins they are forced by law and must be added to all white flours. I'm not saying all these things are bad or good. That's up to you to decide. For me the Benzoyl Peroxide, L-cysteine and azodicarbonamide is the most disturbing additives to our flours and the one's that are really not necessary.
Many of the vitamins can also be found by eating right and having a healthy lifestyle.
I prefer to have natural vitamins rather then synthetic ones added to my food. If you use whole grain wheat flour, organic, or grind your own flour. You won't have to worry about any of these ingredients added to your food. But now you know what is in your white flour when you buy it in the stores.
But... remember, these are the additives and vitamins added to the white flour you buy, we haven't even touched on the additives added to the bread you buy at the store. We will get into that on another day.
Happy baking all!
I received and email from someone telling me that in New Jersey USA, his mother used General Mills Gold Medal All-Purpose Flour (Enriched, Bleached and Presifted) and they have been cooking with it for over a half century. They went on to tell me that the Gold Medal flour contains almost none of the ingredients your article discusses.
He went on to tell me the label ingredients on the package contains only "Wheat flour, malted barley flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid" Nothing else is listed.
and perhaps I should consider switching brands of the flour you buy.
Well ... I just wanted to let everyone know that in Canada we have a much stricter labeling information than they do in the USA. Retail bleached flours marketed to the home baker are now mostly either treated via peroxidation or chlorine gas. Current information from Pillsbury is that their bleached flours are treated both with benzoyl peroxide and chlorine gas. Gold Medal states that their bleached flour is either treated with benzoyl peroxide OR it's treated with chlorine gas, but there is no way to tell which process has been used when you buy the flour at the grocery store.
Gold Medal does not state this on there labeling because they don't have to by law in the USA. I hope that this will change so people will be more informed decisions on what products they want to use or not.
But, please do contact Gold Medal and ask them if they use Benzoyl peroxide in there bleaching of flour. You will be surprised!
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