For the last few years, I have been milling my own grains. Of all the things I do – composting, eating organic, trying to reduce our carbon footprint, etc – this is the one thing that raises the most eyebrows…grind your own wheat and other grains? Now, that’s going too far…or is it?
I grew up in the San Francisco bay area, sourdough (but still white bread) was a staple. I moved to NYC (Brooklyn Girl, thank you) and bagels became a staple. I have bread almost daily – if not with every meal. So, eating the best tasting and best for me is important. My love of bread is also something my entire family shares. So of course, I want to get the most out of it.
Most of us know that wheat or whole grain breads and baked goods are the best for us. But that’s where the knowledge or research tends to end. However, there’s so much more than meets the eye. When I joined The Holistic Moms Network when my 4 year old was born, I was introduced to the world of milling your own grains. I became fascinated by everything I learned.
Why Grind my Own Flour?
I could not believe how much was lost when you buy a bag of regular flour – even whole wheat! For instance, white all purpose flour is a mix of hard red wheat berries and soft white wheat berries ground up until almost all of the grain is gone. Meaning, you are buying an end by-product with very little nutritional value. Plus, in order to get it so white, bleaching agents are used. Yuck! In order to have any nutritional value, the flour is enriched. If you buy wheat flour from the store, you are usually buying flour that has at least part of the wheat germ removed, as the wheat germ contains oils which make flour go rancid faster. To understand the different types of flour and nutritional breakdowns, check out Wikipedia’s simple explanation. If that’s not scientific enough for you, check out this great article from Dr. Cranton or the Ecological Agriculture Projects publication.
By milling your own grains, you retain all the nutritional value. Does this still sound crazy? Or that it takes a long time? I must admit, it still took me 2 years before I finally took the plunge. Until then, I bought stone ground whole wheat flour. If it’s not stone ground whole wheat flour, it will not retain all of the grain. It will also be ground at a temperature that will not cause the nutritional value of the grain to be reduced.
We are on a tight budget and I didn’t want to spend the money to buy a grain mill – especially if I wasn’t going to end up using it. Then one day, we were in a store and they had a Kitchen Aid Grain Mill on clearance because someone special ordered it and never came to pick it up. I knew it was meant to come home with me. Sure, I’d love a fancier grain mill. One that was a little more quiet and could really get my flour very refined, but I love my Kitchen Aid and I love the grain mill attachment. I use it at least 3-4 times a week. It adds no more than a few minutes and we end up with the yummiest breads and baked goods.
I discovered that grinding your own flour is cheap! Whole wheat berries, either hard red wheat or soft white wheat is very inexpensive. Even if you buy them at Whole Foods, you are talking about a little over a dollar a pound. If you are like me and buy them from Azure Standards, it’s less than 50 cents a pound! Talk about a savings. Per pound, that’s way cheaper than the cheapest, worst store bought flour out there.
Sprouted and Soaked Grains
But that’s not all. I sprout or soak my grains too. The article above from the Ecological Agriculture Projects touches on why (FYI – sourdough is a type of soaking/fermentation), but the bottom line is phytic acid. Phytic acid is what can cause some gluten intolerance. Now, if you are truly allergic to gluten or have severe gluten intolerance – soaking or sprouting your grains will not help. But, for those with minor issues when eating breads/baked goods, soaking or sprouting your grains will definitely help. Until the 20th century, almost all grains were soaked, sprouted, or fermented. That was just how foods were traditionally prepared. But since the Industrial Age, foods and how they are made have changed.
Phytic acid is found within the hulls of nuts, seeds, and grains.Simply cooking the food will reduce the phytic acid to some degree, but soaking in an acid medium, lactic acid fermentation, and sprouting are the most effective ways to reduce phytic acid. It also has a strong binding affinity to important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. When a mineral binds to phytic acid, it becomes insoluble, precipitates and will be nonabsorbent in the intestines. This can cause you to lose out on valuable nutrients AND cause indigestion, heartburn, and constipation. All bad things in my book.
There are studies that show that many people have built up their tolerance levels and are able to handle the higher levels of phytic acid. But really, do we need to. It still blocks our bodies from being able to absorb important nutrients. For me, if I am going to eat something – I better get the most nutrition out of it.
Soaking and sprouting grains does take some extra time, but once you get going – it’s no big deal. Here’s a great tutorial on sprouting grains from the Nourishing Gourmet. In fact, her tutorial and recipes were what I used when I first started sprouting grains. I still use her method for sprouting, because it works easiest for me, but you can sprout even more grains at a time if you soak a lot of grains in a pot or bowl and then use a colander to drain them in (instead of a jar). You can dry a lot of grains on a tray/cookie sheet at one time – they do not need to be a single layer. I have a 1/2 gallon mason jar full of sprouted soft white wheat berries and one of sprouted hard red wheat berries almost all the time. To actually sprout grains takes less than 5 minutes for 2-3 days. The hardest part is to remember to rinse the grains each day. I have a cheapo dehydrator and it does the job great. You can also use your oven to dry grains, just make sure you use the lowest setting on your oven and keep an eye on it.
I have learned from trial and error that soaking store bought flour does not work nearly as effectively as fresh milled grains. My experiments resulted in mushy dough that wasn’t really tasty. The fresh milled grains were able to soak up more of the liquids used in the soaking process and the dough was better and the end result was a lighter, tastier bread/baked good.
Soaking fresh milled grains is easy. I tend to use recipes from Nourishing Traditions or recipes found on the web. You’d be amazed at how many really great recipes you can find! When soaking grains, you start with milling the grains. Then you add liquids, usually something with an acidic or fermented base – commonly buttermilk, yogurt, or lemon (this is usually the alternative for people who are lactose intolerant). You allow the flour to soak for 12-24 hours and then you proceed with making the dough and baking.
I work during the day, so soaking grains is actually great for me. I can start making something after work one night and then finish the next day. For instance, I make these great crackers. When I get home from work, I’ll set out the butter. Then after dinner, I’ll turn on the grain mill and grind up the wheat. After that, it’s simply mixing up the 3 1/2 cups of flour and salt with the 1 cup of yogurt (homemade, of course) and 1 cup of softened butter. That’s it for the night. The next day after dinner, I roll the dough and use a pizza cutter to cut it into rectangles and bake. That’s it! And these are yummy crackers. They kind of taste like Cheeze-It’s. I swear. Almost all of the recipes I follow are this easy.
The way I choose if I am going to use soaked grains or sprouted grains is totally dependent on the recipe I’ve got. Let’s face it, most cookbooks don’t convert recipes for soaking. That’s when I pull out the sprouted grains. Also, sprouted grains have a little bit of an edge because they have one added benefit – vitamin C. When you sprout grains, they develop vitamin C – which is lacking in grains and does not get added during the soaking process.
Deciding if Grinding Grains is For You
I still have all purpose unbleached flour in my home, but it’s use is limited. I use it to dust the counter before rolling my dough or to make a roux.. Because I do not own a micronizer mill, my flour does not get fine enough to use for some applications. But I compensate with soaking. The same recipe for crackers makes an awesome pie crust – which would usually be something that you’d want a finely ground flour for. To understand and see what grain mill would be best for you, check out this FAQ list.
Not quite ready to make the plunge and grind your own flour? That’s ok. If you’ve read this far, that means you may be interested in alternatives. Buy ground sprouted wheat flours. You can find these at many natural/health food stores. You can store them in your freezer for 6 months to a year. I have been told and read numerous accounts that flour loses it’s nutritional value very quickly. I’m talking 1-5 days after it’s ground. But I can find no scientific evidence. If anyone has any, please send it my way. Because I grind my own flour, I ALWAYS grind right before using/soaking just because I am uncertain that it is true or not (and why take the risk if I can avoid it), but it would be lovely to have some stored ground flour for those late night cooking projects I’d love to do (but don’t in fear of waking the kids). The best info I have been able to find is from The Fresh Loaf.
For those of you who don’t think that whole grains or wheat taste good, here’s 4 easy steps/reasons on replacing white flour with whole grains. If you want a less “wheaty” taste – go for white whole wheat. It has a lighter taste and textured compared to hard red wheat (commonly sold as whole wheat flour). The big things is just to take the plunge. Once you start eating only whole grains, you will discover that white bread is kind of scary. Your palate will become more refined and you won’t want to eat anything but whole grains. It’s kind of like the difference between most cheap wine and fine wine or caviar versus plain fish roe. Try it, your body will thank you.