Rob Ostrander, director of technical solutions, Ardent Mills, explains that while protein content is one measure for flour, “we prefer to emphasize flour performance in the specific application and process conditions, which are more important.”

Are you looking to make a cake? Then lower protein or gluten is a must. Looking to make a pizza crust? Then protein becomes a bigger conversation.

Typically, retail bakers create their mixes to meet a specific, similar dough consistency, leaning on how the dough feels at the mixer. As bakers make their batches, they often make an adjustment in water level, based on their experience and desired product attributes they’re looking to achieve, Ostrander said.

“There are seemingly endless types of flours, and blends of flours, that can be custom created to meet a baker’s end goal.”

Josh Reasoner, milling technical service manager, ADM, points out that growing consumer demand for sustainable goods is spurring an uptick in carbon labeling, which indicates third-party certification of a brand’s commitment and environmental claims.

In fact, a reported 36% of global consumers are actively trying to cut their carbon emissions₁. Plus, 69% of consumers say the Certified Carbon Neutral label makes them more likely to purchase a product.

ADM’s US flour milling operations recently achieved net carbon neutral status – an industry first of its kind and scale. This is also the first step toward launching carbon neutral flour. Research indicates 73% of global consumers say they feel more positively about companies that are transparent about where and how products were made, raised or grown₃. With more responsible and sustainable practices, bakeries are better positioned to attract and retain consumers.

In general, there are a number of factors to consider for retailers when choosing the best bread flour for your desired applications.

“Many types of flour can be used for bread, so it’s important to match the protein content with the desired style, whether that’s white sandwich bread or a hearty artisan loaf,” Reasoner said. “More protein supports a dense and chewy bread, and if the protein content is too low, it can affect the volume of the bake and whether inclusions like honey and seeds will be carried.”

Several ancient grains are appropriate for bread flour, he says. Barley works well as a wheat flour substitute because it contains the right level of gluten to produce a good rise. Spelt is a popular alternative, as it has a similar genetic structure to wheat with a sweet, nutty flavor, a chewy texture, and it’s easier to mill than some other ancient grains. Another great grain for breads is sorghum.

“Our HarvestEdge sorghum flour has neutral flavor and is sustainable, drought resistant and milled in a certified gluten-free facility,” Reasoner said.

Protein levels to consider

Bread flour encompasses both classes of wheat (Spring and Winter) and many levels of the protein scale- from 10.3 to 14.5 protein level. 

“One of the most asked questions we receive is how much water will a particular flour absorb. The answer is usually a moving target depending on what product they are making,” said Tom Santos, who is a field sales rep at General Mills Foodservice and part of an esteemed team of dedicated flour experts known as the Doughminators.

“But one factor is always the same – the quality of the flour is vital. Without a consistent high-quality flour, the water absorption can vary which can lead to adjustments in formula.”

Protein content is important and varies by products produced. Again, because of the widespread damage to the Spring Wheat crop and subsequent higher pricing, a uniform protein level is very important. However, unvarying protein level across all grades of Winter and Spring wheat is the key to producing an identical product for the baker day in and day out, he explains.

“Customers are very loyal to brands they built their business with. Customers develop a long-term connection with brands they trust,” Santos said.