Wheat flour pricing has gone crazy since the pandemic. I usually buy all purpose and bread flour. Pre-pandemic I usually bought King Arthur, Hecker’s or Gold Medal, Pillsbury, whatever was on sale. Now, prices have doubled and sales are infrequent and not that great. Store brand AP flour is a much better value. Here’s my question: Can you tell the difference between generic and brand name flour, both flavor and performance? I think many home bakers use King Arthur by rote. It has a great reputation but will other, cheaper flours work as well? I bake a fair amount of basic bread. I recently bought a 50# bag of General Mills Full Strength Flour for $20.00 @ Restaurant Depot. .40 cents per pound is a lot cheaper that what I’d pay for KA Bread Flour. I wonder how it compares?
I can’t tell the difference.
Yes, it does.
But it’s more about consistency within a brand, than across brands.
You want to be careful with all purpose flour. Since there is no predetermined level of performance metric for all purpose flour (all purpose = jack of all trades but master of none) the protein content as well as the type of wheat the flour is made from can/will vary all over the board.
If you find a brand of all-purpose flour that works for you changing brands may give you a flour with very different performance properties.
Bread flour, on the other hand, has a predetermined level for performance/expectation, i.e. able to make decent bread. So in a way this type of flour is somewhat standardized between the different milling companies and changing brands is not as critical.
Also, when buying all purpose flour you need to make note of its protein content. For example, many generic brands of all purpose flour will have on the front of the bag “All purpose and High protein”. You can’t have it both ways. The former should have a protein content of about 10%, while the latter’s should be way up in the range of 14%.
One way to calculate this is the following: Look about halfway down the nutrition label, and find the grams of protein per serving. If truly all-purpose flour, it should be 3. Divide that by the total grams per serving from the top line of the label; it is nearly always 30. 3 divided by 30 is 10%, so you know it is actually all purpose flour.
In short, not all brands of flours are created equal. If you’ve been using one brand of flour (especially all purpose) and switch to another, just make sure the protein content is the same; otherwise you’ll end up with unintended chewy baked goods.
Neither can I… Whatever I can get the cheapest (per pound). I usually purchase the 25 pound bags from Walmart.
I buy 25 lbers from the Amish and it’s worked really well for me. Wish I could find 00 at the Amish bulk store.
I buy whatever is reasonably priced closest to me, since I have to carry it home (and I’m never buying more than a 5lb bag for many reasons, including this one).
I think you can definitely tell the difference for something like bread – for eg I ordered Amazon’s Happy Belly AP during the pandemic and it was clearly high protein based on the gluten development. So I had to adjust it down for cake, where I didn’t want that much gluten.
Those pantry moths are a pain, but this is the first time, ever, I’ve encountered anything like this.
Nothing helpful I’m afraid, but I just realized it takes me longer to use a bag of flour than it does to use a box of salt!
IMO, it’s about the protein content and the type of wheat, and I’ve found no real difference as long as I use roughly the protein and wheat indicated in a recipe. General Mills Full Strength is 12.6% protein if that’s the one you have? Note that it’s bromated and malted, which is something to keep in mind when using… I was frustrated by the same question of flour brand differences, so these are the notes I made when I researched it for myself about a year ago in case it’s helpful…
Below for US only; flour I think is from hard winter wheat unless otherwise noted; and “est.” means calculated from the food label - because the FDA allows rounding on labels it might be off a bit:
Cake flour is low protein (6 to 8%) and bleached to weaken that protein - good for light cakes. Here are some:
- Pillsbury Softasilk: 6.25% (est.)
- Swans Down: 7.1% (est.)
- King Arthur unbleached: 10%
Southern soft wheat flour is low protein (8 to 9%) and also red winter wheat, which is good for Southern biscuits and non-yeasted breads. Here are some:
- White Lily bleached all-purpose flour: 6.7% (est.)
- King Arthur pastry flour blend: advertised as between southern-style pastry flour and all-purpose flour; 10.3%
Pastry flour is soft wheat with protein between 8 and 10%. Here are some:
- King Arthur pastry flour (not “blend” - see Southern soft wheat, above): 8%
- Bob’s Red Mill: 8.8% (est.)
Whole wheat pastry flour (aka graham pastry flour) is from soft spring wheat and lower-protein. Here are some:
- King Arthur/Birkett Mills whole wheat pastry graham flour: 9%
- Bob’s Red Mill: 13.3%
Most all-purpose flour is 10-11.7% protein. Here are some:
- Pillsbury: 9.7% (est.)
- Great Value: 10% (est.)
- HEB’s Hill Country Fare: 10% (est.)
- HEB’s Baker’s Scoop: 10% (est.)
- Gold Medal: 10.5%
- King Arthur: 11.7%
- Bob’s Red Mill: 11.8% (est.)
Most bread protein is 12-14%, which gives stronger gluten development. Here are some:
- HEB’s Baker’s Scoop: 10% (est.)
- Gold Medal: 12.3%
- King Arthur unbleached: 12.7%
- Pillsbury: 12.9% (est.)
- Great Value unbleached: 13.3% (est.)
- White Lily: 13.3% (est.)
- Bob’s Red Mill unbleached: 13.9% (est.)
Whole wheat flour runs a range of protein content. Here are some:
- Gold Medal: 10% (est.)
- King Arthur white whole wheat (hard white spring wheat): 12.2%
- Pillsbury: 12.9% (est.)
- King Arthur whole wheat: 13.2% protein
- Gold Medal white whole wheat: 13.3% (est.)
- HEB’s Baker’s Scoop: 13.3% (est.)
- Arrowhead Mills organic: 14.3% (est.)
- Bob’s Red Mill: 18.4% (est.), website says 13%-15%
You can add vital wheat gluten to flour to increase its overall protein content. For example, Bob’s Red Mill vital wheat gluten is 76.6% (est.) protein. Add 1 Tbsp. for every 2 cups flour. Or here’s a calculator.
I’ve encountered bugs in flour and other pantry items before. Once from two bags of flour just like any other time.
Very informative, Tex. Thanks for that. Great breakdown. On one side of my state, you can find 00 all over. Where I live now, I know of no outlet that sells it. Glad I made the move, but some things I miss.
Yes, KA teally does make better product. Enough to justify the price? YMMV
You bring up an interesting question when you mention 00 flour. Although I think it’s ok to skip around the different flours as long as you’re close to protein and wheat type, @zackly’s flour is bromated and malted - not 00 flour (I guess?) but they are marketing it as a pizza flour. I think it’ll make interesting breads, but what do you think will happen if they use it for cakes and cookies (for example)?
I do not like King Arthur AP flour, so I don’t think it’s worth the cost unless I want to make bread with it. It’s actually a great bread flour, but for my liking, a lousy AP flour. For AP, I’d take almost any generic flour over KA because they’re usually softer and function like AP flour. I like Gold Medal or Pillsbury and they’re cheaper than KA, so I’d prefer to buy them just because they’re consistent, but I think generic would perform similarly.
For bread, you do need to be mindful of protein content.
Now living outside the USA I’m lucky that the bread flour here is only sold to stores, who then sell you as much as you like. A pound of bread flour here costs 28 pesos, so for a little under $5 I can buy 10 lbs of bread flour here.
In the USA I used King Arthur’s AP or bread flour just because it’s one of the few bread flours available in supermarkets, but it’s much cheaper to buy bread flour sacks online. Gold Medal sells bread flour, but there I think KA’s is better.
During the Pan I grabbed a bag of Wheat Montana AP flour from Walmart online. Never heard of it previously, but needed it at the time and ended up being very impressed with it.
It is a bit higher protein than most AP flours, and it has done well everywhere I use it. I would say it is medium priced (under $12 for ten pounds), and like the fact that it is farmed and milled in Montana, and comes in a double-ziploc bag.
Yes sire, that was my second option. I’m old, and from an area where bakeries and the like used a lot of 00. bromated and malted might do the trick even better. 00 is just about as fine as one can get.
I started using Great Value AP flour during the pandemic, and have stuck with is because the recipes I make came out very good with it. I will buy KA Bread Flour for the same reason.
There are some not-so-slight differences between brands when it comes to protein content–@Tex explains it well.
In my experience, breads and doughs with few other ingredients will show differences more than cookies or other items with lots of other stuff in them.
If you are going to use the 50# of flour in a somewhat timely manner, then it’s worth testing a recipe or two to see how you like the performance. The protein content is going to make the most difference IME.