“...I foresaw that, in time, it would please God to supply me with bread. And yet here I was perplexed again, for I neither knew how to grind or make meal of my corn, or indeed how to clean it and part it; nor, if made into meal, how to make bread of it, and if how to make it, yet I knew not how to bake it... 'Tis a little wonderful, and what I believe few people have thought upon, viz., the strange multitude of little things necessary in the providing, producing, curing, dressing, making, and finishing this one article of bread.”—Robinson Crusoe
What is wheat?
Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He also said, “I am the bread of life.” God used the metaphor of bread and grain repeatedly in the Old and New Testaments. It is a beautiful picture of the foundational dependence we have upon Him for our very life. He nourishes our souls and spirits, giving life abundant to the degree that we feast upon Him. Once a week will never suffice. We must eat at the King’s table daily to be healthy, whole, thriving Christians.
Interestingly, the metaphor may be reversed to display an incredible scientific truth about the physical bread and grains we eat to sustain our bodies. While the body can exist on breads and cereals made of flours and grains which have been in a processed form for an extended time, the body thrives and health is improved by the nutrients provided by consumption of freshly processed grain—daily bread and life more abundantly!
All grains come in their own divinely designed preservation packaging, the bran. This exterior shell of the grain is made up of many nutrient rich layers. More importantly, it protects and preserves the vital nutrients stored in the grain—almost indefinitely! From Biblical accounts, we know Joseph stored grain for up to fourteen years—enough to feed the entire nation of Egypt during seven years of famine! It has even been said that grain found in the pyramids, buried with ancient rulers such as King Tut, has been found to be viable even thousands of years later.
Once the bran has been damaged or cracked open, the inner elements are exposed to oxygen, which destroys the vitamins and oils in just a short period of time. Within twenty-four hours of grinding or cracking wheat, forty percent of the nutrients have oxidized. Within seventy-two hours of processing (just three days), ninety percent of the nutrients have been destroyed. From this point on, the flour still maintains its mineral content and (of course) its caloric value, but the life-giving vitamins and oils have been essentially destroyed—over twenty-five of them! By immediately using the freshly processed flour or grain, you are consuming and reaping the health and flavor benefits of these essential vitamins and oils.
The bran, however, is more than just fancy packaging. It is rich in vitamins, minerals and proteins. Further, it is a great source of valuable fiber, which acts like a sponge, absorbing and removing toxins from the body as it “scrubs” the digestive tract. Regular intake of fresh, whole grains eliminates the need for dietary fiber supplements.
Just inside the bran is the endosperm, a white starchy substance with a low level of nutrients. This is the “white flour” that makes up most of the baked goods and grain products sold in the stores today. Buried deep within the center of the endosperm is the most vital part, the germ. Although the germ is the smallest of these three components comprising only 2½ percent of the entire kernel, it contains a high concentration of some of the most valuable, all-natural nutrients. The wheat germ contains tocopherol, God’s version of Vitamin E oil, which some claim to be the “oil of youth,” keeping skin and other vital organs soft and pliable. Researchers have found tocopherol to be a crucial element to a healthy reproductive system (as indicated by its very name: tokos is Greek for offspring + pherin means to bear). The germ also contains a rich supply of all the essential fatty acids.
What is true for wheat is also true for other grains, such as corn, rice and oats.
Prior to the 1900’s the local mill in each community ground only enough flour each day to meet the demand of the people in the area. The flour could not be stored for long, and the people were, for the most part, eating fresh whole-wheat flour every few days. Anyone who has left true whole-wheat flour to sit for a few weeks will recall the foul odor and rancid flavor. Obviously, something has been done to the flour on the grocery store shelves to avoid this problem. When wheat is ground for commercial flour sales, the bran is first removed and the germ and oil in particular are separated out, since these spoil in a short period of time. The remaining endosperm is then finely ground, leaving white flour. In order to market “whole-wheat flour,” a small percentage of the bran is returned to the product, yet it still lacks the germ and thus is far from being “WHOLE” wheat flour. As there is a relatively small demand in the health food industry for the germ and remaining bran, the bulk of it is profitably marketed as a vitamin supplement for cattle feed. Ranchers know if the cattle do not get the proper nutrients and fiber, their livestock will die!
In the case of commercially made whole-wheat bread, some companies even resort to using fillers such as wood fiber cellulose (saw dust?) and caramel coloring to produce the expected heavier, darker loaf as compared to its white bread counterpart. Cellulose is now being widely used in white bread products as well. No wonder they call it “Wonder Bread.” I wonder what else is in it? Store-bought whole-wheat flour products may contain fiber, but unless they are derived from flour ground just prior to use, they do not contain the natural vitamins and essential oils from the grain.
When we see the word “enriched” on a product it should put us on guard rather than give us comfort. Over twenty-five nutrients found in wheat are absent from white flour. Enriched bread products contain only a handful of lab-grade vitamins as an attempt to make up for this. Interestingly, manufacturers began adding these vitamins as a result of health problems, which emerged from the consumption of white flour, which was completely void of them. Two of the main problems were Beriberi and Pellegra, both nervous disorders with a variety of symptoms, many of which resemble widespread health problems in our current culture. Think of the rise we are seeing in crippling diseases such as MS and rheumatoid arthritis. Think of the nervous disorders such as ADD, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, depression and PMS. Think of the gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. Pellegra is a Niacin deficiency, which may result in diarrhea, skin lesions, dementia, depression and mucous membrane irritation. These symptoms do not only originate with white flour, but we see similar results with other grains. The bran of rice is rich in B vitamins. Dry beriberi, a crippling nervous disease and wet beriberi, the cardiovascular manifestation of the same disease are caused by a deficiency in Thiamin (vitamin B-1) and are very common in the poorest families of Asia where the main component of the diet is polished white rice. Some of these symptoms may be decreased or even eliminated by “enrichment,” though this is akin to removing the warning bulb in the dash, instead of changing the oil in your car. However, many of the underlying illnesses are often resolved just by eating real bread. The saying goes, “The whiter your bread, the sooner you’re dead.” Through more studies than we can list, science seems to confirm this.
The average bushel of wheat weighs about 60 pounds. The standard extraction rate yields about 72 percent white flour and 28 percent mill feed. Thus, approximately 2.3 bushels of wheat are required to produce 100 pounds of white flour.
Wheat is a grass, which grows naturally in many parts of the world. For thousands of years people have gathered the berries or kernels and ground them into a flour or meal to be used as food. As wheat gained popularity it began to be cultivated and not just gathered. At first, a couple of good stones were used to grind the wheat berries. This was very hard physical labor, which took several hours to grind enough grain for just one meal. As grain was crushed between two stones, a depression would form at the point of impact. This wearing of the stones eventually formed primitive millstones that crudely fit together and would expel the ground meal or flour from the grinding surface, though the coarsely ground grain would contain powdered bits of stone as well as the flour. The Egyptian grinding process using these “saddlestones” may be seen in murals found in the ancient tombs of the Nile.
Slightly more advanced mills used two horizontal, disk-shaped stones that turned against each other. Grain was poured between the two stones and the turning action was used to grind the grain. Grooves in the bottom stone channeled the flour out the sides of the stones. The Greeks invented the “hourglass mill”, which extended the top stone to create a hopper for the grain. Levers were added for greater grinding power. Though somewhat primitive, this method of milling was used for thousands of years and continues to be used in many areas of the world today, whether powered by men, beast, water or wind. It is believed the use of waterpower for grinding originated with the Romans about one hundred years before Christ’s birth. This greatly increased the output and was a significant step in the commercialization of milling. Many years later, just prior to 1200 A.D., windmills were developed in France and England, though relatively few milling operations still rely upon water or wind power today.
The early American colonists milled grain by hand. However, by the mid to late 1600’s, commercial milling operations were becoming more common. In those days the quality of flour varied greatly. Grain was simply ground just as it arrived at the mill and used as it came out, coarser or finer, debris and all. In the late 1800’s, commercial mills began to replace millstones with steel rollers, producing cleaner, more uniform flour.
Local mills were an important part of each community since the farmer consumed a portion of his own crop. In 1873, there were 23,000 commercial mills in the United States. When the industrial revolution hit, the man-hours required for wheat farming were reduced from 83 hours to two man-hours per acre. The combine alone reduced harvesting time from 46 hours to 30 minutes per acre. As industrialization grew and society left the farm for the city, flour milling also changed to its own highly specialized industry and there are currently only around two hundred commercial mills in the United States.
Today there is a small, but rapidly growing segment of people who are returning to the old ways of consuming their daily bread. Thankfully, we have modern technology at our service if we choose to utilize it. Many people are investing in hand mills, roller/flakers, electric grain mills and dough machines and are reaping the wonderful benefits of personally grinding their own grain and enjoying what is probably the best bread in history.
Six basic types of wheat are grown in the United States: Hard Red Winter, Hard Red Spring, Soft Red Winter, Durum, Hard White and Soft White.
Red wheat has a bolder, nuttier flavor and darker color. White varieties have a subtler flavor and lighter color. People who think they do not like the taste of whole-wheat bread may prefer to start with a white wheat and later experiment with using higher proportions of red wheat, even up to using 100% red wheat. There is no significant nutritive difference between the two, so it is up to personal preference. White wheat is more typical in cakes, tortillas, pizza crust and other items where you don’t want the flavor of the bread to compete with other flavors.
The difference between hard and soft wheat is more significant. Hard wheat contains more protein than soft wheat, therefore increasing its gluten capacity. Durum is the hardest of the hard, highest in protein and is usually only appropriate for making pasta. It is the best in this application, as using anything softer often causes the noodles to be weak and sticky, resulting in breakage while making them and disintegration when cooking them.
Hard Red or White wheat is best used for yeast-rising bread and rolls. Its high protein (gluten) content stimulates the yeast for better rising, resulting in a higher volume, lighter, softer product.
Soft wheat is the lowest in protein and produces a finer flour, appropriate for biscuits, cakes, pastries, crackers and unleavened breads, such as tortillas and flat-breads (chapattis). To make an even lighter flour (like baker’s cake flour), substitute 40% barley flour in your batter.
The idea that you must add white flour to fresh whole-wheat flour to successfully make whole-wheat bread is a myth. You can make light and fluffy, fresh homemade bread out of 100% fresh ground wheat.
Gluten is one of the keys to making a successful loaf of whole-wheat bread. It is a network of fiber strands within the bread dough, which trap the gases created by the yeast fermentation or other leaveners, causing the bread to rise. When there is not enough gluten, the bread cannot rise to its potential height, resulting in the dense, heavy breads which cause many people to give up when experimenting with baking whole-wheat bread.
This tough, elastic substance is not actually present in wheat, but results when the flour is mixed with water. Proteins in the wheat, glutenin and gliain, are responsible for the formation of gluten. Thus, the higher the protein content of the wheat, the greater the capacity for gluten formation. Thorough kneading enhances gluten production.
For those of us who are used to a very light, airy bread, addition of extra gluten to the dough is beneficial. Gluten powder can be purchased and added at the rate of one to two teaspoons for each cup of whole-wheat flour.
Though it is fun and rewarding to mix flours derived from different grains to make various bread flavors such as rye, only wheat contains enough gluten to result in a successful loaf of yeast bread. The rye flour must be mixed with hard wheat flour and extra gluten for a good light end product. Then again, you might want a traditional “dense” loaf to go with some sauerkraut?
What are all these different flours sold in the store?