On Refined Flours and Grinding Your Own Whole Grains
To say that I am really excited to share this blog post with you today is a big understatement. After we read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan last month, I became inherently interested in discovering how I could change our diets yet again by possibly removing some or all of our refined flours. I started on a journey that led me to wheat berries, grain mills, and grinding my own grains to make flour. I learned a lot and realized that so much of what we are used to eating here in the western world is so shadowed and difficult to figure out. I also learned that grinding your own grains to make flour is not that difficult; the difficult part is getting over the fact that it takes up more time in your day and removes the ease that a bag of white all-purpose flour provides. I have noticed within the past 2-3 years that this obsession with refined flours and sugars is steadily increasing in interest with consumers, and while I think that is amazing that we are becoming more concerned with our food, we're still falling into the trap of purchasing a product that may or may not be what its packaging states.
I first wanted to learn exactly what a refined flour was. If you are like me, you read a lot of different sources on the internet and begin to become overwhelmed with the flood of information but also start to get lost with what is the truth and what is just a pure lack knowledge on the subject. I read a lot of other posts from bloggers on milling their own flour and found that I lot of them failed to explain what exactly refined flour was missing and why it differs from home-milled flour, at least down to the nitty gritty. I don't want to give you and overview! I want you to know that while you could just purchase whole wheat flour, you may be missing that 5% of nutrition that matters most.
What is Refined Flour?
If you are a lover to white all-purpose flour, then you are using a refined flour. A refined flour is created when a whole grain is milled, sifted, and separated from its other natural parts. Grains are made up of three basic parts including the outer shell (bran), the food supply (endosperm), and the embryo to sprout into a new plant (germ). After processing the grains, to create the white flour we often purchase at the grocery store, the bran and germ are removed. This prolongs the shelf life of the flour, but it also takes away 75% of the nutrients that could potentially be in that flour. That's a lot! I was shocked, especially to learn of the several other things that are added back in.
In short: white flour is refined flour because it is made up of only endosperm.
For whatever reason, I found it was difficult to find that many other sources can never just outrightly say it! What else is added into the flour or changed once it is sifted and separated?
- It is devoid of natural dietary fiber
- Most all purpose flours have over 25 chemicals added back into it
- Grains are often fumigated
- Flours are bleached before being packaged
- Artificial colors and flavors are added
Why Is Home-Milled Flour Better?
One simple reason! The bran and germ are left in when you mill it at home yourself. Why is this better? The bran and germ both contain the bulk of the nutrients that we need to process the grain. There are many minerals, vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants in the germ of a grain such as thiamin, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, selenium, dietary fiber, protein, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, and copper. Like above, the big issue with grains are refined in the first place is due to shelf life. The germ contains oil, that once crushed and released, oxidizes with the air can turn flour rancid, sometimes within a few days. But that's okay! You can keep freshly ground flour in the fridge for 1-2 weeks or even freeze it for use later. I think the best thing I learned about eating whole grain flour is that the oil of the germ is what makes your body feel full after eating... when it's removed, you don't feel full, and we don't digest it correctly. Why wouldn't you want to eat that?!
Another portion of this puzzle that I wanted solved was this: whole wheat or whole grains? I feel like this gets mixed up a lot! In fact, I've shared a bit about making my own whole wheat flour online and have already had others trying to show me that whole grain is better. Whole wheat flour is whole grain flour... but whole grain is not whole wheat. Does that make sense? Wheat is a grain, and I am using the whole of it. However, there are many different types of grains that you can mill into flour! Have you heard of einkorn or rye or barley or oats? You can turn any of these into flour! I have been using whole wheat berries for now because I am a beginner and am already used to baking with it. I do have hopes to branch out soon, but just know this, you are making whole grain flour with wheat berries. It is still good for you, it's just not as diverse as maybe using an ancient grain or making a mixed grain bread!
How to Make Your Own Flour
Flour starts with having whole grains on hand! I have been using three different types of wheat berries to make my own flour: soft white wheat, hard white wheat, and hard red wheat. Each type of wheat berry has different characteristics and befits towards making flour, especially for different types of baked goods.
- Soft White Wheat. This is a yellow, tender grain that is perfect for making softer baked goods like fluffy breads, rolls, pie crust, pastries, and cookies.
- Hard White Wheat. This will be the closest to all-purpose flour that you can make yourself! It is a perfect grain to start making your own flour with.
- Hard Red Wheat. This is a courser grain that has a high protein count and is good for heavier, heartier breads.
I make an equal mixed flour of each type of these grains. I usually just take a cup of each and mix them well in a large bowl. Then I mill them in cup fulls mixed together! How do you mill flour? There are different ways that you can do this at home, the first is always suggested as purchasing your own grain mill. These are expensive! The one I see most frequently is this one for around $200. Why is grain mill better? I don't really know that it is, when it comes to quality, but it is better if you want to mill a bulk amount of flour in a small amount of time. For me, I have a VitaMix food processor with a dry grains attachment! It has a different blade compared to the regular attachments, and while it can really only mill about 1-2 cups of grains at a time, it still gets the job done. Plus I can use my VitaMix for other things - a grain mill can only be used for grinding grains! Why do I like it? I don't really want to mill a pound of flour in one setting. I just want my 3-5 cups in the moment. That allows me to keep grains in their whole state longer, and use up fresh flour faster so that it doesn't go rancid! One cup of wheat berries will become about 2 cups of flour, so you can create exactly what you need really quickly!
To Make Flour:
- Place 1 cup of whole wheat berries into your food processor. Turn the processor on low and very slowly increase the speed, watching the grains carefully, to full speed. For me, this is usually about 30 seconds to 1 minute of grinding. I take it slow! Let the processor grind on high for about 20-30 seconds or until the grains look like they are powdery. Allow the freshly milled flour to sit for a minute and cool off. It will get very warm!
- Sift the freshly milled flour into a bowl. You will notice that there are still some large chunks of grain that did not fully get ground up. Set these aside and grind them later to make them finer. The finer your flour is, the closer it will act like all-purpose flour while baking! I've noticed if I skip sifting and grinding these chunks up finer, I can get an extremely dense loaf of bread.
- Once finished sifting, use your flour as normal! If you have a lot left over, place in an airtight container and leave in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. You can also freeze it!
Now that you have made your own flour, let's make some bread! Here is my recipe that I have developed while using my own self-milled flour.
Whole Wheat Bread Ingredients + Recipe |
- 1 3/4 cup warm water
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 cups mixed whole wheat flour (soft white, hard white, and hard red)
- 2 cup hard white whole wheat flour
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, pour the warm water and dissolve the sugar. Stir in the yeast and let activate for 10-15 minutes. The yeast should puff up and possibly start to sink. If this does not happen, start over again.
- Stir in the salt and attach a dough hook. Turn your mixer on low speed and begin to add in the flours, a half cup at a time, allowing each additional cup to fully incorporate. Once a sticky dough forms, turn the mixer up to medium speed and allow it to knead. If you still have flour to add, continue to add it in slowly, until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.
- The dough should be smooth and elastic once finished. Sometime I only need 4.5 cups rather than 5! Knead it into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Punch down the dough and shape into a loaf. I used my bread cloche from Freckled Hen Farmhouse. You can use a regular loaf pan! Place into your greased baking vessel and allow to rise for another hour.
- Preheat your oven to 450. Slice the top of the bread with a sharp knife and dust the top with flour if desired. Bake for 15 minutes. Drop the temperature to 400 and bake for another 30-40 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. If using a cloche, remove the top for the last 10 minutes.
There you have it! You are a champion of making your own whole grain flour. Isn't it easy? I believe the next question most people ask is where do you find bulk whole grains? We are very lucky that we live nearby a bulk Amish store that carries organic options. They sell several different types of flours there as well as the grains. Most health food stores now carry whole grains and you can also find them online! My favorite place so far that I have seen the option from is Bob's Red Mill. My next adventure will be replacing all of our flours into self-milled items like my rye flour, cornmeal, and oat flour. What do you think? Are you interested in milling your own flour at home? I think you will love it!