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Flour, And Other Matters Relating To Seeds
Category: Diet and Nutrition
Source: How And When To Be Your Own Doctor
One of the largest degradations to human health was caused by the
roller mill. This apparently profitable machine permitted the miller
to efficiently separate wheat flour into three components: bran,
germ and endosperm. Since bread made without bran and germ is
lighter and appears more "upper class" it became instantly popular.
Flour without germ and bran also had an industrial application--it
could be stored virtually forever without being infested by insects
because white flour does not contain enough nutrition to support
life. Most health conscious people are aware that white flour
products won't support healthful human life either.
Essentially, white flour's effect on humans is another demonstration
of Health = Nutrition / Calories. When the bran and germ are
discarded, remaining are the calories and much of the protein,
lacking are many vitamins and minerals and other vital nutritional
Whole wheat bread has been called the staff of life. In ages past,
healthy cultures have made bread the predominant staple in their
diet. Does that mean you can just go to the bakery and buy whole
grain bread, or go to the healthfood store and buy organically grown
whole wheat flour, bake your own, and be as healthy as the ancients?
Sorry, the answer is almost certainly no. There are pitfalls, many
of them, waiting for the unwary.
White flour has one other advantage over whole wheat flour. It not
only remains free of insect infestation, it doesn't become stale
(meaning rancid). In the wheat germ (where the embryo resides) there
is considerable oil, containing among other things, about the best
natural source of vitamin E. This oil is highly unsaturated and once
the seed is ground the oil goes rancid in a matter of days. Whole
wheat flour kept on the unrefrigerated shelf of the store is almost
certainly rancid. A lot of its other vitamin content has been
oxidized too. If the wheat flour had flowed directly from the
grinder into an airtight sack and from there directly to the
freezer, if it had been flash frozen and kept extremely cold, it
might have a storage life of some months. Of course that was not the
case. Maybe you're lucky and your healthfood store is one of the
very few that has its own small-scale flour mill and grinds daily.
How about your baker's whole wheat bread? Where does the baker get
flour? From the wholesaler's or distributor's warehouse! In fifty
pound kraftpaper sacks! How much time had elapsed from milling to
wholesaler to baker to baking? The answer has to be in the order of
magnitude of weeks. And it might be months. Was the flour stored
frozen? Or airtight? Of course not.
If you want bread made from freshly ground flour you are almost
certainly have to grind and bake it yourself. Is it worth the
trouble? You bet. Once you've tasted real bread you'll instantly see
by comparison what stale, rancid whole wheat flour tastes like.
Freshly ground flour makes bread that can be the staff of life and
can enormously upgrade your health--if the wheat you use is any good.
But before we talk about wheat quality, a more few words of warning.
If you think wheat goes rancid rapidly, rye is even worse. Rye flour
goes bad so fast that when you buy it in the store it usually is the
rye equivalent of white wheat flour. The germ has been removed. The
bag may not say so. But it probably has. If you are going to make
rye breads, even more reason to grind your own. Corn meal from the
grocery store has usually been degerminated too. If it hasn't been,
the oil in the seed's germ has probably gone rancid.
Grinding flour at home is easy these days. There is an abundance of
at-home milling products and no shortage of hype about them. You'll
find staunch advocates of stone mills. These produce the
finest-textured flour, but are costly. The sales pitch is that
stones grind at low temperature and do not damage the oils (remember
the development of rancidity is a function of temperature) or the
vitamins, which are also destroyed at high temperature. This
assertion is half true. If you are going to store your flour it is
far better to grind it cool. However, if you are, as we do, going to
immediately bake your flour, what difference does it make if it gets
a little warm before baking. That only accelerates the action of the
On the negative side, stone mills grind slowly and are very fussy
about which grains they will grind. If the cereal is a bit moist or
if the seed being ground is a little bit oily, the mill becomes
Steel burr mills grind fast and coarsely and are inexpensive. Coarse
flour makes heavy bread. The metal grinding faces tend to wear out
and have to be replaced occasionally--if they can be replaced. Breads
on the heavy side are still delicious; for many years I made bread
with an inexpensive steel burr mill attachment that came with my
Some steel burr mills will also grind oily seed like sesame and
sunflower. However, oily seeds can be ground far more easily
half-a-cup at a time in a little inexpensive electric spice/coffee
mill, the sort with a single fast-spinning propeller.
I currently think the best compromise are hammermills. The grain
dribbles into a chamber full of fast-spinning teeth that literally
pound the grain into powder. Since air flows through with the grain
the flour is not heated very much. This type of mill is small, very
fast, intermediate in price between steel mills and stone mill,
lasts a long time, but when grinding, sounds like a Boeing 747 about
to take off. It is essential to wear hearing protectors when using
Awareness of bread quality is growing. One excellent new U.S.
business, called Great Harvest Bakery is a fast-growing national
franchise chain. They bake and sell only whole grain breads; all
their wheat flour is freshly ground daily on the premises in the
back. Unfortunately, as of the writing of this book, they do not
grind their rye flour but bring it in sacks. I can't recommend their
rye breads. The founder of Great Harvest is a knowledgeable buyer
who fully understands my next topic, which is that wheat is not
There are great differences between hard bread wheats; being
organically grown is no cure all for making good or nutritious
bread. Great Harvest understands this and uses top quality grain
that is also Organic.
When I first stated making my own bread from my own at-home-ground
flour I was puzzled by variations in the dough. Sometimes the bread
rose well and was spongy after baking like I wanted it to be.
Sometimes it kneaded stickily and ended up flat and crumbly like a
cake. Since I had done everything the same way except that I may
have bought my wheat berries from different healthfood stores, I
began to investigate the subject of wheat quality.
The element in the cereal that forms the rubbery sponge in risen
bread so it doesn't crumble and rises high without collapsing, is
gluten. The word glue derives from gluten. The gluten content of
various wheats varies. Bread bakers use "hard wheat" because of its
high gluten content. Gluten is a protein and gluten comprises most
of the protein in bread wheat; the protein content and the gluten
content are almost identical.
Try this. Ask your healthfood store buyer or owner what the protein
content is of the hard red wheat seeds they're selling. You'll
almost certainly get a puzzled look and your answer will almost
certainly be, "we have Organic and conventional." Demand that the
store buyer ask this question of their distributor/wholesaler and
then report back to you. If the distributor deigns to answer, the
answer will be the same--I sell Organic or conventional hard red
wheat. Period. When I got these non-answers I looked further and
discovered that hard bread wheats run from about 12 percent protein
to about 19 percent and this difference has everything to do with
the soil fertility (and to an extent the amount of rainfall during
the season), and almost nothing to do with Organic or conventional.
This difference also has everything to do with how your dough
behaves and how your bread comes out. And how well your bread
nourishes you. Thirteen percent wheat will not make a decent
loaf--fourteen percent is generally considered 2 quality and
comprises the bulk of cheap bread grain. When you hear in the
financial news that a bushel of wheat is selling for a certain
price, they mean 2. Bakers compete for higher protein lots and pay
far higher prices for more protein.
We prefer our bread about 25% rye, but rye contains no gluten at
all. Mix any rye flour into fourteen percent wheat flour and the
dough becomes very heavy, won't rise, and after baking, crumbles. So
I kept looking for better grain and finally discovered a
knowledgeable lady that sold flour mills and who also was a serious
baker herself. She had located a source of quality wheat with an
assayed protein content and sold it by the 50 pound sack. When I
asked her if her wheat was Organic she said it was either sixteen or
seventeen percent protein depending on whether you wanted hard red
spring wheat or hard white spring wheat. Organic or conventional? I
persisted. No, she said. High protein!
So, I said to myself, since protein content is a function of soil
fertility and since my body needs protein, I figured I am better off
eating the best quality wheat, pesticide/herbicide residues (if
there are any) be damned. Think about it! The difference between
seventeen percent and fourteen percent protein is about 25 percent.
That percentage difference is the key threshold of nutritional
deficiency that makes teeth fall out. We can't afford to accept 25%
degradations in our nutritional quality in something that we eat
every day and that forms the very basis of our dietary.
Please understand here that I am not saying that high protein wheats
can't be grown organically. They certainly can. The founder of Great
Harvest Bakery performs a valuable service locating and securing
high-protein lots of organically grown wheats for his outlets. But
often as not Organic products are no more nourishing than those
grown with chemicals. Until the buyers at Organic whole food
wholesalers get better educated about grain, obtaining one's
personal milling stock from them will be a dicey proposition.
Sometimes Organic cereal can be far worse than conventional. To make
a cereal Organic is a negative definition; if it hasn't had
chemicals, then its Organic. Grain is one of the few foods that will
still produce economic yields of low quality seed on extremely
infertile soil or when half-smothered in weeds because herbicides
weren't used for reasons of ideological purity. Vegetables will
hardly produce anything under those conditions; carelessly grown
fruits and vegetables are inevitably small, misshapen, unmarketable.
But seed cleaning equipment can remove the contamination of weed
seeds in cereal grains (at a cost.)
The price the farmer receives for Organic cereal grain is much
higher, so it is possible to accept rather low yields or expend more
money for cleaning out high levels of weed seeds from the field-run
harvest, and still make a good profit. A lousy Organic cereal crop
like this might even make a higher profit because the farmer has
been spared the expense of fertilization, of rotation, of weed
control. I remember once I bought a sack of Organic whole oats that
were the smallest, most shriveled, bitterest oats I've ever tried to
eat. We ended up throwing out that tiny, light (lacking density)
seed in favor of using the "conventional" whole oats that were
plump, heavy and sweet.
Wheat is not the only cereal that is damaged by industrial milling.
So are oats. Most consumers have never seen whole oats; they look
very much like wheat berries. But rolled oats become rancid and
stale on the shelf much like wheat flour on the shelf.
Another pitfall about using whole grains is that to be nutritious
they must still be fresh enough to sprout vigorously. A seed is a
package of food surrounding an embryo. The living embryo is waiting
for the right conditions (temperature and moisture) to begin
sprouting. Sprouting means the embryo begins eating up stored food
and making a plant out of it. All foods are damaged by exposure to
oxygen, so to protect the embryo's food supply, the seed is
surrounded by a virtually airtight seed coat that permits only
enough oxygen to enter for the embryo's respiration (yes, seed
breaths slowly). Often the embryo is located at the edge of the seed
and has its own air intake port. When the seed coat is removed or
damaged, the innards are exposed to air and begin deteriorating
rapidly. In the case of oats, especially rapidly, because oats are
the only grass-based cereal that contains large quantities of
oil--five percent oil, more or less. That's why oats "stick to your
ribs." Rolled oats become stale and lose their flavor (and
nutritional content) and perhaps become rancid very rapidly. So we
make porridge from whole oat groats that we coarsely grind to grits
(steel-cut oats) in an electric seed/spice mill just before cooking.
It is not easy to cook oat grits. They take a lot longer than rolled
oats and if not done exactly to the recipe I'm about to give you,
will almost inevitably stick to the pot badly and may also froth
over and mess the stove. Here's how to cook them. Coarsely grind
(like corn meal) your whole oats until you have one cup of oat
grits. Bring exactly four cups of water (no salt) to a very hard
boil at your highest heat. You may add a handful of raisins. Light
or turn on a second, small-sized burner on the stove and set it as
low as possible. Into the fast boiling water, slowly pour the ground
oats, stirring continuously. Take about 30 seconds to pour it all or
you'll make clumps. Keep on the high heat until the water again
boils vigorously. Suddenly, the mixture will begin rising in the pot
and will try to pour all over the stove. This means it is all at
boiling temperature again. Quickly move the pot to the low burner;
that instantly stops the frothing. Then cover. Let the porridge cook
for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice to prevent sticking. Then,
keeping it covered, turn off the heat. They can be eaten at this
point but I think it is better to let the oats finish soaking on the
stove for at least two to four hours. Then reheat in a double
boiler, or warm in a microwave.
We usually start a pot of oats at bedtime for the next morning. See
why people prefer the convenience of using rolled oats? But once
you've eaten oats made right, you'll never prefer the flavor of
rolled oats again. And if the human body has any natural method of
assaying nutritional content, it is flavor.
Nutritionally, millet is almost the same story as oats. Millet seed
is protected by a very hard hull. Cooking unhulled millet is almost
impossible. After hours of boiling the small round seeds will still
be hard and the hulls remain entirely indigestible. Worse, the
half-round hulls (they split eventually) stick in your teeth. But
prehulled millet, sitting in the sack for weeks and months, loses a
lot of nutrition and tastes very second-rate compared to
freshly-hulled millet. It is possible to buy unhulled millet,
usually by special order from the health food distributor--if you'll
take a whole sack. Millet can be hulled at home in small batches.
Here's how we figured out how to do it. There probably are better
Using a cheap steel-burr flour mill, set the burrs just far enough
apart that the seed is ground to grits, but not flour. This pops the
hulls loose. An old mill with worn-out burrs works great for this
job. Then you have to get some hand seed cleaning screens just large
enough to pass the grits but not pass the hulls (most of them).
Window screen or other hardware cloths won't work. Seed cleaning
screens come in increments of 1/128 inch; we use a 6/64" round
screen. Other batches of millet might work better with a screen one
step larger or smaller. It will take you a little ingenuity to find
hand-held screens. They're used by seed companies and farmers to
clean small batches of seed for inspection and are usually about one
square foot in size with a quality wooden frame. Larger frames made
of the same screening material are used in big seed cleaning
machines. (The hulls could also be winnowed out by repeatedly
pouring the grit/hulls mixture back and forth between two buckets in
a gentle breeze.)
After you've screened out most of the hulls, the rest will rinse
out, floating off as you wash the grain prior to cooking. We never
hull more than enough millet for two or three meals and keep the
uncooked (unwashed) millet in the freezer in an airtight jar. It is
interesting how people will accept poor nutrition and its consequent
sickness as the price of convenience.
If you eat much buckwheat you should also figure out how to hull
(sometimes called groating) it yourself. Someone should write a
thorough book on the home milling of cereals. And perhaps sell the
equipment by mail. Probably would be a good little homestead
Something else you need to keep in mind about seed. Even though the
embryo's food supply is protected by the seed coat, it still slowly
deteriorates, steadily oxidizing and losing nutritional value.
Eventually old seed looses the ability to sprout. The decline in
germination ability matches a decline in nutritional quality. Any
seed you are going to use for eating should possess the ability to
sprout, strongly and rapidly. (After you've comparatively sprouted a
few grain samples, you'll know what I mean by this.) Fortunately,
cereal grains usually sprout well for quite a few years after
harvest if they have been stored cool and dry. Eating dead or
near-dead seeds will help move you closer to the same condition
Finally, one more warning about buying store bread. Salt-free bread
tastes "funny" to most people. It bakes fine, salt is not necessary
to the leavening process, but no bakery could stay in business
without salting their bread. The standard level of salt is two
percent by weight. That is quite a lot! Two percent equals one
teaspoonful per pound. I'll have more to say about the evils of salt
I imagine some of my readers are feeling a little overwhelmed by all
these warnings and "bewares ofs," and intricacies. They are used to
taking no responsibility for securing their own food supply quality
and have come to expect the "system" to protect them. I believe it
is not because of lack of government intervention, but because of
government intervention itself, our food system is very perverse.
Until our mass consciousness changes, if you wish to make yourself
and your family truly healthy, you are going to have to take charge
and become quite a discriminating shopper. Unconscious consumers are
on a rapid road to the total unconsciousness of death.
And again, let me remind you here that this one small book cannot
contain everything you should know. The bibliography at the end of
should become your guide to earning your post-graduate education in
Next: Freshness Of Fruits And Vegetables
Previous: The Development Of Allergies