Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Japanese flour tests – Kitanokaori blend, Hokkaido bread flour

After my lovely experience in the UK trying out bread flour from Shipton Mill that was made with British-grown wheat I was excited to get back to Tokyo and try out some domestic Japanese flours.

Poppy seed sourdough made with Japanese flour

According to this grain industry article, almost 90% of Japan's wheat is imported. Most of the flour sold by Japanese brands in supermarkets here is milled from wheat imported via The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) mainly from the U.S., Canada and Australia. 41% of the wheat imported is used for making bread and 32% used for noodles.

Most of the wheat grown domestically is from Hokkaido. You know, I've still not made it to Hokkaido after all my time here! When I first arrived in Japan I remember Hokkaido being likened to England, with lots of green grass (Tokyo grass is often more straw-like, sparse and stubbly), rolling hills and cows in fields... I think a trip is in order sometime soon, perhaps I can also find interesting suppliers for butter and so on.

I did a little research into a few of the domestically-grown varieties of wheat and picked a few blends of domestic bread flour to try out. Here is a comparison of the protein and ash content of these flours along with the Shipton Mill white bread flour and the Nissin strong bread flour I've used mainly to-date.

The domestic Japanese flours all have delightful names. My first test was with a kitanokaori blend (which I guess would translate as something like 'fragrance of the North', pertaining to it coming from Hokkaido). The Kitanokaori species was produced by cross-breeding Japanese Horoshiri and Hungarian GK Szemes wheat varieties.

The particular kitanokaori flour I bought is blended with 2 other types of domestically grown wheat (haruyokoi and kitahonami). It has a protein (蛋白質/ tampaku shitsu) content of 11.7% and ash (灰分 / kaibun) content of 0.53% - point B on the graph above. 
You can buy kitanokaori on Amazon JP, as well a number of online stores.

The Verdict -

In working with the flour to make a basic plain sourdough loaf, there was no immediate sensation of “wow this is different!” as I experienced when working with the Shipton Mill flour. Perhaps it was a little stickier/innately damper than the regular supermarket (Canadian/American) flour I’d worked with previously. During kneading it behaved less elastic despite having a similar protein content to other flours I've tried.

During proofing it rose a bit less than I'm used to, but once shaped and baked it had risen comparably well and produced a nice red crust. The crumb was a little greyish which was interesting, perhaps due to the slightly higher mineral component indicated by the higher ash content (Nisshin's bread flour has a 0.37% ash content).

There was however something unusual about the taste - while the crust tasted nutty and lovely, the crumb was slightly 'dusty' tasting. My partner described it as soapy. It was less noticeable with the poppy seed bread than with plain sourdough loaves, as the flavour of the seeds was the dominant note.

I had also made kombu bread with the same starter and my regular flour that day and it didn't have the unusual taste and so think it must be a flavour unique to this flour, an acquired taste perhaps. I still have some flour left, and so I'll try again a few weeks down the line once I've had the chance to sample a few more domestic blends. The investigation continues..!

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