What is white flour
White flour is ubiquitous. We routinely devour sandwiches made with white bread, munch on pastries and cakes and batter-fried fish or tempura, cornflakes, cereals, it’s everywhere! We have all heard of the old adage “The whiter the bread, the sooner you are dead”. White bread is made from white flour. What is white flour? Have we ever asked ourselves that question?
White flour is milled wheat grains that have had the most nutritious part of the wheat, the bran and germ removed. Grains are made up of three parts; the bran, the germ and the endosperm. The bran is the multi-layered outer skin of the edible kernal. It contains important antioxidants, B vitamins and fibre. The germ is the embryo which has the potential to sprout into a new plant. It contains many B vitamins, some protein, minerals and healthy fats.
White flour has lost the B vitamins and minerals and dietary fibre in the grain. It is mainly just starch.
I don’t use white flour at all in my baking. Not even for cakes. So my bread and cakes are naturally more dense. It is possible to get an airy and softer 100% wholegrain bread by using more water, less kneading and through other methods of handling the dough. For cakes it is usually a combination of the eggs and sourdough starter that I use that provides the airy texture. I don’t use baking powder or commercial yeast (For more information on this read my article Baking With Sourdough Starter)
So there are techniques you can use to make delicious bread and cakes by using only wholegrain flour.
I remember way back in the 1980s I learnt white flour is not good and switched to brown bread. I didn’t make my own bread then and bought it at the supermarket. Little did I know the brown bread on the shelves were just white flour coloured by caramel.
When I picked a loaf of bread off the shelf that said “wholemeal” I expected the bread to be 100% wholegrain, but no, it was mixed with white flour. Then I expected the wholemeal part at least to contain all parts of the grain, but no, it has had some of the bran and germ removed for longer shelf life and to create a softer bread.
So what do you do when you have to buy bread because you don’t mill your own grains and make your own bread? You look for the label “wholegrain” and not “wholemeal”. That is until the next great deception comes along, because you see, in the late 1800s wholemeal was wholegrain. Later laws changed to allow food manufacturers to hide the truth from the people through clever labelling.
War against white flour
I thought this battle to keep out white flour only started when I heard about it in the 80s. This is not true. An article in a medical journal dated February 11, 1911 from London talks of the “evils” of white flour and how the health problems it is causing is creating a “national disaster” (Read the full article at http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=645734).
It claims that white bread was introduced into society as a luxury for the rich and later adopted by all classes.
Let’s go back further to 1892 and meet a doctor called Thomas Allinson. He launched a war against white flour to the point of opening his own mill and bakery, grinding and selling his wholegrain flour. As bread was the staple diet of the day then, poor quality bread could cause untold health problems. He was no fool as he qualified as a doctor at the tender age of 21. He was well ahead of his time in crying foul over what society perceived as harmless white bread. For his efforts he even got struck off the medical register rendering him unable to practice. Below is a very interesting advert by Dr Allinson’s bakery.
So here we are over 100 years later and people are still ignorant about the dangers of white flour.
A lot of health-conscious people will tell you they reject white flour because it has been bleached. Many have no idea that in ALL white flour, bleached or unbleached the bran and germ has been removed.
It definitely helps to choose unbleached white flour over bleached if you must consume white flour at all.
What is white flour bleached?
Bleached white flour has food additives such as azodicarbonamide, chlorine dioxide, calcium propionate, sodium stearoyl lactylate, nitrogen dioxide and bromate. Look them up. They are dangerous to one’s health. I won’t go into the details but I will give you an idea.
Azodicarbonamide is banned in the European Union and not authorized for use in Australia but still widely used in the US. Subway restaurant in the USA received bad press just last year for using azodicarbonamide as a dough conditioner. It improves the texture of their bread and increases shelf life.
After public outcry, Subway agreed to remove this additive in all their bread but not before saying of azodicarbonamide “This is an extremely common bread ingredient that is fully approved and recognized as safe by the FDA [American food and drug association]”.
They are right on the fact that is common. McDonald’s Starbucks, Arby’s, grocery store breads in the US are most likely to have this food additive and in countries like Australia where it is banned, more than likely there will be another food additive, just as bad, to replace it.
Bromate used to strengthen the dough is said to be cancer-causing and can also damage the kidney and nervous system.
You may buy the unbleached version for home-baking but you are exposed to the bleached version in a lot of places that you may eat outside. Do you ever ask at the restaurant or bakery if the flour is bleached or unbleached?
What is white flour unbleached?
So are we any better off when we choose unbleached white flour? Well, did Dr. Allinson advocate against unbleached white flour? Yes. Was the article in the medical journal cited above warning of the dangers of unbleached white flour? Yes.
An excerpt from Dr Allinson’s Cookery Book (available for free at http://www.gutenberg.org) strongly denounces white flour: “ Hygienists and health-reformers should not permit white flour to enter their houses, unless it is to make bill-stickers’ paste or some like stuff.”
My health policy is very simple. Do not change what God has given you. Work with nature and you will always be on the right track with your health.
I mill my own wholegrains. I use this freshly milled flour to make bread, cakes, pastries 100% additive free. So it baffles me as to why all these additives are necessary.
Yet, once upon a time, until the end of the 1800s, bread was just wholegrain flour, water, salt and sourdough starter. Today they have messed with the flour and messed with the salt [the regular table salt most people use is highly refined, stripped of all its minerals and then infused with a long list of chemicals] and messed with the yeast [our forefathers used wild yeast such as sourdough starter but most people today use a laboratory produced singular strain].
Bakers say to me people want soft, light and airy white breads, and cakes and they need to comply with market demands. That’s fine. My argument is why package it as something it is not? Why call white flour, all-purpose flour, baker’s flour and cake flour and anything but white flour? Call it what it is and let people choose whether they want to consume it.
My husband and I recently heard of a newly opened artisan bakery that uses only sourdough starter to bake the “healthiest” bread. It is located quite a distance from where we live and in a very small town.
We tracked it down and when we arrived we found we could not buy any of their bread that was not mixed with some portion of white flour. Whether it was rye or wholemeal or anything. Interestingly, the owner was hesitant to mention white flour. He kept calling it Baker’s flour. When we insisted on knowing what was Baker’s flour, he finally admitted it was white flour.
I almost bought a highly acclaimed book called Good to the Grain: Baking with Wholegrain Flours by Kim Boyce but changed my mind when I learnt that a majority of the recipes called for a significant amount of all-purpose white flour.
I have successfully eradicated white flour from my household and still make the most delicious pastries, cakes and bread. As for batter for deep fried dishes I use rice or besan flour. Just as I prefer my vegetables chemical-free, I prefer my flour freshly milled from wholegrains.
White flour is so entrenched in society most of us find it hard to get away from it. From those who pride themselves on being health-conscious to celebrated artisan bakers, not one have I found can completely turn their backs on it. People would rather go gluten-free than white flour-free.
Fascinating.Yet any move towards the path of staying healthy is always commended. Whether you choose unbleached white flour over bleached, whether you mix 70% wholegrain with 30% white, whether you choose to have that occasional cake made with white flour on holiday, any step you take towards health-conscious decisions is applauded. Yet you need to have all the correct facts before you can make those decisions. And the fact is, white flour is bad for you.
Watch this video for a graphic overview for what is white flour and what it means to your body when you consume bread made with it.