Freshly milled flour tastes so much better (I love the wonderfully nutty flavor) and has a higher nutritional value. In addition, whole grain berries are easier to store and keep much longer than flour; for many years really. Flour loses its nutritional value within a few days after being milled and the wheat germ oil (found in whole grain flour) begins to turn rancid.
Imagine how long the flour you might use has already been sitting on the shelf in your supermarket before you buy it and how long it took to get there. This gives you an idea why flour sometimes smells just a little off, rancid, or moldy. I have had this idea for a long time: supermarkets should offer free usage of grain mills as part of their service, much like coffee grinders being offered to grind your coffee beans right where you buy them. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
I have freshly milled the grains I use to bake or cook ever since I was a little girl and bought my own grain mill when I moved out of my parent’s house. I am still using the very same grain mill and a few years ago added a manual mill and a grain flaker which I absolutely love and use almost every day to make my fresh oatmeal.
The benefits of freshly milled flour
When I mill my own flour I know I get the nutritional value of the complete grain, including the bran (the outer layer) which contains the largest amount of insoluble fiber, magnesium, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, iron, and zinc; and the germ (or seed) which is an excellent source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, E, magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorous, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The endosperm (middle layer) contains mostly protein and carbohydrates along with small amounts of B vitamins, iron and soluble fiber. And here is why I think this information is important: With the advent of industrial milling in the late 1800s, we began filtering out the bran and germ and used only the remaining endosperm, resulting in what we know as all-purpose white flour. The advantage: this stripped down, lifeless version of flour has a shelf life of several months. The downside: We lost the important insoluble fiber and minerals, a combination essential for proper digestion and nourishment.
Here is a picture showing what a whole grain kernel looks like:
Picture from: http://www.professionalpasta.it/source/pastarawmerials.html
My mother used to say: Within one day of grinding or milling 40% percent of the nutrients have oxidized (being kids we would make fun of her: “Sure mom, you can actually see the nutrients fly away?”) Well, she was right. Upon further study I found that within 72 hours of grinding or milling, 90% percent of the nutrients have been destroyed. What is left are “empty calories,” mostly starch. I have often wondered if the consumption of refined flour is one reason gluten sensitivity has become such an epidemic in this country.
The benefits of whole grains most documented by repeated studies (according to The Whole Grains Council) include:
• stroke risk reduced 30-36%
• type 2 diabetes risk reduced 21-30%
• heart disease risk reduced 25-28%
• better weight maintenance
Pretty amazing, right?
So, why not just buy Whole Grain Flour?
You might be thinking: “I am buying whole grain (maybe even organic) flour, so I should be OK.” Well, whole grain flour is frequently produced by first separating and then recombining ground bran with endosperm flour. The germ which contains important antioxidants, vitamin E, B vitamins and polyunsaturated fatty acids is often left out, because the flour would go rancid too quickly.
It took me a while to understand that “whole grain” on food labels doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is all or mostly whole grain; it may be mostly white flour. It really depends on the product and I encourage everybody to read the labels. If the first ingredient listed is “whole grain” it is likely that the product is predominantly whole grain. If “whole grain” is listed as the second ingredient on, let’s say, the bread you are buying, the bread may actually contain as little as 1% or as much as 49% whole. Confusing? Yes, it can be.
When I take my whole grains (and btw, I do not eat wheat which is another blog post in the making), I know I don’t have to try and understand any labels. I get what I put into my mill, it’s that simple. That is not necessarily true for flour you buy at the store. Not only have we been taking essential parts of the grain out, but to make milling more effective, we started adding things.
Almost all white flour in the US is bleached with a toxic chlorine bleach called azodicarbonamide. Another common additive is fungal amylase (which slows down the growth of mold) and potassium bromate (aka brominated flour). Potassium bromate has been associated with cancer and kidney and nervous system disorders and is banned in many countries (but not the U.S). I am no expert on this topic, but I do trust the saying “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.”
If you mill your grain at home, not only will you get the health benefits but since buying whole grains vs. flour is cheaper, you will save money in the long run.
A little bit about grain mills: My grain mills all use stone as the grinding mechanism. I like stone over steel since the germ is not exposed to excessive temperatures (as it does happen with steel mills) and therefore remains relatively intact. And, because I only mill a small amount of grain at once, the fat from the germ is well distributed which also minimizes spoilage. In addition, stone-ground flour is usually coarser, therefore exposure to oxygen is less, and the nutrients remain in the flour for longer.
How I store my grains
I buy all of my organic whole grains in 25 or 50 pound bags from a local whole sale place. I divide the bags up into smaller batches and store them in mylar bags with a couple oxygen absorbers. I never had any problems with spoilage such as insects or mold.
I believe milling your grains at home is really the best option. Since not all of us can do that however, I think knowing what flour you buy and being aware of how long you store it is a really good way to go.
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