It was a Saturday. I was standing in the baking aisle of Safeway, stooping down to the lowest shelf to peruse the generic-brand flour. The blue and white bags of bleached all-purpose flour stared benignly back at me, all swooping shapes and innocuous paper wrapping.
The store was busy, and the aisle was full of small whining children, husbands on cell phones screaming, “I’m in the baking aisle, what brand do you want? … There’s like ten different brownie mixes here, which one do you want? … I’m not being grumpy, I just want to – forget it, I’m getting the Ghirardelli one,” and women barreling past me with shopping carts laden with food and shopping lists.
I selected the most promising bag of flour, the one bereft of obvious holes or obvious signs of spillage, and reached out to claim it. As I pulled the bag toward me, I noticed something disturbing: the bag had a hole punched through the back. And flour was spilling out of it like a tiny floaty blizzard. Sheer inertia and disbelief propelled the bag toward me, until the bag was in front of me and my eyes could confirm close up the presence of a hole in the bag.
By the time I’d confirmed the hole, my pants and shirt were white. I was a powdered doughnut with grumpy filling. I shoved the bag back into its place and reached for another bag. Swiveling it around revealed a hole in that one as well. My ensuing investigation confirmed my flabbergasted suspicions: every single bag of bleached all-purpose flour at Safeway had a great gaping hole in it.
Never one to be content with spending my hard-earned dollars on a violated bag of food, I turned to alternatives. The name-brand flours were all more expensive than I was willing to pay, so my eyes drifted to the right. Where I spied the unbleached all-purpose flour.
Feeling more than a little dangerous from my flouring earlier, I bit the bullet and brought a bag of unbleached flour home with me. Unsure of the difference in color, let alone taste, I considered this true culinary frontierism.
It was with trepidation that I pulled out my brand new bag of flour to make chocolate chip cookies. I pried open the bag, peered within, and saw…flour. I held it up to the light, I tasted it, try as I might I could not for the life of me discern a difference between it and the bleached flour.
The cookies turned out marvelously. They look good, taste great, and, with the exception of being exceptionally poufy, appear to be regular cookies.
At the conclusion of this incredibly mundane tale of flour purchasing, I have to ask: What is the deal with bleached flour? If it looks nearly identical, and tastes identical, why are we bleaching our flour? Are we flour racists? Does the bleaching process alter the flour in some way? These questions beg to be answered. If for no other reason than science, consider every person who’s ever stood in a grocery store wearing floury pants wondering, Dare I bring home unbleached flour?