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2.19.2011

Should you grind your own wheat?

As I mentioned in a recent post, I have been working on grinding my own grain for a while.  Why would I do such a crazy thing, you may ask?  Eh, I get that a lot:)

Ah, Bread...

So I thought I would do a quick and dirty rundown on the whys and the hows.  Then at the least you may realize I'm not totally crazy, and perhaps I may even peak your interest.

So first, why do I want to grind my own grain?
  • Fresh ground wheat tastes better- the natural oil in the germ (one of the parts that is removed during processing to white flour, which is why white flour has a much longer shelf life) begins to go rancid once the grain has been broken.  There is much debate about exactly how fast it goes rancid, but what I do know for sure is that store bought whole wheat flour almost always produces a slightly bitter loaf while fresh ground does not.  Besides not tasting good rancid oil also contains free radicals, and those aren't "good eats."
  • The vitamin content of whole wheat flour begins to degrade once it is ground, so the fresher the better.  Now, there is what I believe is a lot of exaggeration (90% vitamin loss in 24 hours!) and misinformation out there about exactly what degrades and how fast, and I have fallen on the side that there must be some degradation, but probably not that much.  I say that there must be some because any plant food begins to degrade once it is damaged/cut up/crushed/oxidized... etc.  In addition, most commercially milled flours (those not labeled stone ground) are milled on steel rollers that can heat to over 150 degrees (I have a source for this temp in the food industry, but it's confidential... I've seen other sites state mills run at temps as high as 400, but that seems excessive, especially because of the high risk of fire in flour mills, I would think 400 degrees would be far too dangerous).  Anything over 140 degrees can affect the vitamin content.  Lastly, the oil from the germ speeds the degradation of vitamins, particularly fat soluble vitamins, as it goes rancid.
  • Grinding your own flour can be more economical... if you're careful.  For example, the wheat I bought at Walmart a few weeks ago was just under $13 for 25 lbs.  That's about $.52 a lb.  Even the cheapest whole wheat flour (and cheapest, in my experience, almost always means more rancid and bitter) is usually $3.50 per 5 lb bag... that's around $.70 a lb.  BUT, if you're buying from the bulk bins at the health food store you're probably not going to get this low of a price (particularly for organic- the prices I quote above are not organic, so that price/lb would be higher).  Ask (as I finally did) if you can get a discount for buying a whole 25 lb. (or whatever size) bag.  This, of course, is the first thing you want to look into, though.  If you don't have a cost effective way of obtaining grain you would have to be pretty gung-ho (or pretty loaded) to keep it up.
  • Whole grains have a much longer shelf life than ground flour, so you can stockpile grain, while it would be difficult to stockpile whole wheat flour.
  • ... and because, if you're a nerd like me, it's fun!  It gets you one step closer to really knowing where your food comes from.  That is very fulfilling.
But where to start?  It can seem overwhelming, I know.  Other than a few month stint of grinding spelt during Oliver's wheat allergy I am just now getting into doing it consistently, and I've been working on this for a year now.  Now, in retrospect, this is what I would do:
My Grain Mill.
  • Locate a source of grain that fits your budget, preferably local.  Keep your eyes open, because it's not something you can find at your run of the mill grocery store.  The Super Walmart by my sister's house in Kansas City carries bagged wheat, but mine doesn't.  As I've mentioned, many health food stores or grocery stores that keep bulk bins will have the large bags they fill those bulk bins out of, but they may not offer them for sale.  It never hurts to ask- be prepared to have to order it ahead, though, so you don't affect their stock.  Even better, if you live in a rural area, see if anyone in your area grows organic wheat and see what they would charge you for 50 or 100 lbs (it's not as much as you think).  Just beware- if you buy from a farmer, the wheat you buy isn't going to be as clean as commercially bagged wheat.  You will need to check it very carefully for stones that could potentially damage your mill... and bugs.
  • Find something to store your grain in.  I use 5 gallon Super Pails with Gamma Seal Lids that I ordered from Pleasant Hill Grain.  I have two that I use, one for white flour and one for white rice (I know! bad bad bad!  But there is a place for white flour- dusting the surface to roll stuff out or knead, white sauce, and my "company" bread and biscuits... and the white rice is kind of an emergency "I don't know what starch to make!" thing, which doesn't happen much since I meal plan!).  I'm trying to find something I can buy locally for the wheat.  Right now it's sitting in my kitchen in bags.
  • Research grain mills and start looking for deals, because they are not cheap.  I have a Family Grain Mill attachment (also from Pleasant Hill Grain, above) for my Kitchenaid mixer.  If you are interested in doing this make sure that your mixer is at least a 325 Watt mixer.  The Artisan and the Pro Series (Pro 500 and Pro 600) meet this criteria, but check your mixer to be sure.  There should be a sticker on it that tells you the wattage.  If you try to mill with a lower watt mixer you will burn up the motor.  Also, many people recommended against the Kitchenaid brand milling attachment, which is why I went with the Family Grain Mill instead.  It also helps to know that a steel bur grinder, like any manual or mixer attachment grinder, is going to grind a coarser flour than a pricier pulverizing mill like a Nutrimill or Whispermill.  Does the price seem prohibitive to you?  See if your local health food store or co-op has a grain mill on site, so you can buy the grain and grind it there (but I doubt they'd let you buy in bulk in that case...).  If not, see if anyone else you know is interested in milling their own wheat, and buy a mill together.
  • Work on your whole wheat recipes!  And then look into soaking your grain.  Not only does it make the bread even more nutritious, it makes whole grain baked goods taste better and lighter.

Want to win a Nutrimill and try this yourself?  Kitchen Stewardship is having a Nutrimill giveaway this month- and the site is a great resource.  Check it out!

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