You know those “preparing for baby” lists that you can find out there on the web? The lists that are supposed to help parents-to-be prepare for what lies ahead? Yeah well, just like most of society’s norms, we didn’t follow them very well. We didn’t wash every article of clothing before wearing and certainly didn’t use special “baby” detergent, never bothered putting child locks on cabinets or drawers, or the corner protectors on tables, and we completely skipped protecting outlets with my son.
Part of our rule-breaking can be blamed on the learning curve of balancing caring for a new baby with no sleep with washing clothes and unexpected blow-out diapers.
The other part is because there simply was no need. My son didn’t crawl until he was six months, and by then I had learned to live on less sleep AND how to keep him out of cabinets.
The first time he reached for an outlet he got a very stern warning (and a small “zap” demonstration) and he never reached again.
He’s a good kid.
My daughter on the other hand… she’s a whole ‘nuther cookie. It must be opposite day every day in that cute little head of hers, because she reached for those plugs over and over and over again… despite demonstrations and warnings.
Those plugs sat unopened in our junk drawer for over two years, until we finally installed them when The Girl was 4 months old or so. They’re STILL faithfully installed to this day. (She’s almost 4.)
One thing we DID follow was the advice to put toxic cleansers out of reach of little hands, and not just behind a cabinet door. I moved everything that was toxic and could possibly be ingested up high – requiring a stool for my own reach – and behind a closed door. That door now has an oversized plastic ring that makes for a great conversation piece when guests are trying to leave.
We’re slowly moving to a greener way of cleaning, like using cloth napkins instead of paper towels and homemade citrus vinegar instead of a store-bought all-purpose cleaner, but there are still a few things hanging out on shelves leftover from my couponing days that we haven’t completely used up yet. Included in that small stash is a half-gallon of bleach.
Last September, a reader asked me in the comments of this post if I was using bleached flour (she noticed I was buying flour in bulk at Costco). I don’t know… I remember thinking. Immediately followed by, Does white flour contain bleach?
At the time, I was so new to eating more wholesome foods that whether or not my flour was bleached was far off on the radar. I was working hard at finding organic milk, eggs and butter (although I lean more towards grass-fed butter than organic nowadays). Dealing with flour was a “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there” type of issue.
Well folks, it’s eight months later and we’ve officially reached the bridge.
What is Bleached Flour?
Bleach flour is refined white flour that has been artificially aged using a bleaching agent, a maturing agent, or both.
WHY WOULD FLOUR NEED TO BE BLEACHED?
Because people are vain. In our minds, flour should be white.
Freshly milled “white flour” (made using only the endosperm, remember?) isn’t really white. It’s on the yellowish side, the depth of color depending on how much germ and bran still remained after the milling and sifting. But people didn’t want to use yellow flour 100 years ago and they still don’t today. Yellow flour is not attractive to buyers.
Bleaching is no good to anyone except to the miller who wants to deceive his buyer…
Color is an important characteristic in determining the commercial value of flour and because of this, processes have been devised for bleaching and improving the color of inferior flours…
The chief advantage is that it enables the miller to sell the flour made from the cheaper and undesirable grades of wheat as flour made from higher priced grain…
The process is not beneficial, and while a majority of mills bleach, 99 in every 100 are sorry that bleaching was ever invented… (source from 1906)
WHY WOULD FLOUR NEED TO BE AGED?
Imagine a ball of dough containing a bunch of tiny little rubber bands. Those rubber bands get stretched and stretched during the kneading and rising stages, and then they’re baked and forced to be still. The end result is a springy bread that doesn’t crumble. Those rubber bands are glutenin, a protein that when reacts with oxygen, becomes gluten. Gluten is what gives bread elasticity and structure. For the baker who doesn’t have allergies or sensitivities to gluten, the more the better.
If allowed to sit in the open for a period of time, flour will oxidize, glutenin will become gluten and the flexibility and composition of quality baking flour will be created all on its own. The typical time frame is 10 days or so but some bakers who prefer to mill their own flour will let it age for 4-5 months.
Typical modern-day mills don’t have the physical storage capacity to repeatedly hold tons of flour for more than a week. If they stored flour, they wouldn’t be able to produce it. Not producing flour means a loss of money. Instead, mills now use chemicals to speed-up the aging process in order to keep producing more flour and in turn, creating more profit.
Does White Flour Contain Bleach?
If it were 100 years ago, the answer to that question may have been yes. Fortunately you won’t find “bleach” listed in the ingredients of flour currently sold in supermarkets. Unfortunately, you may find a few other things listed instead. There may even be chemicals in your flour that aren’t listed.
Potassium Bromate – This is what’s added to bromated flour. It doesn’t change the color of flour, but it artificially ages it through oxidation. It’s very powerful, sometimes going to the extent of damaging flour cells during the oxidation process. Potassium bromate will be listed as an ingredient or additive, or otherwise noted on flours that contain it.
Benzoyl Peroxide – This bleaches and has no effect on glutenins nor the creation of gluten. It’s the most common bleaching agent in the U.S. (often added with other stabilizing chemicals) and it’s the powder version of the same ingredient many of you may have in your bathroom cabinets. It’s often used as an inexpensive way to lighten hair and it’s the key active ingredient in many whitening toothpastes.
Azodicorbonamide – This is used as both an aging and bleaching agent in flour, although it’s more commonly used to make foam plastics. It turns into biurea in raw dough and baked bread and biurea is quickly excreted via urine. (source)
Chlorine Gas – Used as both a bleaching and maturing agent, although it weakens the development of gluten instead of strengthening it. It’s nearly always used in cake flours since it allows the fat in baked goods like cakes, cookies and biscuits to distribute more evenly, thus creating a better rise and reducing the chance of collapse.
Nitrogen Dioxide – One of the first agents used to bleach flour, but also acts as an aging agent.
Ascorbic Acid – This is primarily used as aging agent, but can also be used as a dough enhancer. Like potassium bromate, it should be listed as an ingredient or additive, but you won’t know for sure what purpose it was used for.
Those are just the chemicals associated with bleaching flour that I could find information on. There’s a few more out there where information in scarce, other than they could potentially be in your flour too:
- nitrogen tetroxide (used in bleaching and aging)
- nitrosyl chloride (used in bleaching and aging)
- chlorine dioxide (bleaching only)
- calcium iodate (aging only)
- calcium peroxide (aging only)
So now what? We know bleached flour could potentially be treated with any of the eleven chemicals above, and possible others that didn’t surface during my research. What does that mean for us? Should be we concerned that bleached flour is harmful? More on that coming tomorrow in part 2.
Do Something: Start making your own bread. The ingredients are likely already in your house and none of the above chemicals are required. It may take a few hours and some planning ahead, but at least you’ll know exactly what’s in your food. Check out the recipe page for some yummy ideas to get you started.