Bleached Flour vs Unbleached: What’s the Difference?

What is bleached flour and is it bad for you?

April 12, 2023
Naturbild AB+46 8 411 43


Naturbild AB+46 8 411 43

Photo by: Johner Images/Getty Images

Johner Images/Getty Images

By Jessie Sheehan for Food Network Kitchen

Jessie is a baker and cookbook author.

When perusing the baking aisle of your grocery store, have you ever noticed that some of the bags of all-purpose flour are marked bleached and some are not? Why, you’ve probably asked yourself? What is the difference between the two, you might have wondered? And if I buy bleached (or unbleached) by mistake, you might ponder, can I still use it in my baking recipe? And, oh gosh: is bleached flour bad for me? Well, guess what? We’ve got answers to all these queries and more. In short, though both of these flours are milled from grain, they are produced very differently, as bleached flour requires chemicals, and unbleached does not. Read on for all the “scoops” (pun intended) on bleached versus unbleached flour.

What Is Bleached Flour?

Bleached flour is all-purpose flour in which chemicals, such as chlorine dioxide and benzoyl dioxide, have been added. The chemicals hurry along the flour’s aging process, producing a flour that is whiter and brighter. Moreover, the chemical aging makes for a flour with a finer grain and one that has more volume (read: fluffier) and a finer texture than one that is aged naturally (aka unbleached flour).

Is Bleached Flour Bad For You?

We’re not doctors or scientists, obviously, but it’s safe to say that bleached flour is not bad for you. The chemicals added to bleached flour are not in large enough quantities to be dangerous and the chloride found in bleached flour, that results from a chemical reaction once the chlorine is added, for instance, can also be found in bottled water (and is then, interestingly enough, labeled “electrolyte” or “mineral” water, never “bleached”). Moreover, the nutritional value of bleached and unbleached flour is nearly identical. The bleaching process may decrease the amount of vitamin E slightly in the flour, but unbleached flour has only minimal amounts, anyway.

Wheat flower, sugar, milk and eggs on pastry board


Wheat flower, sugar, milk and eggs on pastry board

Photo by: Westend61/Getty Images

Westend61/Getty Images

Bleached vs Unbleached Flour: What’s the Difference?

  • Chemicals: Bleached flour has chemicals added to it; unbleached flour is chemical-free
  • Production time: Bleached flour is faster to produce than unbleached flour
  • Aging Process: Bleached flour is chemically aged; unbleached flour is aged naturally, by exposure to the air
  • Grain size: Bleached flour has a very tiny grain; unbleached flour’s grain is slightly larger
  • Volume and Texture: Bleached flour has a fluffier volume and a lighter, finer texture; unbleached flour has less volume and is more dense
  • Color: Bleached flour is whiter and brighter in color; unbleached flour is more of an off-white or even very pale yellow color
  • Price: Bleached flour is less expensive than unbleached flour, because it takes less time to produce

Can You Use Bleached Flour and Unbleached Flour Interchangeably?

Bleached and unbleached flour can be used interchangeably. Some believe that bleached flour is better when you want your baked good to have a really bright white color, like when you make a white cake; or a lighter, fluffier texture, like when you want to make extra fluffy pancakes. But honestly, we are hard pressed to notice a difference when we use one versus the other. Yes: some with a very sensitive palate might be able to taste a difference, but in general we find there is no discernible difference in the volume, texture etc. of baked goods made with bleached versus unbleached flour.

Do Some Baked Goods Benefit from Bleached Flour vs Unbleached?

We would never choose to buy bleached flour over unbleached flour (or vice versa) for one particular baking recipe versus another, as we really do believe they are interchangeable. But the jury is not out on this! You will definitely find some who believe bleached versus unbleached really will make a difference in your baking when it comes to certain treats. Our suggestion? Give it a try and see for yourself. Buy a bag of bleached flour next time a white cake or pancake craving hits (or both) and see what you discover.

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