What Is It? Wednesday: Bromated and Bleached Flour - Bob's Red Mill Blog
What Is It? Wednesday: Bromated and Bleached Flour
Healthy Living on May 6, 2015 by

What Is It? Wednesday: Bromated and Bleached Flour

Today we're going to tackle these two mysterious terms often found on packages of all purpose white flour. This is one of our most requested topics and we're more than happy to clarify these two unpalatable terms.

What does "bromated" mean? Bromated, by far the less common of the two terms, is a process in which potassium bromate (bromate) is added to flour to improve baked goods.

Why would bromate be added to flour? It is added to improve rise and elasticity of dough. In many countries around the world, bromate is a banned food additive. It is not banned in the United States. Why you ask? In theory, because bromate is an oxidizing agent, it should be fully consumed in the bread baking process and there should be no bromate in the finished good. However, if the conditions are off (think not baked long enough), some bromate will still be present in the baked good and that, in our opinion, is not good. You see, bromate has been linked to cancer in some lab studies and, while it is not a banned food additive, the FDA discourages its use by bakers.

What does "bleached" mean? Like bromate, bleach is a chemical that is added to flour. The bleach used for flour is not the same as the bleach you'd use on your laundry, but when you look at their chemical make-ups, they might as well be the same thing.

Why would bleach be added to flour? Quite simply: to make it whiter. There is some claim that it helps with gluten activation, but the main reason is that people want their white flour to be really white. To understand this, let's take a brief foray into the history of white flour.

How did this come to be? Historically, all flour was whole grain flour--typically wheat. The history is complicated and long, so for the purpose of this article, let's just say at some point, millers and bakers discovered that you could sift flour to make it lighter. They discovered that removing the germ and the bran from flour made a lighter baked good (and it lasted longer). Because this process (called bolting) was time consuming, white flour was an expensive ingredient reserved for the upper classes. Over time, technology advanced and white flour became very easy to produce on steel roller mills. White flour became advantageous: it had the desired baking properties that everyone wanted to enjoy, it was very cheap to produce, and it had a much longer shelf life than whole wheat flour. Because it was cheap to produce, it became a staple. What was once a food of the elite, was now a food of the masses.

Traditionally, white flour was aged and it came out fairly yellow. Not cornmeal yellow, but not white either. Aging white flour helped the flour develop gluten and produce better baked goods. As with so many processed foods in our world, chemicals were brought in to do faster what nature did over time. Bromate and bleach were added to flour to shortcut the aging process and provide a truly white product.

With modern technology, white flour can be sifted to produce a very white flour with no chemical bleaching. However, bleaching flour is still a common practice. Bromating is less common, but a quick online search proves that you can most definitely still buy it and that it's still being used in industrial food applications.

Are Bob's Red Mill flours bromated or bleached? No, absolutely not. We do not believe in using either of these chemicals and we encourage you to look for brands, like ours, that do not bromate or bleach their flours. Our white flours are not bromated and not bleached. Instead, white flour typically contains malted barley flour, an ingredient that has the same effect as bromating without adding crazy chemicals. It adds a little extra sugar to the flour to produce stronger gluten reactions. If you choose organic, the flour will not contain malted barley flour, neither will it be enriched, bleached, nor bromated. Enriching white flour will be another story for another day.

We hope this helps clear up some confusion. If you have further questions, please leave them in the comments and we'll do our best to answer them. 


40 Comments

  1. Maria Franks
    After reading about potassium bromate in flour, I was panicking because I bake all of the family bread at home and I use Bob's Red Mill exclusively. Thank you so much for this article and I can now bake more bread in peace!
    Reply
  2. Joyce
    I had a skin rash from head to toe after being in a hot tub/spa that used bromide. The dr said to avoid anything with that. When I mentioned flour was bromated, he said to avoid flour, too. I didn't list and no reaction accord since then. But I always did look for unbleached flour and avoided those that said bromated. Love your grains!
    Reply
  3. Diane M.
    Thank you so much for NOT adding potassium bromate to your flours and not bleaching them. I have studied the ill-effects of bromate, and was wondering if any flour manufacturer avoided using it. The LORD bless you!
    Reply
  4. Janis Frasier
    The word “Unbromated” has recently been removed from you flour product packaging. Why?
    Reply
    1. Cassidy Stockton
      I think it was removed primarily for design. We do not and have not ever bromated our flour.
      Reply
  5. Barb
    I wish your packaging would say nonbromated.I looked at every brand of flour our store carried and found one brand that identified itself as never bromated, never bleached. I had bought your unbleached white all-purpose flour but gave to a neighbor once bromine and fluoride came into a health discussion. Guess I should have gone on your website before giving it away!!
    Reply
    1. Cassidy Stockton
      I'm sorry that our packaging doesn't state this. Bromated flour is becoming increasingly hard to find in the retail world, which is why I believe it was dropped from the package. I will pass your comments along.
      Reply
  6. Gene Eisenberg
    Minor correction. You seem to be saying that flour starts out white and yellows with aging. I think you mean that it starts out yellowish and whitens with aging. That is, indeed, how it works.
    Reply
  7. Samantha
    Does your flour use Roundup (herbicide glyphosate) at any stage of planting or harvesting?
    Reply
    1. Cassidy Stockton
      Here is our policy about glyphosate: https://www.bobsredmill.com/blog/featured-articles/glyphosate/

      We source all of our products from farmers who attest to not using such practices.
      Reply
  8. Meg O'Brien
    Thank you for making wonderful, delicious, natural products!! I can't tell you how overjoyed I am that I can purchase your flour and not worry about chemicals like bromate. I am also happy to hear that your organic products are not enriched. (I recently found out that my children and I have the MTHFR gene and we can't process folic acid.) I was told that we would have to avoid all flour products. That was going to be a battle in my household!
    So I was relieved to find that our favorite Bob's Red Mill products are not enriched with folic acid. Keep up the good work!
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      Thank you for trusting us with your health.
      Reply
  9. Deb Fokos
    Just wondering when you will add iodine back into flour as was done in the earlier part of the 20th century? Iodine deficiency is high in the US, precipitated by bromates in so many forms that compete for iodine sites in the body, including chlorine, fluoride, and other additives in food and water supply. The lack of iodine has seen cancer rates continue to rise. http://www.drbrownstein.com/Iodine-Why-You-Need-It-p/iodine.htm
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      We appreciate your feedback. At this time we have no plans to add iodine to our flour. We will discuss this with the decision makers though.
      Reply
  10. […] Purpose Flour, which is a must during the holidays! It’s unbleached (AP flour is sometimes bleached to make it whiter), unbromated (bromate is sometimes added to AP flour to improve elasticity, but it has also been […]
    Reply
  11. Shari Romsey
    I know your flour is not brominated, or bleached, but are they enriched?
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      The conventional varieties are enriched while the organic varieties are not.
      Reply
  12. Semra Toros
    Hello,

    "Cassidy Stockton July 5, 2016 at 9:46 am
    I think it was removed primarily for design. We do not and have not ever bromated our flour. " (Bob's Red MIll's Answer)

    "Sarena Shasteen March 20, 2018 at 8:24 am
    The conventional varieties are enriched while the organic varieties are not. " (Bob's Red Mill's answer)

    If Bob's Red Mill's conventional varieties are "enriched" "that means they are bromated" because most flour used for bread has been "enriched" with "potassium bromate. "
    So, How do you say "we do not bromated our flour" ???

    Do you use bromine in your products? (organic or conventional)
    Thank you for the answer.
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      Our flours, both conventional and organic are unbromated.
      Reply
  13. Brenda Gallagher
    Brenda Gallagher
    please added unbromated and unbleached back to your packaging! I passed up your product because of this. We need to know and the other flour companies need to know we are interested in this!
    Reply
  14. Sally Stewart
    How much gluten so you use in your flour? Is there a huge difference, I’m gluten sensitive but not intolerant.
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Whitney Barnes
      Hi Sally! Gluten is the protein naturally present in varying amounts in different types of wheat; we are not adding gluten to make different flours. Below is our protein (gluten) percentages for our different flours.

      Super Fine Cake Flour 8-9%
      Unbleached White Fine Pastry Flour 8.5-9%
      Whole Wheat Pastry Flour 8-11 %
      Unbleached White All Purpose Flour 10.5-12.5%
      Whole Wheat Flour 13%-15%
      Artisan Bread Flour 13-15%
      Reply
  15. Charlotte Woods
    I am so very appreciative of ALL of Bob's Red Mill products! When I use them, I always know I am getting the highest quality in nutrition.
    I will not knowingly consume bromated or bleached flours. I am a stage 4 metastatic cancer patient and my physicians are convinced that the biggest reason I have survived this long is my particular attention to my diet.
    I use most of your products and I am so grateful for these very healthy items.
    Thank you very much.
    Charlotte Woods
    Reply
  16. kamini Lakhan
    Do you add preservatives like propionic acid in your flour.
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Kamini, no - we do not. All ingredients will be listed clearly on each package so you know exactly what you're eating :)
      Reply
  17. Summer Quiring
    Do the malted barley process involve corn at all?
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Summer, no - there is no corn in Malted Barley.
      Reply
  18. Judy Bozick
    What breads are not made with bromate or bleached flour. I have 2 grandchildren who must not eat gluten. I think that they are reacting to the bromate. Why, why why does the USA bromate and bleach flour. I am a very frustrated grandma and I fatiqued with researching. But I will still continue to do so.
    Thank you.
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Whitney Barnes
      Hi Judy - we don't bromate or bleach any of our wheat or gluten free flours. If you have more questions our Customer Service team is happy to help. They can be reached at 1-800-349-2173 or [email protected]
      Reply
  19. Nic Perna
    Just very frustrated that I cannot find the exact protein content of your flours. Some of us like to know the details for our bread and pizza making. Does bobs mill even run a tight spec on protein content?
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Nic! You can contact our Customer Service team about this - they're happy to help. They can be reached at 1-800-349-2173 or [email protected]
      Reply
  20. Aida Brenneman
    What is the best way to store an opened bag of this flour and what is the self life once it is opened? For example, do I keep it refrigerated, place it in an airtight container, leave it in it’s original bag, place in the freezer, etc?
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Aida, most of our flours have a 24 month shelf life. There is a "best by" date printed on every bag so you can see the exact date. We recommend storing in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. If your environment is excessively humid or warm you can also store the flour in the refrigerator or freezer.
      Reply
  21. Carol Abbott
    I just read the question section and I am thoroughly convinced to ever use any other flour. Thank you!!
    Reply
  22. maryellencantrell1@yahoo.com
    Our great granddaughter will be one year old this Sunday and she is highly allergic to barley. Her Mother suspected when she started having reactions to certain baby foods and they all had one common, barley. She was tested by an allergist for children and he confirmed she is highly contagious to barley and needed to have an epi-pen at all times. I need a flour that is 100% barley free.
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Mary! Our Customer Service team would be happy to make some product recommendations for you. They can be reached at [email protected]
      Reply
  23. Brian Cole
    Curious to hear what your story will be with enriched white flour especially since you sell flours that are enriched
    Reply
  24. Amir Atiya
    Dear Cassidy:

    I was going to buy Red Mills oat flour on amazon.com.
    It put out a warning that this product contains potassium bromate.
    I believe you guys and think that this warning is outdated.
    Please contact amazon to change the warning if not true,
    otherwise many buyers will be driven off.
    Thank you.
    Reply
  25. Dennis Dilday
    Your description mentions that this flour is good for "yeast breads." Why the distinction. My hope is use if for sourdough bread; it seems to have enough protein. And I plan to mix it 50/50 with my home-ground whole wheat flour.

    Thanks!

    Dennis
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Dennis - all of our wheat flours are great for all types of bread (yeast, sourdough, naturally leavened or quick breads). Our All Purpose Flour and Artisan Bread Flour are popular choices for sourdough. Happy baking!
      Reply

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