A recent project has led me to look at purchasing a flour mill. However, before I invested, I wanted information about the differences between freshly milled flour and flour purchased from a store. Is it worth the effort? Can you taste it? What is the effect on your health?
Different types of wheat
There are six types of wheat, with around 30,000 varieties.
These four types are the most common among bread bakers because they have lower protein and starch levels than hard wheat varieties. This makes them more suitable for pastries and other baked goods that don’t require a complex gluten structure like bread.
After the wheat is harvested, it undergoes a process known as sweating before being milled. This takes about six weeks. It causes small metabolic changes in the wheatberries, which will increase the grain’s milling quality. The moisture content will decrease from 17-18% down to 13-14%.
Next, the wheat must be subject to quality control. This will remove any stones, sticks or foreign bodies. Then, the grain must undergo tempering. This aids in the separation of the grains and prevents any bacterial or microbe growth. Due to mass production, tempering takes approximately six hours in the United States. Europeans use traditional tempering methods that can keep the wheat warm for up to 24 hours.
After tempering is completed, the wheatberries can be milled. The sifting process yields more flour the smaller the grain is, so the milling of grain will result in smaller grains. The flour yield for 100 pounds of grain will reach 75%. The bran and germ leftover are generally used to make animal feed. Whole wheat flour is, for instance, 100% extracted, which means that it has bran particles and color.
Types of mills
- Stone mills have two large stones attached to a platform. The top stone rotates and grinds the grain. How close the stones are to each other determines the grain’s size. After the flour has been milled, it is sifted to separate bran, wheat germ, and white flour (endosperm). This method is the most traditional and reliable in maintaining the grains’ nutritional integrity.
- Hammermills are made of small, metal hammers. They repeatedly strike the grain inside a closed chamber to pulverize or shatter it into small pieces. The theory is that the hammermill can produce a finer powder than either stone or roller mills. The flour is then sifted to separate bran, wheat germ, and white flour.
- Roller mills have two rotating corrugated steel rolling wheels. They crush the grain and separate the germ and bran from the endosperm. The flour is then sifted to separate bran, wheat germ, and white flour. This system is most popular in the milling industry, and it accounts for the majority of flour on the market.
No matter which mill system you use, all mills will reconstitute whole wheat flour by adding back some of the bran or wheat germ to white flour. The milled bran or wheat germ particles are too large to be used by most bakers. They’ll run them through the mill again to reduce the nutritional value. This could mean that you are buying whole wheat flour, but not necessarily whole grains.
What are the benefits of making your own flour? Is it worth the effort? I spoke to Simon Bowden the Head Baker at Leaven & Co. which is an artisanal bakery in New York that makes bread for chefs. Simon mills many types of wheat to make different types of bread. He explained the following seven things:
Freshly milling your own wheatberries has many benefits, but flavor is the most important. 1. Isn’t great taste what we all want after all?
The aromas of the flour that I first made from wheat berries was overwhelming. It was overwhelming. It was amazing that flour could smell this way. The smell of whole wheat flour is usually sweet and wheaty. But fresh milled flour smells nutty, earthy, grassy and super fresh. It was almost like being in a freshly cut wheat field. These aromas intensify as you hydrate flour and make your doughs.
This all leads to a better overall flavor or taste than store-bought flour. Many people who I know have compared it to freshly grinding their own coffee beans. It’s difficult to drink any other coffee after you have experienced the strong aromas and flavor of freshly ground coffee. You can also make breads from freshly milled flour.
While I am not an expert in the nutritional value of flour and grains, I know there are many studies and research that go into this topic (ICE Director of Nutrition Celine Beeitchman goes into grain here). We know that fresh flour retains more vitamins, minerals, and oils than older flours. The flour is immediately oxidized when the wheat berries have been broken up at the mill. This causes the nutrients to gradually start to degrade. The more it is exposed to oxygen, both nutrients and minerals, the greater the loss.
Another advantage to fresh milling whole berries is their ability to be stored for longer periods than older flour, especially whole-grain flour. Whole berries can be stored in a dry, dark, cool place for at least two years. Whole wheat flour has a shorter shelf life than store-bought flours, and is more susceptible to spoilage because it still contains most of the germ and bran. This is where the majority of oils found in whole wheat are located, and this is what causes spoilage.