There was once a time when people grew their own whole grains, harvested them, and milled them at home to bake the family bread. The concept of strolling into a store to buy pre-milled flour would have seemed astonishing at the time. While it may be more convenient, the shift from grinding our own grains to relying on refined commercial flour has not been a boon for human health, to say the least.
In fact, white flour has been a prime factor in our nation’s obesity epidemic, as it promotes weight gain while hindering the body’s ability to burn fat for fuel. Refined flour may also increase inflammation in the gut, leading to metabolic dysfunction and weight gain. These unfortunate outcomes may be partially explained by how commercial flour is made.
Consider that whole grains are comprised of the bran, the germ and the endosperm. The bran and germ portions contain generous amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber while the endosperm is merely rapidly digested starch with a small amount of protein. During the refining process, the bran and germ are removed, leaving just the endosperm.
Since the food value of a grain is found primarily in the nutrient-rich bran, wheat germ, and wheat germ oil, it seems counterintuitive that these parts are systematically removed in the production of commercial white flour, until you understand that stripping them away extends the shelf life of bread and other baked goods. Sadly, making flour less healthy ensures it is commercially viable.
Whole grain intake, on the other hand, is associated with a reduced risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, respiratory and infectious diseases, cancer and more. The link between whole grains and better health outcomes makes sense, given the density of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber these nutritional gems contain, which act both individually and collectively to help prevent chronic health issues.
The benefits of making your own flour
While whole grain consumption in the U.S. has increased in recent years, people still love bread, which has, after all, been a beloved food staple throughout human history. While it is easier now to find mass-market “whole grain” bread, there is a growing trend toward reclaiming the ancient practice of milling flour and baking at home, which offers numerous health advantages. For example:
- Flour made from freshly milled grains is nutritionally superior to refined versions, as it includes the entire grain─bran, germ and endosperm.
- Items baked from freshly milled flour taste better! This is partly because naturally occurring oils in the kernel of the grain result in richer, lighter, fluffier breads, muffins, biscuits, etc.
- You can vary the grains you choose, resulting in wonderful flavors and a far greater diversity of nutrients. Beyond wheat, think corn grits, rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat─which is actually a protein-rich seed─barley and teff, a staple of Ethiopian cooking for thousands of years.
- It’s easy to create protein-rich baked goods by adding nuts and/or seeds to your flour, such as sunflower, pumpkin, chia, flax, sesame and hemp seeds, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, and more.
- Grinding your own grains is also the best way to avoid gluten, a common allergen in wheat-based foods that can cause a spectrum of potential problems, from minor gluten sensitivity to celiac disease.
- Your options abound. Along with yeast-rising bread, you can also make delicious “quick bread” items in a snap, such as banana bread, muffins, cakes, pie crusts, cookies and more.
- Using a grain grinder is ecofriendly, especially manual models that don’t rely on electricity. Your carbon footprint shrinks exponentially─and on multiple levels─when you bake at home with freshly milled flour.
- You will save money! You may have noticed that within this year alone, food prices have risen in nearly every category, store-bought breads included, especially organic, whole grain versions.
How to make flour
As to how to grind your own grains at home, it’s easier than you think. All you need is a grinding device and your grains of choice to start. There are various models available, but the simplest and most eco-friendly is a manual grinder. It’s a great addition to any health-conscious kitchen, easy to use, and fun for kids too. Added benefits of a manual version, like the Victoria Cast Iron Grain Grinder, include:
- You will find it a cinch to use, following the manufacturers’ directions.
- It is easily adjustable. You can modify your flour, making it as course or as fine as you like by using the adjusting screw.
- You can make small, medium, or large batches of flour.
- These models offer heavy-duty construction for a lifetime of use. Made from ultra-durable cast-iron with sanitary double-tin plating to resist stains and corrosion, they work for all types of grain.
- Think outside the grain. You can also use your grinder to mill coffee, vegetables, seeds, nuts, coconut, spices, dried beans, legumes and more.
- It’s safe and easy to use, as the clamp is easily adjustable to most tables, and it comes with a protective non-slip rubber, protects your surfaces, and prevents the grain grinder from slipping in heavy work.
If you’re up for this rewarding project, getting your grinder and grains is step one. You might also visit your local library for cookbooks offering interesting recipes for both yeast-rising and quick breads and other baked goodies. Once you get rolling, you can also make scrumptious, healthy gifts to share with others. What a positive endeavor for you and your family. Let’s get baking!