Learn the similarities, differences, and when to use bleached or unbleached flour.

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When you go to buy all-purpose flour in the baking aisle, you're faced with two choices: bleached or unbleached. But what's the actual difference in these two oh-so-similar products? It's all about how each flour is produced.

The Difference Between Bleached and Unbleached Flour

When flour is milled, it comes out of production with a slightly yellow-ish hue. This cast of color naturally fades within a few months of milling, but most companies don't want to wait for this process. Instead, they will bleach the flour with chemical additives, like chlorine dioxide and benzoyl peroxide, to create the ultra-white flour most of us are familiar with. Unbleached flour simply has not gone through this extra step.

What Is Bleached Flour?

The aging process of bleached flour is sped up when the chemical components are introduced. The end product is a flour that is more white with a slightly softer texture and finer grain.

These changes in the flour are also reflected in some baked goods: they provide a softer texture and brighter color than unbleached flour.

Those with extra sensitive palates can sometimes taste an "off" taste in bleached flour, however. That's likely from the additives.

Close Up Of Wire Whisk With Flour Against White Background
Credit: Thodsaphol Tamklang / EyeEm / Getty Images

What Is Unbleached Flour?

Unbleached flour is naturally aged after going through the milling process. It has a slightly off-white or yellow-ish color that will continue to fade into light white as it is exposed to oxygen.

Because it hasn't been put through the same chemical treatments, unbleached flour can have a more dense grain. Since it also takes longer for unbleached flour to be produced (the waiting time and storage add costs for the manufacturer), it often is more expensive than its bleached counterpart.

The Bottom Line: So what do these differences between bleached and unbleached flour mean for your baked goods? In the grand scheme of things, unless you have a sensitive palate and can taste the difference, you shouldn't worry too much about whether you reach for bleached or unbleached flour. The variations between these two are slight, meaning that your baked goods will turn out similar each time.

If you're needing to make an extra-light dessert, like angel food cake, then try to use bleached. Though if you're seeking a structured recipe, like sourdough bread, prioritize using unbleached. No matter which you choose, your baked goods will turn out just fine.

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