A Noble Quest – Good Bread Flour @ a Good Price, in the South

Now that I’m settled in my winter enclave, I’m ready to start baking again – Task one, go out and find some “real” flour for bread.  Non-bakers will not understand that the stuff sold at the local grocery simply won’t make superior bread, and frankly, I’m not going to apply all I know about baking to a loaf that I know won’t be as good as it should be simply because of using a mediocre flour – it’s amazing how much of a difference a good flour can make in home baking!

So I took myself down to the local Publix -where shopping is a pleasure- to  see what they might have.  Now, Publix is Florida’s upscale major food market – everyone knows the prices are a little higher, but also know that the quality will be better too – so I fully expected that I’d find a few upscale brands of flour – and I did.  Publix carries King Arthur flours, a superior flour, but at a superior price ($3.89 for 5 lbs).  I bought it, but I wasn’t happy.

A King Arthur Sourdough Loaf Baked in a Dutch Oven

Now, I’ve been spoiled – back home, I get my flour at a restaurant supply store – superior bread flour for about $23 for 50 lbs – good flour/good price!  So I tried the local restaurant supply places here – each one I checked had the same policy – no sales to the general public, only other businesses.  Even Costco struck out, since all their flour offerings were bleached, and I simply won’t use a bleached flour for my baking.  Southern commercial conspiracy!

But Florida also seems to have more “discount” stores than out west – these often serve as outlets for merchandise that’s outdated, damaged, or just old.  Food is often an offering, and although the prices are often super cheap, there’s often a good reason for that fact – so it’s clearly, “Buyer Beware”.  I just happened to pop in to one of these stores in the neighborhood,  mostly because they had a sign out front that said, “Flour – $1.49/10 lbs.”.  As I entered, I encountered a huge stack of 10 lb. bags of Eagle Mills All Purpose Flour with Ultragrain.  Frankly, I had expected a no-name brand, or at best, a name brand with an issue.  But, Eagle Mills is a respected brand -howbeit, a member of the Continental Mills family, one of the minor players in the food conglomerate industry- so I bit and got a bag to try.

Back at the house, I did a quick and dirty web research and discovered that Ultragrain is a current Con Agra project, and is a relatively new (2007) development of a new hard white wheat grain coupled with a new milling process that grinds the whole grain more finely.  Ultragrain is generally not used by itself, but is usually blended with a white flour, as in this case with the Eagle Mills All Purpose Flour.  The result is a flour which looks much like a white flour but which retains all the qualities and nutrition of a whole wheat.  Because of the finer texture, it does not suffer the gluten degradation to the extent that regular whole wheat does, and therefore proofs much like a regular all purpose flour.  Additionally, although it looks and acts much as a ordinary all purpose flour, its protein and fiber counts are higher than regular white flour, making it a worthy replacement for AP for many baking purposes.  It apparently has received a warm welcome in the baking community, and its commercial applications are increasing rapidly.

I haven’t used this flour for any baking yet, but I sure will very soon – and I’ll certainly be back here with the results when I do.  But, of course, the jury is still out on just why this respected product is showing up in a food “after-market”.  I do a lot of shopping in these places and I know that there’s always a reason why a product is there.  Sometimes it’s just junk and cheap – lots of folks have a taste for this stuff, but I give it a pass.  Sometimes quality brands show up because they are outdated, have been damaged in some way, or have been discontinued – and rather than just trash them, the manufacturer chooses to unload them in the food aftermarket, where it’s unlikely his regular customers will notice.  It is at this level that I often find the best offerings, and the shopper needs to be alert to the manufacturer’s motivations – if the manufacturer is protecting the good name of a high quality product, he may choose to pull it from the shelves early, and unload it to the discounters, while it still has a reasonable shelf life.  It’s my hope that’s what’s happening here.  The “sell by” date on my Eagle Mills Ultragrain flour is July, ’10, which for a whole grain flour is reasonable and would indicate that the manufacturer is being ultra-cautious, or perhaps this product is about to be discontinued.

I’ll know a lot more after I bake with it – I’ll let you know.

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About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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5 Responses to A Noble Quest – Good Bread Flour @ a Good Price, in the South

  1. Mimi says:

    Nice looking loaf!

    If you determine there is nothing fishy about the flour, you should go back and grab a couple more bags. It could just be a bargain.

    I understand your hesitation. My Dad took me to Big Lots and all of the food was expired. It made me very cautious about eating what was in their kitchen…my Dad isn’t always observant and he loves a bargain!

  2. JanH says:

    There is a discussion of the Ultragrain flour over on Peter Reinhart’s recipe testing site along with some testing results from some of the bakers.
    http://breadtechnique.com/Forum/index.php?topic=275.0

    As for the KAF price, my local grocery store (Milwaukee area) sells it at $6.19 for a 5 lb. bag!! The Woodman’s store, about 45 minutes away, sells it at $3.78 for the same flour. I make that pilgrimage periodically and bring home 40-50 lbs.

  3. drfugawe says:

    Mimi,
    If my loaves this week bake up well, I think for sure I’ll be taking some of this flour home with me. We’ll see.

    Jan,
    Thanks for the link – good info. This is a fun flour, while we bakers discover all about it.

    I totally agree about KAF – I’d just love to find something as good that wasn’t as expensive. Back home in Oregon, I use Pendleton Mills Power flour (50 lbs/$23) – a damn good flour.

  4. Cari Sanchez says:

    John,
    BEAUTIFUL loaf of sourdough! One question – what are your thoughts on the water here in Florida? Without thinking, I’ve been using Jax tap water for breads and pizza doughs and lamenting the horrible results. The other day I was like, DUH, the water is a major factor! So, do you have a water filter or use bottled water? Or have you found success with tap water? Cari

  5. drfugawe says:

    Cari,
    Thanks for stopping by – back home in Oregon, I use filtered water – never tap. Here I didn’t even think about the water – used Jax tap water for that loaf. It came out well, but next loaf I’ll use bottled water and we’ll see what happens.

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