Whole Grains 101
When I was introduced to the concept of whole foods cooking, the first, most life-impacting change I made was to eliminate white flour from our diets.
It’s not just conservative moms who are touting the health benefits of whole grains; an online search for the nutritional benefits of whole grains yields government and medical study after study heralding reduced risks for cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, gum disease, obesity, mental illness, and more, attributed to the fiber and intact nutrients (particularly the B vitamins) in whole grains.
Whole wheat contains 40 of the 44 known nutrients. God designed a wheat kernel (or any whole grain) to be the perfect long-term storage container for the nutrients, as long as the outer covering, or hull, remains intact.
Once the hull is broken in the milling process, flour loses approximately 90% of its nutritional value within 72 hours of milling, and the wheat germ exposed to oxygen during the milling process becomes rancid without immediate refrigeration/freezing after being milled.
A little history: For thousands of years, flour was milled fresh daily for baking (sort of like manna – collect only what you can use in a day). At the turn of the last century, millers discovered that they could mechanically separate the germ, germ oil, and bran from the white endosperm to produce white flour with a longer shelf life than the whole grain flour they had been milling.
It wasn’t long before nervous system disorders such as beriberi and pellagra – caused by vitamin B deficiencies – drastically increased, so health officials, tracing the epidemic to the new white flour, appealed to the mills to return to whole wheat products. However, not only had the millers found white flour to be a profitable endeavor, they had a new, lucrative market in the animal feed industry for all the by-products.
They compromised by agreeing to replace four of the 25-30 vitamins and minerals they had removed – those most beneficial in reducing the illnesses. In short, in the refining process for white flour (and other refined grains, such as white rice), nearly all of the vitamins and minerals are removed, then four to six are replaced to “enrich” the end product. [If I took more than $25 from you and then I gave you $6 back, would you feel “enriched”?]
According to Rachel Ramey of Naturally, Holistically Healthy, besides the obvious loss of the remaining nutrients (which are not replaced), there is in most refined grain products an imbalance of nutrients because the vitamins with which the product is enriched are added in unnatural ratios; the abnormally high levels of some of these added B vitamins can cause deficiencies of others. Well, that ruled out store-bought bread for me.
Even store-bought whole-wheat flour was not an option for us, since I don’t have any idea how long it’s been out of their mill, but I’m fairly confident it’s longer than 24-72 hours so the nutrients have pretty much oxidized away and the oils are becoming rancid.
The good news: I can make whole-grain bread with fresh, “whole” ingredients and no “stuff I don’t recognize” for right at one dollar per loaf. Comparing this to the store price tag of the least expensive whole-grain bread in our discount grocery, a home mill pays for itself in as little as fifteen weeks, estimating that our family would consume some equivalent of one loaf of bread a day.*
I love having a countertop mill – we mill what we need as we need it. Lest you have visions of us taking turns at the hand crank for hours, grinding the stones to make our daily bread, I will assure you that my electric countertop micronizing mill takes up less space than my mixer, and it’s so simple and convenient that we can mill enough flour in just seconds for a batch of brownies or tortillas, or in a few minutes I can mill enough flour for six loaves of bread.
VARIETY OF GRAINS
Because we mill our own flour quickly, easily, and inexpensively, we can use a wide variety of grains. Some grains found in my pantry include hard and soft white wheat, spelt, kamut, oats, rye, corn, millet, barley, quinoa, flax, brown rice, red wheat, and a seven-grain mix; I buy my grains in economical 25-to-50-lb sacks or pails from our local food co-op.
Hard white wheat, spelt, and kamut are my primary bread grains because they are all high-gluten flours that make successful yeast bread. When adding low-gluten flour to a yeast bread recipe, try to keep the low-gluten flour to no more than one fourth of the flour in the recipe.
Red wheat gives more of the traditional “whole wheat” taste and darker color. Millet is high in B-17, which is thought to be beneficial in the prevention of cancer cell production. Rye should be combined with a higher-gluten grain to make a traditional rye bread. Most of your grains can be combined in appropriate proportions (at least three-fourths high-gluten grains) to make a multi-grain mixture for breads, rolls, tortillas, muffins, and more.
Soft white wheat is our main non-yeast-baked-goods flour, but we can add virtually any other grain we would like if we aren’t making yeast bread. We like to add some barley flour to the wheat when making cakes, muffins, etc. – this is closer to a “cake flour” and gives a lighter texture. When using soft white wheat or spelt, use more flour or less liquid than usual.
If I could buy only one grain, it would be hard white wheat, since it is quite multi-purpose and can replace soft wheat in my other recipes, including pancakes, cookies, muffins, and more. Hard white wheat gives me a loaf of bread that is actually lighter in color than most brands of store-bought “whole wheat” breads. With its mild color and flavor and light texture, hard white wheat (such as Prairie Gold from Wheat Montana) yields a soft, fluffy loaf of bread that most children will eat – and you can even serve peanut butter and jelly on it!. Here’s our family’s favorite basic recipe. (The recipe is also found in my cookbook, Everyday Cooking, where you’ll find several variations using that same dough, as well as other whole grain recipes.)
DON’T HAVE A MILL YET?
Don’t have a mill yet? Other whole grain pantry items include brown rice, rolled oats, whole grain pastas and couscous, whole grain tortillas and bread products (look for stoneground whole wheat or 100% whole grain at the top of the ingredients list). Although many of the nutrients may be stripped from the processed items, you will have the benefits of the fiber.
Also, many of the whole grains listed in the article can be added to a soup that cooks an hour or longer, or cooked and eaten as a side dish, cereal, or in salads. Sue Gregg has several blender batter recipes using whole grains (www.suegregg.com).
WANT TO BUY A MILL?
I’m happy to help! Our store doesn’t have the mixers and mills moved over yet, but we do offer the WonderMill micronizing mill ($239.95) and the KoMo Classic stone mill in beech or walnut ($499).
For further study:
- http://www.breadbeckers.com/enrichment.htm (Sue Becker has a degree in food science and worked in the industry in food biochemistry.) You’ll find the numbers/percentages listed in her article.
- http://eap.mcgill.ca/Publications/EAP35.htm – extensive studies. Although it doesn’t list the 90%/72 hr part, it does stress that ground whole-grain flour can go “bad” within 2-14 days. I would love to have included the whole article here and highlighted parts. I think you’ll find this article interesting.
- http://www.soilandhealth.org/02/0203CAT/royal.lee.lets.live.articles.htm -Scroll down to “An Honest Loaf” – not specific times but stresses using it the same day.
- www.grainsoftruth.com Donna Spann (“The Bread Lady”) is author of Grains of Truth, a primer on whole grains for those of us who are clueless. Donna’s bread was my introduction to yummy whole grain baking and freshly milled flour
Many other articles make reference to the loss of nutrients due to oxygen exposure, although they don’t specify a time period. Dr. Rex Russell also makes reference (in his book, What the Bible Says about Healthy Eating) to the loss of quality of stored flours, mainly referring to the rancidity of the wheat germ.
Hopefully this will give you a springboard into further study.
*A loaf of whole grain retail-type (not bakery) bread at our Wal-Mart is $3.18 before tax (at this writing). Calculating the cost using the least expensive mill our business sells, the WonderMill pays for itself in 110 days, or about 15 weeks, or less than four months.
Copyright 2007-2019 by Vicki Bentley