Bread Revolution: Flour

More Bread Revolution and Guide to Flour.

One of the biggest challenges–and triumphs– for me during these 2.5 years living in Japan has been creating bread products I could easily purchase back in the US: pitas, tortillas, flatbread, pizza dough. I experimented (usually disastrously) with a few things in year 1, namely pizza dough, which was passable but not fantastic, and tea bread, which refused to cook through no matter how I reduced the recipe or what device in which I baked it.

Flour tortillas for a cooking lesson

My first success was whole-wheat soda bread. Pizza dough took two years and five different recipes. Tortillas and pitas, which I was stupidly convinced couldn’t be made at home until Cheruko of Hokuriku Expat Kitchen decided they could, turned out to be incredibly simple. I, like many Americans, thought bread-making was some sort of epic process, a choice between hours of kneading and rising and punching dough or investing in a breadmaker that would take up precious storage space. It’s really not that bad. I’ll speak more on this later with each recipe’s time-commitment information, but I full work-time, work out, have an active social life and hobbies, and I still have time for bread-making. The rising time, depending on the recipe, is often ideal for cooking the rest of a meal, enjoying a TV show or book, or even an evening trip to the gym for the longer risers.

Cinnamon-raisin bagels

So, now that you’re less worried about OMG BREAD, let’s get started on building your expat bread factory.  First, we need to have a chat about types of flour. If you’ve never baked in Japan, you might be surprised to know that flours that are not all-purpose flour. All-purpose flour is what we Americans use in damn near everything (unless you are a pastry shop or gluten-intolerant)–and isn’t as easily found in Japan as cake or bread flour. The contents of this article have been cross-posted to resources.

As a former resident of more rural parts, I can tell you that locating flour can be super hit or miss depending on how far out in the sticks you are. I was lucky to have a big supermarket in town that had a variety of baking items, but if they ran out of whole-wheat flour that week/month, I was out of luck. Kanazawa has no shortage of flours, those I do have to get some of mine from the import/gourmet store.

Flour: komugiko (小麦粉)
Komugiko is a general term for wheat flour–not whole-wheat flour, but flour made of wheat rather than soba, rice, etc.

Cake flour: hakurikiko (薄力粉)
8-10% gluten. This is the easiest kind of wheat flour to find in Japan. Your average grocery store will have at least 2-3 brands of this. Cake flour has lower gluten content and lower viscosity, so it’s softer and fluffier. Japanese recipes for cakes and cookies tend to call for this. The kanji mean “weak-strength flour.”

Bread flour: kyôrikiko (強力粉)
12-14% gluten content. This is the second-easiest type of wheat flour to find. Bread flour has higher gluten content and viscosity, yields a denser product, and weighs more by volume than cake or AP flour. This is the flour I use (usually mixed with whole-wheat flour) in pita, bagels, and pizza dough because the gluten in it works very well with yeast. Bread flour tends to be slightly more expensive than cake flour in my experience. Lit. “strong-strength flour.”

All-Purpose Flour: chûrikiko (中力粉)
8-11% gluten content. AP flour is basically a mix of bread- and cake flours to create something with a medium level of gluten and viscosity–hence the name “medium-strength flour.” This flour can be harder to find than cake- or bread flours, but large grocery stores should stock it. Sometimes just referred to as “flour” (komugiko, 小麦粉)–ALWAYS check the label on the bag. There are a couple ambiguous flours that are usually cake flour.

Pastry Flour: okashiyô no komugiko (お菓子の小麦粉)
A type of  soft flour with low gluten and high starch content to yield a more tender product than flours with higher gluten content. Similar to cake flour.

Whole-Wheat Flour: zenryûhun (全粒分)
Whole-wheat flour weighs more by volume than regular wheat flours. If you would like to substitute regular flour with whole wheat to get more whole grains/fiber, try substituting half the total volume with whole-wheat.

Whole-Wheat Pastry Flour: okashiyô zenryûhun (お菓子用全粒粉)
A softer whole-wheat flour with lower gluten content (10%) and made with whole grains.

Whole-Wheat Bread Flour: panyô zenryûhun (パン用全粒粉)
A whole-wheat flour with higher gluten content (13%) and made with whole grains. This is what I use in my whole-wheat breads.

Note: because I often substitute half the flour with whole-wheat flour in my baked goods, I try to balance the combination to get a good texture. Whole-wheat bread flour is cheaper than whole-wheat pastry flour in my area, so I tend to buy that, but when I lived in the country, I only had access to whole-wheat pastry flour. In my personal experience, whole-wheat bread flour mixed with cake flour for muffins or mixed with bread flour for bagels and pizza dough has yielded good results. I haven’t had good luck with whole-wheat bread flour mixed in with cakes or cookies, though.

Graham Flour: gurahamuko (グラハム粉)
A type of whole-wheat flour, graham flour is a mixture of finely ground endosperm and closely ground bran and germ. This type of flour has a very short shelf-life and needs to be refrigerated or stored in the freezer.You can usually substitute graham and whole-wheat flour 1:1 but graham flour is coarser. Named for Dr. Sylvester Graham, who invented and popularized the flour and Graham crackers during the 1820-30s health boom. Not to be confused with gram flour, which is made of chickpeas.

Rye Flour: rai mugiko (ライ麦粉)
Rye flour is made from the berries of rye grass. It contains wheat gluten but is lower in gluten than wheat flours.

Soba (Buckwheat) Flour: sobako (そば粉)
Gluten free. Used to make soba noodles and oyaki, soba flour is made from ground buckwheat.

Rice Flour: komeko (米粉)
Gluten free. The texture of the flour is very fine and powdery. Used in some Japanese baked goods. Fairly easy to find at the grocery store.

Glutinous Rice Flour: mochiko (もち粉)
Gluten free. This flour, used to make mochi, dango and other Japanese sweets, has  high starch content and  a fine, powdery texture that turns sticky and glutinous when mixed with liquids. Fairly easy to find at the supermarket.

Corn Meal (コーンミール) & Corn Grits (コーングリッツ)
Gluten free. A flour made of corn. Corn meal and corn grits (coarse corn meal) are both sold in Japan; corn meal has a finer texture than corn grits.

Buying Flour
In my experience, the following types of stores tend to have the following types of flours. This list is Ishikawa-specific and not comprehensive but should give you an idea.
Local rice seller (Kanazawa Fûdo in Omicho Market, your local JA): rice flour, mochi flour
Local grocery store (Dontaku, Marue): cake flour, bread flour
Large supermarket (Marue, Apita, AL Plaza, Aeon): cake flour, bread flour, AP flour, whole-wheat pastry flour (in baking section), rice flour, soba flour, mochi flour
Import store or gourmet grocery store (100-Ban Mart in Kanazawa Station, Kaji Mart in M-ZA, Kaldi Coffee, Yamaya, Diamond in Omicho Market, Noppo-kun): whole-wheat flours, corn meal, corn grits, rye flour, graham flour; organic flours.

If you can’t find the kind of flour you want in your area, you can purchase flour online at Foreign Buyer’s Club (whole wheat, organic; website in English or Japanese); Tomizawa (any kind of flour imaginable; site in Japanese); or Paudo (パウド) (a large selection of brands and types of flour in bulk; site in Japanese). Update: Tengu Natural Foods sells organic flours and other Alishan-brand foodstuffs online in English; Natural House sells organic goods has an online shop (Japanese) and brick-and-mortar stores in the greater Tokyo area.

Major Brands

  • Nisshin (日清): national brand of wheat flours found in most grocery stores. Makes cake flour, bread flour, AP flour, and pastry flour.
  • Awajiya/Homemade Cake (アワジヤ・ホームメードケーキ): This manufacturer specializes in ingredients for baking–flours, flavorings & liqueurs, nuts, yeast, baking soda, etc. Sold in most grocery stores; has an online shop.
  • My Kitchen/Watashi no Daidokoro (MY KITCHEN/私の台所): This manufacturer specializes in ingredients for baking–flours, decorations, dried fruits, chocolate products, spices, flavorings, food colors. Found in most grocery stores.
  • Tomizawa (TOMIZAWA/富沢): A food manufacturing company that makes a wide variety of flours and baking supplies. Their flours are sold in many major department stores and import/gourmet grocery stores as well as in their online shop.
  • Alishan: organic ingredients and meals. Available in most import/gourmet stores as well as organic food sellers. Sold at the online shop Tengu Natural Foods in English or Japanese.

The Joy of Baking has a handy chart of flour substitutions in metrics and imperial measurements.

The Cook’s Thesaurus: Substitutions for wheat flours and non-wheat flours

All Recipes: All About Flour

Wikipedia entries on 小麦粉; Flour

The Fresh Loaf: Handbook: Basic Flour

Have any suggestions for finding flour in Japan? Leave me a comment!


9 Comments Add yours

  1. I too discovered the pleasure of baking bread during my past three years as an expat…in America! I wanted to replicate the breads I used to eat in Europe, and I either couldn’t find it (it is the case of a good focaccia bread) or they costed an arm and a leg. And it turns out you CAN bake bread rather easily and succesfully.

    The flour issue is a mess even for an Italian like me living in America. In Italy we have a different classification method than in the US. I find the US method more intuitive.

    1. Leah says:

      Thanks for commenting! It’s always great to hear your insights on American goods ^^

      I personally wish I had known more about flours in the US. I baked mostly from Joy of Cooking then, which is nearly all AP flour. Do you see a lot of variation in the prices? In Japan, cake flour is cheaper by 40-100 yen (less than $1) than AP or bread flours per kilo. I also never cooked with whole-wheat flour in the US! I will have a lot of catching up to do there eventually….

  2. ashleyjapan says:

    Great detailed post. I was planning to write something along these lines covering flours (and various other things) for baking in my own experimentations the past few years. (Regarding the bread flour thing, I’ve made some cookies with recipes that call for bread flour and they turn out really well, but yeah, otherwise, like you said, doesn’t work as well).

    As for where to get some of the flours though, I would also recommend Tengu Natural Foods and Natural House (specifically whole wheat/organic flours, but they have a bunch of options). They’re both online shops, although Natural House also has stores around Japan, not sure about Ishikawa though, and prices are reasonable (they’re where I order our flour, aside from some of the specialty flours at the local supermarket). I’ll have to check out some of those other sites – thanks for the tip.

    1. Leah says:

      Thanks for the comment and the tips! I will add those sites/stores to the list. I find that subbing AP for cake or bread usually is okay if you add/subtract by volume/weight to correct the substitution, but cake and bread flours for each other doesn’t usually work for me. Unless, of course, the original recipe calls for one! Cookies with bread flour could be an interesting experiment texture-wise. ^^

  3. Super helpful! False alarm, though, since it IS just my moven. My 1/2 bread flour 1/2 cake flour brownies turned into a chocolate cake. Again.

    1. Leah says:

      Oh, no! First, I’d say a 40% bread & 60% cake flour (maybe 30:70, that’s what I did for Stollen one year) would work better. May I ask what brownie recipe or mix you’re using? My old moven had trouble cooking things through, and it could definitely be the heating element. I’ve had really good luck with the brownie recipe (Brownie Hero) I posted here with both movens. Hope this helps <3

  4. Peggy says:

    Thank you so much for this guide! I’m not much of a baker, but sometimes like to experiment. I just realized why my little experiments have been failing so miserably…I’ve been using the wrong flour! Thanks again!

  5. Kirstin says:

    Thank you for this guide, especially for including the kanji! I was struggling with a translation of a recipe written in Japanese, I knew it was a type of flour but…Comments bring back memories of living in Japan, nice! Thanks.

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