The Grindstone: Why Mill Your Own Grains?
Flour is a villain to many. It’s got a reputation for making us fat and lazy, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Whole grains, especially those that you mill yourself, are packed with nutrition.
Today we’ll focus on wheat and the nutritional aspects of grinding your own grain. In the future, I’ll talk about the nutrition gleaned from various grains and how to combine them effectively in a well-rounded diet, as well as review a few grain mills I’ve used.
Why Mill Your Own Grain
Wheat, for those that don’t have Celiac disease, is a nearly perfect food. Of the 44 known essential nutrients needed by our bodies and naturally obtained from foods, only a few are missing from wheat: vitamin A, B12, and C and the mineral iodine.
That is, of course, when the wheat is still whole, not stripped of its bran and germ, bleached, and enriched. While there is still a bit of nutrition in that sort of flour, it is fundamentally changed and no longer a whole food.
“Once milled as much as 45% of the nutrients are oxidized in the first day alone. In 3 days, just 72 hours later, 90% of the nutrients are lost, all to oxidation alone and none to the sifting of the bran and germ.” -Sue Becker, “Exposing the Deception of “Enrichment”
That means that even when you mill your own wheat, you need to use it in within 72 hours. Why bother eating a dead food like the flour you buy in the grocery store?
The Role of Vitamin E
Vitamin E is needed by every single cell in the human body. It serves to protect fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins, and some hormones from being oxidized before they can work.
If you don’t consume enough vitamin E, you may see health problems related to Vitamin A (such as heart problems), infertility (because sex hormones are interrupted), or anemia (oxygen attacking red blood cells), and a whole host of other problems.
The good news is that when you mill your own flour, you’ve got a fresh, ample supply of vitamin E from grains. Nuts, spinach, broccoli, kiwi and mango are other good sources, so keep that in mind when you’re making a smoothie to go with your sandwich.
What They Mean by “Enriched”
When wheat is refined and made into white flour, 22 vitamins and minerals are diminished by 70-80 percent. Over 90 percent of fiber is lost, and the linoleic acid is cut in half. The overall protein stays about the same, but the quality is sub-par because the lysine is lost. Lysine isn’t synthesized by the human body.
The flour is generally bleached (though unbleached is increasingly available, even at your local mega-mart), which kills any remaining trace of vitamin E.
Iron, niacin, riboflavin and thiamine are added back to white flour, but 25-30 other vitamins and minerals are either mostly gone or completely removed from the wheat. No wonder we consider flour to be devoid of nutrition.
Sprouted or Dried?
“Our ancestors and virtually all pre-industrialized people only ate grains that were soaked or fermented,” Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions.
I really enjoy this book and, while it’s challenging to read and digest (pardon the pun), I take issue with the statement that most early people only ate soaked or fermented grains.
My problem isn’t with sprouting grains on the whole, as I think this can be valuable, but the belief that this was a general practice and, as such, we should maintain it today.
First, you lose some protein when you sprout a grain. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for us, who have the option to partake in abundant amounts of protein, but imagine that for “pre-industrialized” foragers.
Dr. Edward Howell seems to be the instigator of this belief, stating that farmers would cut wheat, gather it into sheaves, and let it stand in the fields overnight to sprout. The next day it would be gathered and stored.
It’s a nice thought, but consider this: once a seed is sprouted, it’s unstorable. It’s a new plant and, therefore, will continue to grow until it’s fully mature, or rot in the process. One cannot store grain that’s sprouted; it would mold, and then there would be no food until the next harvest.
What About Phytates?
To Dr. Howell’s credit, he was concerned about phytic acid (or phytates). He believed that sprouting grain would reduce the phytic acid and that phytic acid was bad news.
Some consider it an anti-nutrient, and some consider it harmless. Those who think it’s a problem believe it binds calcium, magnesium and potassium much like oxalates in foods like greens.
It appears that the middle ground is the safest place to be with this issue. Yes, wheat has more phytates than other foods, but it also stimulates the small intestine to produce more phytase, the enzyme that breaks down phytic acid.
It’s also a chelating agent, meaning it can bind toxins to carry them out of the body. Phytic acid is an antioxidant, which is key in our staying young and vital. Phytates also help stabilize blood sugar, important for those of us who are sensitive to glucose levels.
To Soak or Not to Soak?
Both! We like to make sprouted bread a couple of times per month (because it’s a long and somewhat labor-intensive project) and non-sprouted bread the rest of the time.
The cool thing about sprouting grains is that vitamin A increases exponentially (up to 300 percent) which non-sprouted bread lacks. Vitamin C increases by up t0 500 percent. Two of the nutrients wheat is missing as a dry grain abound in sprouted wheat. Cool, eh?
In the 1700s, Captain Cook brought dried grains along on ocean journeys to prevent scurvy. While lemons and limes would eventually rot, sprouts could be made from dried grains within a few days, and the sailors were able to maintain their health.
You knew I wouldn’t leave you without recipes, right? Here are some of the easier recipes I’ve used (easier being relative when making sprouted grain bread). You don’t have to use 100 percent wheat for them; you’re welcome to mix it up and use spelt, Kamut, rye, millet — whatever your heart desires.
I get my grains from the Breadbeckers, but I’ve seen bags of wheat berries at health food stores, and there’s always Bob’s Red Mill. You can also use a Blendtec to grind grain. If that’s not possible, you can buy freshly ground flour (my Whole Foods has a mill) or make sprouted bread only for now.
Whole Wheat Bread
Modified slightly from King Arthur Flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast, or 1 packet active dry yeast dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
- 1 1/3 cups (10 1/2 ounces) water
- 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) olive oil
- 1/4 cup (3 ounces) honey, molasses, maple syrup, or agave nectar
- 3 1/2 cups (14 ounces) freshly milled wheat flour (I use half hard red and half hard white berries)
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) nonfat dried milk
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir till the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased surface, oil your hands, and knead it for 6 to 8 minutes, or until it begins to become smooth and supple.
You may also knead this dough in an electric mixer or food processor, or in a bread machine programmed for “dough” or “manual.” Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise till puffy though not necessarily doubled in bulk, about 60 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, and shape it into an 8-inch log. Place the log in a lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan, cover the pan loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap.
Allow the bread to rise for about 1 hour, or until it’s crowned about 1 inch above the edge of the pan. A finger pressed into the dough should leave a mark that rebounds slowly.
Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for about 40 minutes, tenting it lightly with aluminum foil after 20 minutes. Test it for doneness by removing it from the pan and thumping it on the bottom (it should sound hollow), or measuring its interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer.
Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on a wire rack before slicing. Store the bread in a plastic bag at room temperature. Yield: 1 loaf, 16 slices.
Sprouted Grain Bread
Modified slightly from Ted Weesner, Jr.
- 3 cups assorted whole grains (some combination of wheat berries, rye berries, barley, spelt, lentils, mung beans, chickpeas)
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
- 2 tablespoons honey, agave nectar, or sucanat
- 1/2 cup water, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup mixed sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, and flax seeds (optional)
- olive oil for the bowl
- butter or oil for loaf pan
- whole-wheat flour for shaping
1. Two to three days before baking, soak the 3 cups of grains in a container of cold water for 12 to 24 hours at room temperature.
2. Drain, return to the container, cover with plastic wrap, and leave on the kitchen counter. Wait 2 to 3 days until the grains begin to sprout, rinsing and draining them once or twice so they are always damp.
As soon as little tails appear, the grains have sprouted and are ready. The mixture should have grown to about 4 1/2 cups. Store in the fridge until you are ready to make the dough.
3. In a food processor, work the sprouted grains to as fine a pulp as possible, but not to the point of generating a lot of heat. If the pulp begins to feel warm to the touch, stop processing and let it sit for about 10 minutes to cool off before continuing.
4. To mix by hand: In a bowl with a wooden spoon, combine the sprout pulp, vital wheat gluten, salt, yeast, honey, 1/4 cup of the water (and seeds, if using). Stir vigorously. Or, knead with wet hands for about 2 minutes or until all the ingredients are evenly integrated and distributed.
The dough should be soft and slightly sticky; if not, add more of the water to form a sticky ball of dough. In a stand mixer with a dough hook: Combine the sprout pulp, vital wheat gluten, salt, yeast, honey or other sweetener, and 1/4 cup of the water.
Mix on slow speed for 1 minute to bring the ingredients together into a ball, adding additional water as needed. Continue mixing 2 to 3 minutes, occasionally scraping down the bowl. The dough should form a sticky ball.
5. Mist a work surface with a spray of water. Place the dough on the surface and knead with wet hands for 1 to 2 minutes. Although the dough will be sticky on the surface, it should have the strength and feel of normal bread dough. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes.
6. Resume kneading the dough for 1 minute with wet hands. The dough should have strength yet still feel soft, supple, and very tacky. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it an oiled bowl, rolling to coat with oil.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes or until it is about 1 1/2 times its original size.
7. Meanwhile, butter the loaf pan. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and form it into a loaf. Set the dough in the pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes or until it is about 1 1/2 times its original size.
8. Set the oven at 425 degrees and bake for 20 minutes.
9. Rotate the loaf 180 degrees and continue baking for 20 to 30 minutes or until the loaf is a rich brown on all sides, sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and registers at least 200 degrees in the center. Transfer the bread to a wire rack and let it cool for at least 1 hour before slicing.