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All Purpose Flour: Does Brand Really Matter?

  • Ora May 12, 2009 05:48 PM
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A few times in the past year, I've been tempted to buy store brand ShopRite AP flour. On sale it is usually $1.88 for a 5lb. bag. I consider it for a few seconds, then I chicken out and buy some national brand like Gold Medal or Pillsbury, whichever is the most reasonably priced that week. When I bake with either national brand, I see no difference in results.

So, I am asking the home baker's out there, for basic home baking, does AP flour brand truly matter? When searching the 'net, regular home bakers seem to be very brand loyal and they swear by brands like King Arthur (usually the most expensive in the supermarket) or Gold Medal. Aren't milling processes fairly standard these days? Does brand matter for a commodity product like flour? Please explain why specifically, if you think brand matters.

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  1. Big discussion on a similar topic just last week. Maybe there is some information in this thread that might help you make a decision.

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/616426

    1 Reply
    1. re: smtucker

      Thanks--I saw that. I want to focus on brands in generally--not a particular brand. Plus I'd like to hear from someone who has used a store brand.

    2. Commodity product does not equal uniform production. There are many variables, as discussed in this decade-old CI article:

      http://tastetests.cooksillustrated.co...

      The recommendations are behind the firewall, but the two recommended brands were King Arthur (1st place) and Pillsbury (2d place).

      1. buy some of that shop-rite flour, and make some biscuits -- same with the gold medal. compare.

        (my mom is loyal to gold medal or white lily for biscuits...).

        2 Replies
        1. re: alkapal

          Well, biscuits would bias towards lower-protein flours (for which White Lily is the common standard), while other baking would bias towards higher-protein flours.

          1. re: Karl S

            ok, that is one example. make something else, ora, that you make often.

        2. I haven't bought generic flour recently. Live in NYC, usually buy Hecker's / Ceresota because it performs well in bread (the major part of my weekly baking) and fine in sweeter baked goods calling for AP. I don't like Pillsbury, it doesn't feel right to me. Occasionally use Gold Medal unbleached or Harvest Gold if Hecker's not to hand. King Arthur flour is also good but I find it expensive. I'll see if my market carries unbleached store brand and will give it a whirl for comparison's sake.

          1. I like King Arthur or Pillsbury for AP, but I refuse to buy anything but KA bread flour for machines. I like their Round Table pastry flour, but I will swap it with While Lilly AP in a pinch.

            1. I have done a lot of baking with different brands of all purpose flour including national brands, store brands, off-brands and some Mexican imports from time to time. I really don’t notice a difference when I use any different brand in the same recipe for things like cookies, pie crusts, quick breads and muffins where AP flour is called for.

              The difference I can readily detect is from different types, not brands, of flour, such as using bread flour compared with AP flour in making yeast bread.

              But taste is personal. So the only way you’ll know for sure is by comparing them yourself after using each separately in an item that you regularly make.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Sam D.

                You comment is in line with my theory. The difference is more related to type of flour (e.g. bread vs cake). I do moderate amounts of baking and I see no noticeable difference across AP flour brands for basic home baked cookies etc. I've even tried regional brands like Southern Biscuit AP flour--I see no difference at all.

                1. re: Sam D.

                  I think that's pretty much a fair statement. But I'd add to it that if you want specialty flours there's no other reliable place to go to to know that you can get coarse pumpkernickel or 00 Italian or a variety of grinds of semolina and that's reason enough, in my opinion, to support King Arthur so they can continue to support us bakers.

                2. Ok, I have a feeling I'm going to get beat up about this one, but I buy and use store brand/generics almost exclusively. I grew up in MN (home to both Gold Medal and Pillsbury) so growing up it was strictly Gold Medal. But now that I'm out on my own and I'm footing the bill, I gave the generic a try and quite truthfully I can't notice a difference and my grocery bill looks a lot better. So there are 3 possiblities here:
                  1. Generic doesn't make a difference
                  2. My cooking isn't sophisticated enough where generic v. name brand makes a difference.
                  3. My palette isn't sophisticated enough where generic v. name brand makes a difference.
                  Regardless, generics are working out just fine in my household. My advice would be to just give the store brand a try and if you don't like it, just switch back.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: goldy12

                    I think it depends on what you are using the flour to make. For me, I like the higher protein and reliability of KA flour for making most kneaded breads and always for fresh pasta, both situations where the higher protein content is a very good thing. For biscuits, pancakes, roux, batters for frying, pretty much any unbleached flour is fine.

                    1. re: Zeldog

                      I concur Zeldog; I just wish I had room for "supermarket flour" along with my KA, whole wheat, rye flour, semolina flour, etc. My name is Adam and I'm a flouraholic ;) So many flours, so little room. adam

                      1. re: Zeldog

                        I would add that even generics may list, either on the container or on their website, the amounts of protein and the type(s) of grain used. This (other than manufacturing inconsistencies), may direct you to a particular one to try. My KAF whole wheat has twice the dietary fiber of the others I have, yet carbohydrates seem to be the same, regardless of type. I am not a flouraholic, though I have had binges and have way too much sitting in my freezer. I just can't limit myself to one or two flours. The chemistry is so crucial to the results!
                        If you have one AP flour at least have a box of Pillsbury Softasilk Cake Flour or Wondra sitting around for light and fluffy things.

                        1. re: Scargod

                          and jacques pepin uses wondra to pan-fry fish filets, too.

                          1. re: alkapal

                            Wondra is good for dredging for sautes, especially if the resulting fond in the pan is going to be deglazed or made into a gravy. Always keep it around. However, for deeper frying (as opposed to sauteeing), the absorbent qualities of Wondra are not as desirable.

                            1. re: alkapal

                              Eric Ripert as well--

                              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aupPmD...

                              1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                                Thanks for that link, I don't always see pea shoots, but I can sub that out, the broth looks delicious. I use wondra all the time myself.

                        2. re: goldy12

                          Gold Medal (General Mills) and Pillsbury are the same company now, and I wouldn't be surprised if both flours were exactly the same.

                          1. re: coll

                            Interesting to know. I don't normally buy Pillsbury because I didn't like results making bread with their unbleached A-P. Side note: Eileen Yin-Fei Lo calls for flours by brand - often Pillsbury - in her new "Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking". Having used flour in Taiwan (which was just generic no-name in plastic bags) successfully in the dishes she describes I find it a bit odd to specify brands.

                        3. Tests result on www.theartisan.net//flour_test.htm seem to indicate that, over-all, Gold Medal all-purpose is the team to beat except when formulated for the Deep South. Their tests compared different aspects of the way the flour performed in baking simple bread. I have baked with it unbleached Gold Medal and Hawaii brand flours, and Pillsbury's. My favorite was Giusto's that I could buy in bulk from the Food Mill in Oakland. So my opinion is that you can't go wrong with any major brand of All Purpose Flour, but you may find one that you like better for a particular reason. As for me, in my local market here in D.C. I go for the Gold Medal. In Wisconsin, I bought Dakota Maid which cost less and had, in my opinion, a slightly nicer flavor. But it is all subjective.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: Father Kitchen

                            father kitchen, does gold medal use more soft wheat in their deep south flour formulation?

                            1. re: alkapal

                              According to the test reports at the website noted above, that seemed to be the case. But the testers were told that the same formulation was used nationally. As I recall, they tested Gold Medal sold in California and in Tennessee and got very different results. For more complete information, check the artisan web site. Much of the South traditionally used flours for biscuits more than bread, so the proportion of softer wheat would have been higher.

                              1. re: Father Kitchen

                                Interesting. Would a national brand vary its formulation regionally without saying so on the label?

                                1. re: Ora

                                  The range of protein on the label is from 9.8% to 11%. That's a wide-enough spread to reflect different formulations. But see the test results--go to the link above.

                                2. re: Father Kitchen

                                  I bake bread when I go to see my mother-in-law in Iowa - and I find the GM unbleached there softer than the one sold in NY. Dough is slacker at same hydration. Not sure if it's really the flour or maybe because of the local water?

                                  1. re: buttertart

                                    It could be cleavage. I mean leavening. I mean, the water could be way different (harder-softer), and fighting with or complementing the variations your breadts are experiencing.

                                    1. re: Scargod

                                      Cleavage? blush...one has to get dressed up to eat at Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower, doesn't one? I do think the water is very soft. I use water filtered through a Brita because straight out of the tap it tastes nasty (although seems to have improved over what it was a while back, perhaps not as much farming chemical runoff in it...?). Will try a bottled water to see if results affected.

                            2. I have just a semi-related question that I'd like to tack on if you don't mind... if you buy flour from a store with relatively good turnover, how long would you keep it in a relatively airtight (read: no bugs allowed) canister before considering it too old?

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: Cinnamon

                                Depends on the type of flour people are going to say. Also, some manufacturers list a date on the bag. Wheat flour has a short shelf life--6 to 9 months. White flour is longer. But it depends on your humidity levels too. Some people freeze flour for a couple of days to make sure no bugs from the store and then store in an air tight container. Frankly, I've been using a really "old" bag of King Arthur white whole wheat for ages now with excellent results and taste. So in the end, you have to judge oldness by your results.

                                1. re: Ora

                                  I think you are being optimistic about the shelf life of whole wheat flour. The wheat germ oils in it oxidize quickly, giving you that bitter, slightly rancid taste that many people object to in whole wheat. It is better always to freeze whole wheat flour. A five pound bag will fit into a gallon zip lock freezer bag (at least after you have taken the first couple of cups out), and that is a convenient way to store it.

                                  1. re: Father Kitchen

                                    I use and endorse this method. I have a lot in my freezer in ziplock bags! I have given up keeping anything in cannisters/dispensers on countertops (that I don't use frequently because of sunlight and freshness issues.

                                    1. re: Scargod

                                      I place 3 - 4 Bay Leaves on top of the flour in a bag that has been opened. Top of bag is rolled over several times, clipped shut then stored in a cool cabinet. Never had a problem with kritters lo these many years.

                                      1. re: Gio

                                        I use those metal office supply clips, that come in many sizes, for many lots of odd jobs in the kitchen (like bags of chips). With their looped handles, it is easy to grab something and hang it on a hook.

                                        I just don't want all my flours to smell (taste?) like bay leaf.
                                        BTW, I have a beautiful, three foot tall bay plant. I have used those sticky traps that KAF sells. They work very well. They attract the bugs that like flour and they never leave the "Bermuda Triangle"!!

                                  2. re: Ora

                                    In my experience, the KA White Whole Wheat lasts longer than regular whole wheat. I've had some in a canister on the shelf since at least last fall because there wasn't enough freezer space at the time and when there was, I forgot to re-pack and move the flour. It's almost gone now, but still no rancid smell. Regular whole wheat would have gone bad by now.

                                    1. re: greygarious

                                      I agree--exactly my point above.

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        I think that the White Whole Wheat as less of the germ in it, It is the Wheat Germ that goes rancid in Whole wheat flour. Wheat flour without the germ will last much longer than whole wheat with the germ, as the oils in the germ go rancid pretty quickly after milling.

                                  3. Like most things in life, You get what you pay for. Check this out.

                                    http://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2010/...

                                    Its King Arthur flour for me whenever possible.