When you think of local food, what do you see? Fresh tomatoes? Grass fed beef? What about local wheat? Local flour? Baked goods are at the farmers markets, but where do you find local flour? And why would you want to?
More and more people are starting to seek out local grains and flours for their health. They are learning that white flour is garbage for our health, and that the whole wheat flour is often rancid and not really whole wheat anyway.
What is White Flour?
Modern wheat flour is generally made in roller mills. These mills are fast, and give more consistent textures than traditional stone milling of flour.
In a roller mill, the wheat berries are crushed by large steel rollers. The rollers remove the outer bran sections. What is left is mostly the endosperm of the kernel, which is the starch and protein.
The roller mills separate out both the germ and bran of the wheat berries. The germ has the healthy fats and vitamins, while the bran has the fiber and minerals.
Since the majority of the nutrients are removed from white flour, the flour is usually enriched. This enriching adds back in some of the missing nutrients.
When white flour became popular and easier to obtain, we began seeing cases of pellagra and beriberi in the US. People were not getting enough niacin and thiamine in their diets. Thus, they “enriched”, or added the missing nutrients to the flour.
Whole Wheat Flour
White flour is highly processed. Nutrients are removed, then added back in artificially. Often the flour is bleached too. Many people are looking towards whole wheat flour as an alternative to processed white flour.
Whole wheat flour is created by either milling wheat whole, or by separating out the bran and germ and then recombining them. In the US, whole grain flour must contain the same proportion of germ, bran, and endosperm as of the original kernel.
Modern flours may be recombined or reground to meet certain standards and expectations of bakers. Recombining can create a flour that meets standards and will bake consistently.
However, the healthy part of the wheat, the germ and bran, are highly perishable. That dusty, bitter smell and flavor you may get when baking with whole wheat? That means the flour has gone bad.
One of the reasons white flour is so popular is not just the texture and flavor, it’s because food manufacturers can keep white flour baked goods on the shelf much longer.
Whole wheat flour, in an airtight container, on a cool pantry shelf, will last 1-3 months. However, that is dependent on how fresh your flour was in the first place.
If you don’t see a lot of turnover in your local supermarket, that flour could be rancid before you buy it. Rancid flour smells musty or sour.
Though most sources claim up to 3 months for whole wheat flour, others say whole wheat flour can stay at room temperature only 3 days. In the fridge, 7 days. And in the freezer, 6 months.
The freshest flour is obtained from local sources and stored properly.
That means buying from local mills, or milling your own. Whole grains keep well, and ship easily. But the flour? That’s another story.
Buying your grains locally is a great idea, as it helps your community, and you may find heirloom options. Keeping your grain growers local means keeping their mills open too.
Heirloom Whole Wheat
Over the last few decades, there has been a marked increase in health problems that many contribute to wheat. Many people are avoiding gluten and wheat altogether. But why has there been such an increase?
There are many theories. One is that the modern wheat we began using in the 1950s is not as good for us. Another is that there are too many pesticides. Others blame the fast acting yeasts rather than slow rising sourdough methods.
Though studies have been done, there haven’t been enough completed to show exactly what the culprit is. Likely it is some combination of all three.
Seeking out fresh local flour made out of heirloom wheat may be a healthier option. Small time local growers are the best place to seek out both whole grains and freshly milled local flour.
Einkorn is the oldest wheat known to scientists. It only has 14 chromosomes compared to modern wheat’s 42. Einkorn lacks the D chromosome, linked to wheat intolerances.
Emmer, also called farro, is an ancient wheat that allegedly has been found in Egyptian tombs. It is a cross between einkorn and other grass seeds.
Emmer is the grandmother of durum, used for excellent pasta and flatbreads. Emmer has less gluten so breads made from it do not rise as much.
Spelt, another ancient grain, is a hybrid of emmer and another grass seed. Spelt breads are tender and light.
There are many other ancient grains out there, though not all of them have gluten, and few are related to wheat. Still, it’s worth it to do some research, especially if you have gluten sensitivities.
Maryland and Other Local Wheat
Here in Maryland, we have two farms selling grains and freshly milled local flours.
Migrash Farms has 7 wheat varieties available for sale in 2020. These include emmer, einkorn, and spelt, along with other heritage wheat seeds. Check out their site for availability.
Migrash Farms can be found at the Baltimore JFX Farmers Market, and take preorders for both grains and local flours.
They are located in Randallstown, and use grains from their own farm and others in the Chesapeake region. They offer mid-week pickup locations along with their market.
Next Step Produce is an 86 acre farm located in southern Maryland. They offer grains, beans, veggies, and fruit via pickup in La Plata.
Grains sold by Next Step include buckwheat and wheat, as grains and flour.
Grinding and Using Whole Wheat Flour
Sometimes the only way to get fresh local flours is to mill them yourself. A purpose-built grinder works best for this, but there are ways to try out milling your own without the expense of a grinder.
To start, you can mill flour in a coffee grinder. It will only grind a small amount at a time, and won’t be as even as a grinder. But it can be a good way to see if you like milling your own.
A food processor may work, but it will wear it out. It grinds similarly to a coffee mill, just in larger quantities. Try it out and see how you like your freshly ground flour.
I tried milling in my high powered blender and it worked, but also scratched the plastic up. I bought a grinder after that.
You can find lots of tips and tricks to help you bake with your fresh flours. Try out recipes that have been adapted for your type of grain. At a minimum, try replacing 25% of your regular flour at first in your favorite baking recipes.
I’m looking forward to milling more of my own flours and testing them out. I plan to experiment and talk more about my results in later posts. Local flour is worth it!