I’m more and more enamored with returning to the basics of food for the nourishment of my family. Growing my own produce (to the extent I can), grinding my own wheat, seasoning meals with my own fresh herbs, etc.
Why? Isn’t it more work? Sometimes.
But I’ve found that doing things little by little, gradually making swaps from processed foods to raw/whole form foods is really not difficult. It’s quite simple, rewarding and fun! And doing it gradually is easier on our taste buds which have been groomed to love processed foods – especially if that’s what we’ve eaten our whole lives.
Just about all foods have something nutritionally to offer, as long as they’re eaten in moderation and in their most basic, whole form. Bread isn’t bad! We just have a serious problem where high nutrient foods have become low-nutrient foods because of over-processing, which is often done to unnaturally prolong shelf life.
Grinding wheat has just been one of the first few steps toward eating real, “whole foods” for us.
So let’s talk about why!
TYPES OF WHEAT KERNELS
All of the flour that we eat in foods starts out essentially the same. Flour is made from ground red or white wheat berries, which look like the image below. If you start grinding your own wheat you’ll find that there are 4 main types – hard white wheat, hard red wheat, soft white wheat and soft red wheat. Hard white and red wheats are used for regular sandwich bread, bagels, baguettes, etc. Hard white wheat is considered to have a gentler taste, and hard red a richer, more “wheaty” taste. The nutritional benefit is essentially the same, though, whichever you use.
Soft red and white wheat is most often used for cakes, pastries, and the like because they have a lower protein content, which results in less gluten, or – to use bread terms – less “structure”. The lower amount of gluten makes it perfect for cakes and pastries, which do not need to have the firmer structure and rise that a bread loaf should have.
WHAT’S THE PROCESS?
When wheat is processed in most large processing plants, the wheat berry is separated into 3 parts – the endosperm, the germ and the bran.
The endosperm is kind of like the “shell” of the wheat berry. It has the least nutritional density, but makes up the largest part of the wheat berry (about 83%). This is what you get in your run of the mill, all-purpose flour (*pun intended*). It contains proteins, carbohydrates, fiber and a small amount of B vitamins and minerals like iron.
Next is the bran. The bran makes up about 14% of the wheat berry kernel and has large quantities of the major B vitamins as well as other minerals and fiber. This part is completely removed and separated from all purpose flour that is sold in grocery stores. Part of the bran is left in whole wheat bread, though the amount may depend on the brand of whole wheat flour that you buy. You can also buy wheat bran separately in grocery stores, and this is the part of the wheat berry that is used to make “bran muffins”, which many people love!
Finally, the germ makes up about 2-3% of the wheat berry kernel. It has the highest nutritional density, with healthy fats, protein, B-complex vitamins and minerals. This part has great nutritional value, but reduces the shelf life of flour and therefore is completely removed from all purpose flour. As a result, many white flours are “enriched” with other vitamins and nutrients to add back in what was lost – as a requirement by the FDA. Unfortunately, enriched flour changes the natural make-up of the wheat, and the same level of nutrient density that we started out with is never quite added back in.
The nutritional loss from all purpose flour includes a loss in fiber, B-vitamins (like folic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin), Vitamin E, and other minerals that make bread and flour really good for our bodies. Just to give you an idea, these vitamins are good for your gut health (riboflavin is an antioxidant and helps us break down carbohydrates in bread – quite literally the whole wheat is helping you to digest itself), skin care (Niacin can help protect from skin cancer), and if you have ever been pregnant you probably know that Folic Acid is good for brain development.
In the early 1900s, a huge portion of these vitamins and minerals were just removed completely during processing and not added back in. That made the shelf life of flour pretty much indefinite, which meant that grocery stores and wheat farmers/processors could produce huge amounts of flour without the fear that it would go bad, or wouldn’t sell.
Thankfully now, wheat processors are required to add many of the nutrients back in, but again – it doesn’t equate to the nutritional benefit of eating a whole wheat berry. On top of that, a lot of flour in our grocery stores is bleached, for no reason except to make it more appealing. You have to specifically look for “unbleached” flour if you want the stuff that hasn’t been treated.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF USING WHOLE WHEAT BERRIES
The simple benefit of using whole wheat berries is this: all of the natural, nutritional value in the food is preserved and can be eaten together in the percentages and quantities they grew in! When you eat 100% whole, fresh ground flour in bread you are eating the most nutritionally dense kind of bread. Make it sourdough and you get all of the benefits of the fermented grains too (health benefits of sourdough are listed in my article here)!
HOW TO GRIND YOUR OWN FLOUR
First, you need a grinder. There are lots of arguments on which kind is better, a stone-grinder or a metal one. Manual, or electric? I have a metal one as it’s less maintenance – it’s also the same kind that Daniel’s grandmother has used for decades, and it is built to last.
Some people swear by their stone grinders – I won’t make an argument either way as I’ve never used one. Do your own research and find out which one suits you better! The main thing is that it can actually grind your wheat kernels.
Once you HAVE a grinder, you’ll want to decide where and what kind of wheat to buy and where to buy it! Refer to the earlier section of this article for what each kind of wheat kernel is used for. For most sandwich breads and baguettes, bagels, etc. you can use hard white or hard red wheat. For anyone starting out, I would just recommend buying a hard white wheat. You can buy wheat kernels online, or from most grocery stores with a bulk section. I buy mine from Winco, since that is what is in our area!
STORING FRESH GROUND WHEAT
If you decide to buy your own wheat kernels and grind your own wheat, you should take care to store both the kernels and fresh flour correctly.
The kernels should be stored in an airtight container to keep pests out. The shelf life for wheat kernels is quite long (kind of like dried beans – they won’t go bad for months). They do not need to be refrigerated, so placing these in your room temperature pantry is just fine.
Similarly, your fresh flour should be stored right away in an airtight container. Once the wheat kernels are ground into flour, you will need to use the flour within 1 week so it doesn’t go rancid. You may be able to extend that time for a few days by placing the flour in the refrigerator, but I’ve also read that some of the nutritional value escapes after about 3 days, so fresh is always best! If you really want to make sure you get all of the nutritional benefits, grind just enough flour for the recipes you will be using that day. That way the flour goes straight from the grinder into your recipe!
I hope this was helpful information for you! Feel free to leave questions or comments in the section below – or reach out to me via Instagram or Facebook @thewellsourcedlife ! Happy grinding!
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