Thursday, April 11, 2013

Japanese bread flour tests - koumugi, haruyutaka and someiyoshino

I finally got around to testing out the remaining Japanese white bread flours I’d ordered. After the initial surprisingly different taste of the kita no kaori flour blend that I tested a little while ago, I wanted to make a few loaves at the same time using exactly the same method and starter, to compare them side-by-side like a wine tasting.

My flight of sourdough boules for taste-testing

This necessitated the purchase of a few more large bowls and I was pleased to find the large 100 yen shop in Harajuku had bowls big enough to do the trick. Sourdough starter can react with metals (that link is a good read right there), and so go for plastic or glass bowls when you can, and if your jam/mason jars have metal lids, sneak a layer of clingfilm between the lid and the jar when you loosely (to let the gasses escape) affix your lids to avoid rust in your lid and off-notes in your starter.

The flours I tested were as follows:
  • A 日清製粉カメリヤ / Nisshin strong flour, camelia. (My control, the regular flour I've most frequently used to date, made from North American wheat)
  • B キタノカオリ / Kitanokaori blend is the one I tried out earlier (from Hokkaido, name meaning 'fragrance of the North').
  • C ハルユタカ / Haruyutaka (from Hokkaido. The name is usually written in katakana, but assuming that 'haru' and 'yutaka' have their usual meanings, this would translate as something like ‘spring abundance’ maybe?).
  • D 香麦 / Koumugi (from Hokkaido. The name sounds a little like the Japanese for wheat 小麦 / komugi, but with an extended ‘kou’ sound. It’s the same ‘kou’ kanji character as is used in perfume 香水 / kousui and so the name sounds like it means ‘fragrant wheat’).
  • E ソメイヨシノ / Someiyoshino (from Kyushu, the name is a type of cherry blossom).
  • F Shipton Mill No. 1 organic white bread flour (UK wheat, which I tested previously.)
– I told you they had great names. ;) There is another I haven't tried yet called 春よ恋 / Haruyokoi which is also from Hokkaido, and the name appears to be a play on words. It sounds like the name of a drama, a song and manga 春よ来い / haru yo koi which means ‘longing for spring’ or ‘come on, spring!’ but has instead the 'koi' kanji for love and so means something more like ‘spring passion’.

On with the tests! Based on the protein and ash content I might have expected the kitanokaori blend to behave similarly to the Shipton Mill flour I liked so much when I tried it in the UK. There was certainly a big difference in taste between the two however. In terms of other notable points, the someiyoshino flour was the highest protein of all those I've been testing, at 13.9% and Haruyutaka the lowest at 11.3%. The Shipton Mill flour had the highest mineral content and Nisshin camelia was the most refined white flour with the lowest ash content of all.

My starter was a little more lethargic than usual for these tests, with me not perhaps giving it enough warming and culture-proofing before I used it but with enough time it leavened the dough enough to produce some reasonable half-sized loaves.

For the method I split a regular 700g-ish basic sourdough loaf recipe in half and made 4 test boules using the same amount of starter, water and salt. I mixed in 200g of flour to start with and reserved 45g back to add during kneading depending if it needed it. Of all the doughs the control (Nissin) was the wettest and it took the whole 45g of additional flour. Koumugi was the driest flour to-touch and stiffest dough and so I only ended up using an additional 8g more. This dough was springy during kneading, but tore quite easily compared to the others which were more stretchy.

During their overnight proof the Nissin control flour dough and haruyutaka had spread out the most in their bowls, and koumugi remained the highest.

Tall koumugi is 2nd from the back

This remained the case after shaping final proof and baking - Haruyutaka was the flattest, most spread-out loaf and koumugi the tallest. Haruyutaka also had a noticeably more pliable crust than the other breads.

Koumugi crust

Someiyoshino crust

Other remarkable differences were that koumugi had a strangely flaky crust, in that some of the bubbles in the crust of the dough had shattered, something I hadn't seen before (1st photo above). Someiyoshino, the highest protein flour had unusual gelatinous starchy markings in the slashes on the crust (2nd photo above). The Nissin control loaf had the tightest crumb and mainly small bubbles with just a couple of larger ones, though this could be a feature of me having to shape it a few more times than the others, it being quite a slack dough. (Photos below, left to right are Nissin control, Haruyutaka, koumugi and someiyoshino. Same order also in the photo set below.)

Someiyoshino was the most remarkably different-tasting bread of the batch, it had a slight grassy taste and a slightly soapy mouth-feel on the finish. Still, it was a little more subtle tasting than the kita no kaori flour I tried out a few weeks ago and wasn't unpleasant.

Haruyutaka produced the palest loaf in this batch and was the closest in taste and texture to the control Nissin loaf. The crumb was the holey-est (holiest?) crumb with a few more bubbles on the large-side. None of the loaves were remarkably artisan-level holey, but that's fine with me as I get to keep more of the topping on my slice..

Koumugi was my favourite of the Japanese flours tested to date. The crumb was stretchy and springy, the loaf had risen the highest of the lot and there were no off-notes to disturb the enjoyment of the slight sourdough tang. The crumb was quite evenly bubbly with medium-sized holes.

I'd like to try out a few different recipes with these flours, see what they are like with different toppings or how they perform as flatbreads. I haven't yet had quite the same kind of epiphany I had with Shipton Mill flours, but they have made nice sourdoughs and I'll give it a few more tries!

Comparing the holes in the crumb


  1. That was interesting. Thanks!

  2. You can get French and some Italian bread flours from this site:

    I love the different tests you have done. I am just a beginner with bread making, but I love it.