A while back, I switched to using unbleached flour for all my baking needs. I started hearing about the health benefits for doing this. I also decided to start using it because I like sourdough bread. Wild Yeast* is the key ingredient in sourdough bread and it can be used as a substitute for what I call quick yeast you buy in foil packets in the store. The use of unbleached flour and wild yeast is also a way to help steer away from developing gluten intolerance.
If you thought all flour was the same, think again. Many people know that white flour isn’t good for our health. However, bleached flour is even worse. At some point in history, milled flour was always unbleached. This old school flour comes out in a pale yellow color and it is aged for about 12 weeks. This aging process allows for the proteins and gluten develop, which makes it better for baking. Also, during this process, the flour bleaches and becomes whiter naturally.
However, we are impatient people, we want everything right now. So in the 1900’s a scientist invented a process which allowed us to bleach the flour within 48 hours, instead of several months. And thus, (the chemical process for) bleached flour was invented.
Below, I have taken some time to research the differences and to gather some important information so you can make your own decision on which flour will be best to use for your family.
When bleached flour was introduced, it was widely opposed. Dr. Wiley was one of the people that opposed it. He believed that foods can cause more harm than some drugs. He even took the matter to the Supreme Court, although they ruled in his favor (disallowing bleaching or altering of flour), it was never enforced. FDA was formed and the focus shifted to drugs. Bleached flour lived on.
The problem with bleached flour is that during the bleaching process, a byproduct called alloxan is produced. Alloxan** is used to produce diabetes in lab animals (rat and mice) so they can study diabetes treatments. FDA still allows chemical processes to be used without food that produces alloxan. Also, as with any refined foods, A LOT of nutrients are lost in the process. There are too many lost nutrients to list, but here’s a small portion:
- Half of the beneficial unsaturated fatty acids
- Virtually all of the vitamin E
- Fifty percent of the calcium
- Seventy percent of the phosphorus
- Eighty percent of the iron
- Ninety eight percent of the magnesium
- Fifty to 80 percent of the B vitamins
Some of the bleaching agents used in the bleaching process include Chlorine Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Chlorine, Calcium Peroxide, Azodicarbonamide***, and Benzoyl Peroxide. The nutrients and vitamins that are lost during this bleaching process are then often added and made into what’s called “enriched” flour. However, most of the nutrients are still missing, and very little amounts are actually replaced. These nutrients are often added along with toxic additives. Metallic iron fillings have been found in “enriched” and “fortified” products.
When you look at the label of your flour and it is not labeled as bleached or unbleached, it is bleached. However, due to people starting to pay attention and educating themselves, the demand for good old unbleached flour has increased. If a product is labeled as “unbleached” it has not been chemically bleached. Unbleached flour is making a comeback. Unbleached flour contains more nutrients and is better for your health. However, try to limit your intake of white flour. Wheat contains gluten and can often contain pesticides, etc. USDA found 16 different pesticide residues on wheat.
Fresh flour straight from the mill isn’t actually quite ready to be used in baking and actually improves with a little aging. During the aging time, flour undergoes a chemical process where oxygen in the air reacts with the glutenin proteins (which eventually work to form gluten) to form even longer chains of gluten. This means that doughs made with aged flour will have more elasticity and structure.
Fresh flour is also slightly yellowish to start off with, but then becomes paler as pigments in the flour oxidize during aging. The color change doesn’t affect anything chemically within the flour, but was originally an indicator that the flour had been aged for a certain period.
Around the beginning of the 20th century, it became common to use certain chemicals to speed up the aging process, allowing milling facilities to produce more flour and save on storage space. Potassium bromate was commonly used to speed aging, and then bleaches like benzoil peroxide and chlorine dioxide were used to approximate the whiteness of naturally aged flour.
In more recent history, medical concerns have risen over the consumption of potassium bromate, so it has been mostly replaced with ascorbic acid. Although bleaching hasn’t been raised into question medically, it does seem to affect the structure and flavor of the flour itself.
* Wild Yeast:
Any of various yeasts occurring naturally in the air or on surfaces especially of fruits and grains as distinguished from those selected and artificially cultured. For more information about Wild Yeast visit my blog on Wild Yeast.
** Alloxan, sometimes referred to as alloxan hydrate, refers to the organic compound with the formula OC(N(H)CO)2C(OH)2. It is classified as a derivative of pyrimidine. The anhydrous derivative (OC(N(H)CO)2CO is also known as well as a dimeric derivative. These are some of the earliest known organic compounds. They also exhibit a variety of biological activities.
Alloxan is a toxic glucose analogue, which selectively destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas (that is beta cells) when administered to rodents and many other animal species. This causes an insulin-dependent diabetes (called “alloxan diabetes”) in these animals, with characteristics similar to type 1 diabetes in humans. Alloxan is selectively toxic to insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells because it preferentially accumulates in beta cells through uptake via the GLUT2 glucose transporter. Alloxan, in the presence of intracellular thiols, generates reactive oxygen species (ROS) in a cyclic reaction with its reduction product, dialuric acid. The beta cell toxic action of alloxan is initiated by free radicals formed in this redox reaction. Studies suggest that alloxan does not cause diabetes in humans. Others found a significant difference in alloxan plasma levels in children with and without diabetes Type 1.
*** Azodicarbonamide From the FDA Website:
- What is azodicarbonamide (ADA)?
Azodicarbonamide (ADA) is a chemical substance approved for use as a whitening agent in cereal flour and as a dough conditioner in bread baking.
- On what basis did FDA approve the use of ADA?
FDA approved the use of ADA as a food additive in cereal flour and as a dough conditioner based on a comprehensive review of safety studies, including multi-year feeding studies.
- What has FDA done to continue to ensure the safe use of ADA in foods?
FDA has continued to evaluate the safe use of ADA in foods. In 2016, the agency conducted a comprehensive exposure assessment of semicarbazide (SEM) – a breakdown chemical that forms from ADA during bread making. This assessment was based on (1) the amount of SEM from the use of ADA from the analysis of over 250 representative bread and bread products, and (2) data from two different sets of food consumption data: a) the combined 2009-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2-day dietary intake survey; and b) the 2007-2010 NPD Group, Inc. National Eating Trends-Nutrient Intake Database (NPD NET-NID) 10-14 day data using the proprietary Foods Analysis and Residue Evaluation-National Eating Trends (FARE-NET) program.
Based on this information, FDA developed exposure estimates for SEM for the U.S. population aged 2 years or more and children aged 2-5 years. Children aged 2-5 years were chosen because they would be expected to have the highest exposure to SEM per body weight. This exposure assessment was presented at the 251st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, on March 15, 2016. See the Exposure Estimate for Semicarbazide from the Use of Azodicarbonamide in Bread for the U.S. Population poster (PDF: 664KB).
- What about studies that show breakdown products of ADA, specifically semicarbazide, to be a carcinogen?
During bread making, ADA completely breaks down to form other chemicals, one of which is SEM. At high levels, SEM has been shown to increase the incident of tumors when fed to female mice, but not to male mice or either gender of rat. These studies were conducted in rodents at levels of SEM that far exceed estimates of human exposure from the consumption of ADA-treated flour or bread products.
- Does FDA recommend consumers change their diets?
Based on the science, FDA is not recommending that consumers change their diets because of exposure to ADA/SEM. FDA considers ADA a safe food additive when used for the purposes and at the levels specified in the FDA regulations.
- How do I know whether bread products contain ADA?
ADA, like all ingredients intentionally added to food, must be listed on the ingredient label. Consumers are able to identify the addition of ADA by looking for “azodicarbonamide” on the label.
- Is ADA necessary to make bread?
No. The use of ADA as a whitening agent and dough conditioner is not necessary to make bread and there are alternative ingredients approved for use available.
- Does ADA have other uses?
Yes, ADA is also authorized for use as a blowing agent in sealing caps for food containers such as ketchup bottles. In 2005, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessed the risk from the use of ADA as a blowing agent and concluded that it is not of concern for human health given the levels that have been found in foods packaged in glass jars and bottles. However, EFSA had also noted that exposure to SEM should be limited where possible, and the European Union banned this use of ADA.