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Stone Cold Life

by Les Saidel - May, 2012

I will start this month's article with a story.

It was 1978, I had recently turned 13 and it was a big day for me, for I would finally be getting my first wheat grinder. I had done a lot of shopping around and the Messerschmidt (nothing to do with the WWII airplane manufacturer) hand cranked wheat grinder, was the one I had my eye on. I figured that with all that hand cranking and eating of the whole wheat flour, I would become healthy and fit in no time. This was the beginning of my fascination with bread and health and these were heady and memorable days.

The good old Messerschmidt served me well over the years as it churned out untold thousands of kilos of healthy whole wheat flour. When we decided to open Saidels Bakery in 2008, it was taken for granted that the trusty wheat grinder would feature prominently in the landscape. We employed a mechanical engineer to convert it from a hand crank to a motorized gizmo and very soon the good ole' wheat grinder was chugging along, spewing out tons of healthy whole wheat flour in our bakery.

It is actually phenomenal that a device that was intended for home use on a counter top managed to survive the rigorous environment of a commercial bakery for almost 4 years, which it did faithfully, a fitting tribute to the craftsmen who designed it.

Unfortunately nothing lasts forever and last month, old faithful gave up the ghost. Interestingly enough, the grinding mechanism was still fully intact, it was the motor and gear that packed up. We were faced with a tough choice - to replace the motor and gear or to replace the entire grinder with a newer, more industrially inclined model. We decided to purchase a new grinder, a SAMAP F100 stone mill.

Unlike the old Messerschmidt which used a steel grinding mechanism (because of the slow grinding speed, 20min/kg, it never went over the threshold temperature, despite being made of steel), the new SAMAP is a stone mill which has grinding stones of Naxos/Basalt, embedded in Magnesite, all of which are extremely hard and durable materials.

This (rather lengthy) introduction brings us to the main theme of this month's article, which deals with methods of grinding flour, ancient and modern and dispels some of the confusion and hype surrounding this much bandied about topic.

Since the dawn of time man has been grinding grain into flour to make bread. Until the early 1900's all flour was milled as it had been for millennia, in a stone mill. The stone mill consisted of two millstones, an upper (runner) rotating stone and a lower (bedstone) stationary stone, between which the wheat grains were inserted, crushed and ground into flour. The power needed to turn the stones was provided by various methods, animals, water and wind.

With the arrival of the industrial revolution, milling flour by such means was no longer viable and new machines were designed to grind the flour at a much higher speed and volume to meet the growing demands of the food industry. The stone mills were replaced by the forerunners of today's modern mills which use steel blades or rollers to pulverize the wheat and quickly turn it into flour.

The modern milling process is a multiphase operation that is explained very well in the short video clip available on our Ingredients page (click the Ingredients button on the menu above), courtesy of the TV series "How It's Made".

Basically, a short rundown is that the wheat kernel, which is made up of three parts, the outer skin (or bran), the wheat germ (from which the wheat seed sprouts) and the endosperm (the main portion of the kernel containing mainly starch), are separated in the modern milling process, the bran and germ are sifted out and the remaining, finely ground endosperm is repeatedly sifted to give what we know as white flour.

The white flour, or finely ground endosperm contains mainly starch and a small amount of protein. The parts which are removed by sifting, the bran and wheat germ are beneficial to health as they provide fiber (bran) and a multitude of vitamins and amino acids (the wheat germ). Wheat germ is a rich source of most of the B vitamins and also contains many essential amino acids that the human body cannot synthesize on its own.

Most commercial "whole wheat flour" contains only the white endosperm and the bran. The wheat germ is absent for the simple reason that it goes rancid unless refrigerated.

True whole wheat flour, with all three components (bran, germ and endosperm) is usually only available from health stores and is generally refrigerated for the reason described above.

Not only does the modern milling process sift out the healthiest portion of the wheat, it also destroys any possible health component by the immense heat that is generated by the steel grinders. Metal is a good conductor of heat and the high speed, combined with the friction of the grinding process produces temperatures in excess of 180 degrees F (around 80 degrees C). So basically white flour is already partially cooked in the milling process at a temperature where most proteins begin to coagulate.

In one of the greatest "subterfuges" of our time, most mills profess to "enrich" their flours by adding some of the B vitamins back into the flour after milling to supposedly replace those lost in the milling process. I call it a subterfuge because the replacements or "enrichments" as they call them, don't even begin to approximate the quantity, complexity and balance of the minerals, vitamins and amino acids that existed in the original grain.

So how can such a denatured product have become the norm in modern society? How have we become so brainwashed into accepting substandard food? The main reason is because products made with white flour are light and fluffy, they puff up nicely and look good on the shelves. Despite looking good however, all they really are, is inflated, artificial and denatured food, devoid of any health benefits aside from calories in which they are rich. If you are an Olympic athlete, you may need the extra calories, but most of us don't.

What I call REAL flour, or true (whole) wheat flour, contains all parts of the wheat grain. It provides an invaluable source of complete proteins, vitamins and minerals, and yes, it does have calories too, but because of the bran in the flour, the glycemic index (the rate at which carbohydrates are absorbed in the body) is lower, meaning that you don't get the "sugar rush" with whole wheat flour as you do with white flour, absorption is slower and more balanced. Diabetics, for example, are very careful about checking the glycemic index of foods. Research has shown that if you are diabetic, the amount of sugar or calories in the food is not as relevant as the rate the sugar is absorbed in the body, the glycemic index.

Products baked with whole wheat flour are not white and inflated with air. It IS possible to achieve an acceptable "lightness" with whole wheat flour, but never as light as with white flour. Whole wheat products tend to be "denser or "heavier" than white flour products. The color of whole wheat flour products is never white, it varies from a light tan to a darker brown, depending on the amount of bran in the flour and the coarseness of grinding.

We have been brainwashed to believing that "white is pure" and a sign of affluence. It may be, but it is an unhealthy affluence. Give me the healthy "poor" bread any day.

Obviously by now you have realized that whole wheat flour is healthier for you than white flour. You now need to take the next step and increase your knowledge so that you are not conned by the numerous nefarious characters that proliferate in the health food industry. Not all whole wheat flour is the same.

Do not settle for anything less than stone ground, organic, 100% whole wheat flour. This flour is milled in a stone mill as it has been for centuries. Stone is a poor conductor of heat and the temperature generated in the milling process is lower. For example, in our SAMAP mill, on the finest grind setting, (the highest friction), the flour comes out the mill at only 43 degrees C (109 F). Organic means that no chemicals and pesticides were used in growing the grains and 100% means that all parts of the wheat kernel are present in the flour (bran, germ, endosperm).

You will never find this kind of flour on a supermarket shelf. The only place you will find it (if it is real), is in the refrigerator. You also need to check into the reliability of the supplier and make sure their process matches the above description and that it is verifiable. There are a lot of con artists out there and too many people are trying to pass off 3rd rate, incomplete whole wheat flour as the real thing. You could never know just by looking at it, or even by the fact that it is in the refrigerator. The only way you would really find out is that it would not improve your health, a difficult thing to measure empirically.

Based on your dietary needs you also need to purchase finer ground or coarser ground flour depending on how much fiber you require in your diet. The coarser the flour, the more fiber.

So now you understand the terms white flour, whole wheat flour, "enriched" flour, organic, stone ground and glycemic index. You are all set. All you need now is to find a reliable and honest source of good healthy flour, like our bakery (or a health store near you).

The upside to using whole wheat flour is firstly that it improves your health and secondly that products baked with fresh whole wheat flour have an added flavor and aroma that is absent in white flour products. It is an earthy, healthy fragrance that is invigorating. Once you have got used to bread baked with it, you will never settle for anything else.

Your good health

Les Saidel

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