Sunday, March 3, 2013

Japanese Flour Isn't All-Purpose!

I haven't done all that much baking since we got here, but every time I have have, it's seemed like something was just slightly off (except for a couple disasters that were terribly off).  Everyone else told me that everything was great - but I was feeling like I was losing my touch (or maybe my mind).  About a month ago I finally quit using pancake mix and made some pancakes from scratch, and the exact some thing was wrong with them - they were just a little too floppy and squishy - and even though he said they tasted great John could tell the texture was different from when I had made these pancakes before.  This got me thinking that maybe the problem wasn't elevation or Celsius conversions or that the ovens here are smaller - maybe it was the flour.

And as soon as I considered this, it seemed like the most obvious thing ever.  What was I doing assuming that the flour here was exactly what I was used to?  I did a little internet research and found this blog post which is incredibly helpful, spelling out what all the different kinds of flour in Japan are, and listing the kanji for them!  From this I was able to determine that the flour that is most readily available - and that I had been using - is actually cake flour!

The literal translation is "Weak Flour"
This means that the gluten content is lower than all-purpose flour, and that it creates a much more delicate crumb, which might be great in a cake, but would be terrible in a pie crust.  And even though some of the things I was making were cakes, my recipes were calibrated for all-purpose flour.

This is "Strong Flour"
Armed with the knowledge I had gained online, as well as my ability to understand pictures, I found this bread flour in a fancy grocery store.  Bread flour has a higher gluten content, which creates a chewier texture - think bread or cinnamon rolls, but would make an awful muffin.  All purpose flour has a gluten content right in the middle of cake and bread flour, so I got fancy and mixed my own "all-purpose " flour with a roughly 50-50 ratio.  Edit:  Having experimented some more, I find that I prefer 2/3 strong flour + 1/3 weak flour. But when I'm feeling lazy I just use the strong flour and it's usually fine.

Yes, I brought a flour sifter to Tokyo
If you're not as crazy as me, or you can't find bread flour, I've read that you can substitute 1 c. + 2 T. of cake/weak flour to approximate 1 c. all-purpose flour.  Just for the record my flour mixture made great pancakes this morning!


  1. I just came across your blog while searching Japanese type of flour. I am Japanese and living in the USA. I love cooking and baking, and I've been frustrated about flour here. I really wanna get weak flour but I can't. (I don't live in the big city like NY or LA, so there are no Japanese store around my area.)
    I tried cake flour but it still didn't make me happy. BTW, You may already know though. We have middle flour/中力粉 in Japan. This is actually categorized as same as All-purpose flour. We use this middle flour to make Udon noodle.
    Just get middle flour/Churiki-ko at the store!! Hope your baking life is gonna be more fun.

    1. Wow! I didn't know about chukiri-ko. I guess I haven't looked closely enough in the grocery store, but I'll definitely get some now. Thank you!

      I'm sorry that you haven't been able to find the right kind of flour either, it can be really frustrating to not be able to find things that are so common at home, even when they're just small things. If you didn't like cake flour you might try pastry flour, it's supposed to be weaker than all-purpose, but not as weak as cake flour. Also, if it's available where you live, you could try White Lily brand all-purpose flour. People in the south like it for making biscuits because it is weaker than normal all-purpose flour, so it makes very soft fluffy biscuits. It's very easy to find in the south, but I am not sure about other regions of the country. I hope that one of those might work for you! Good luck!

  2. look for cake flour

  3. Having a hard time finding this strong flour. Where in Southern California or online (preferably English website as they're all in Japanse) can I buy the strong flour? TIA

    1. What do you want to use the flour for? I suspect that regular bread flour might work. This hard flour might also be similar to what you want:

      If there is an asian market near you, you could check there as well. This is the kind I use:

      As a last resort you could try Amazon Global. Search for kyourikiko or 強力粉.

      Hope that helps!

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  5. Hi , I need to bake Japanese Strawberry SHortcake. I used the normal Cake Flour but the cake seems dense. I was advised to use Japanese ultra fine flour. But not sure about the brand. Can you suggest?