Monday, January 16, 2012

Pantry Raid #6: Wheat Flour

I come from a very food-centered family.  Not only am I 99.9995% Italian, and, if you didn't already know, Italians are obsessed with food, but I grew up in a family full of restauranteurs.  My first taste of the restaurant world was my aunt's Italian restaurant/Pizzeria.  Around Christmas time (way before I was of age to "work"), I would act as "bus girl" to earn a little Christmas spending cash.  I remember standing a safe distance away and watching the hustle and bustle in the kitchen always feeling so drawn to what was going on in there.  At the ripe age of 12, my mother opened her first sandwich shop where I pretty much spent every waking moment of my life unless I was in school.  I even made the hour hike back home two days a week for the first few years I was in college, because I was so attached to being in that place.  My father opened a donut shop during my college years.  I used to love the taste of a warm donut right out of the fryer and the intoxicating smell of yeast permeating the air as it escaped from the warm proofers. 

I guess you can say that me and food have had a long-time love affair.  When we made the switch from white flour to wheat flour, I almost felt like I was cheating on my food heritage.  I'd never had a wheat pizza crust, wheat pasta, a whole-grain donut...the only wheat in the mix had been sandwich bread at my mother's sandwich shop, and I had never really liked eating it.  I knew whole wheat was better for me, but I had never really felt compelled to know why. 

I did read Cooking Light Magazine pretty religiously though and at some point, began to realize through the increasingly frequent articles and recipes mentioning whole grains that making the switch was looking like something we needed to accomplish.  So, as all things go in my life (because I am the most impatient person on the planet and can never just take things slowly), baby steps quickly turn into super-human leaps and, to make a long story short,  here I am milling my own flour...crazy! 

I know what you are thinking..."Yes, you are crazy, what's the point!?!?".

The types of grains like white flour, white rice, quick oats, etc.  that we are all used to eating are just a mere skeleton of their former mega-nutritious selves.  There was a point in my life that I seriously had no idea that all- purpose white flour came from the same exact grain that whole wheat flour comes from.  I'm pretty sure I can venture to say that I am not alone in that boat.

So here's the deal.   Farmers harvest the seed of the wheat plant called the wheat berry.   The wheat berry consists of three parts--the germ, the bran and the endosperm.  This was a another news flash for me.  Wheat germ and wheat bran come from the same place as flour.  The bran is the outside layer where most of the fiber exists.  Most of the oils and nutrients are contained in the germ, and the endosperm is the center, starchy layer.  We keep a 6 gallon bucket of wheat berries in our house.  When I need flour, I pour them into my mill and out comes what you call graham flour.  That is the entire wheat berry (germ, bran and endosperm) ground into flour.

 So what exactly is the imposter that we are buying at the grocery store?

The reason food is processed in the first place is usually to extend its shelf life.  Once the wheat berry is milled, all the oils are released from the germ and bran, and it's shelf life decreases exponentially.  The solution....commercial millers run wheat berries through a process to remove the bran and germ, which just so happen to be the most nutrious parts of the berry.    When you purchase whole wheat flour in the grocery store, it has a decent shelf life, because most of the germ and bran have been removed to keep the oil content low. 

The next step to creating white flour is the bleaching process.  The flour is gased with chlorine which gives it that "nice" white color we are used to seeing and "ages" the flour.  An unintended by-product of this process is a chemical compound called alloxan.  Alloxan has one commercial function.  It is the chemical that researchers use to produce diabetes in lab animals so that they can study cures for the disease.  Alloxan produces diabetes by attacking the pancreatic beta cells and killing them.  Beta cells produce insulin.  No insulin means you get diabetes.

As if that wasn't bad enough, because the government said they have to, commercial flour millers then add the vitamins back into our flour that they killed with all the processing.  The vitamins that are added are no longer natural, but instead a man-made synthesis of what was originally in the whole wheat berry.  This is what they call "enriching".  God intended for milled wheat berries to be full of fiber, Vitamin E , good fats, magnesium, Vitamin B, iron, phosphorous and calcium.    Why mess with that? 

If you're feeling a little curious about milling your own flour, I would love to help you get started.  I've been through mills I don't like and mills I do like. I've listed some of the best mills in my online store.  I've checked all over for the best, most economical place to get my wheat berries.  We use a local co-op, but I will also be listing other options in the store as well..  Feel free to shoot me a message on Facebook or use the comment section for questions.

If you're not ready to mill your own wheat berries, you have options.  The next best choice is whole wheat flour.  Make sure you buy organic if it's available so that you are not consuming pesticides.  I like whole white wheat flour, which is flour milled from hard white berries.  It's a good all-purpose wheat flour right in the middle of the spectrum.   The heavy end of the spectrum is whole wheat flour which is flour milled from a hard red berry.  Most people like to use this flour for breads, tortillas, pizza dough and rolls.  Whole wheat pasty flour is the lightest of the store bought flours.  It is milled from a soft white berry and is good for cakes and pastries. 

In the unlikely event that you can not get your hands on whole wheat flour, make sure you purchase "unbleached" at the least.  This won't help you nutritionally, but will cut out the whole alloxan problem. 

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