Sometimes my husband just shakes his head when he walks past me, and I’m never sure why. Recently he confessed, “I’m still sort of in disbelief that you make flour in our basement.”
It’s a big step to go from buying flour to buying 50-pound bags of bulk whole grains and grinding them in your own home (maybe not always in the basement). It does add a few minutes to my bread baking and other grain-based recipes, and the cost of a grinder alone is a commitment as well.
We know that freshly milled grain is the most nutritious of all, but hey – what if you don’t have a grain mill yet?
Since many of us have to buy our grains already in the form of flour, here are a few tips to get the best nutrition out of the situation:
- Buy flour at a store with a fast turn-around to try to ensure the most freshly ground you can get.
- Look for unbromated whole wheat flour – King Arthur states that on their package, and Gold Medal claimed to be unbromated when I called the company. It’s one fewer chemical that we don’t need in our bodies.
- Store your whole grain flours in the freezer whenever possible. You can keep some of it in the refrigerator if that helps keep it close at hand. I only bought flour in bulk in the winter when I could store it in a tub outside and in my garage. Just this time of year, I’ve got to start moving it into my already-packed fridge. So sad!
- Why the freezer? Keep the oils in the germ from going rancid and try to preserve the enzyme phytase in the bran.
What Happens to Grain After it is Milled into Flour?
Whole grains are very stable and usually don’t spoil, since they don’t have much moisture content and are protected by their own outer layer. As a seed, they’re designed to be preserved at least until next year’s planting and usually well beyond for the proliferation of the species.
However, once milled, the protective coating is smashed to bits and some of the sensitive insides are exposed to air, which changes everything.
Many sources, including my contact at Pleasant Hill Grain, the sponsor of our Nutrimill giveaway, quote that wheat flour loses 40% of its vitamin content in the first 24 hours after milling and 85-90% after 2-3 more days. Here’s a little more in-depth science on what happens:
- Unsaturated fats in the wheat germ oxidize/go rancid.
- B Vitamins are destroyed by light and air.
- Beneficial enzymes start working and play themselves out.
- Vitamin A is diminished.
- Vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that helps to protect flour from oxidation, deteriorates once milled, especially if the conditions become moist.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Please see the comments for a rebuttal and revision of this information from a well-read passerby, especially this comment and this one. Sounds like the vitamin loss is less significant than I was told and read. There is a lot of misinformation, about nutrition especially, on the Internet. I don’t want to play a part! Soooo…it’s possible that freshly ground grain isn’t a zillion times healthier than not-freshly-ground flour, but it still keeps me in charge of my food. Also, the commenter does say that the vitamins in “enriched” white flour are possibly about equal to that of freshly ground grain, but I’d rather have the natural vitamins than synthetics any day. As usual, it’s up in the air again!
How Long Can you Store Freshly Ground Wheat Flour?
Again, many experts would say “Use it right away!” However, I for one simply cannot grind flour every time a need a few Tablespoons to feed my sourdough starter, so I store extras in my refrigerator or freezer. The freezer is best, but there’s a bit of a space premium on frozen air in my house.
- At room temperature: As little as 2 days, but some sources say up to 5 days would be okay. If your flour is already “soaking” in a recipe, don’t worry about rancidity. Other processes have already begun!
- In the refrigerator: 10 days
- In the freezer: up to 30 days
- Some sources at this very comprehensive source set the standard for flour storage at 15-60 days, but they also admit rancidity has been found as early as two days after milling. Fresh is best!
The Scary Rat Experiment
In Germany in 1970, scientists conducted a rat feeding study to examine the value of whole grains. Rats were fed half of their food in the form of bread or flour. They were separated into five groups:
- fresh, stone-ground flour
- bread made with fresh, stone-ground flour
- fresh flour stored for 15 days
- bread made with the 15-day stored flour
- white flour
After four generations of rats, those in groups three and five were infertile. Only groups one and two maintained appropriate fertility. (Not sure about group four…) Four generations of rats is equivalent to about 100 years for the human race. I don’t think I need to connect many dots for you or help you with the math of refined baked goods and the surge of commercial flour vs. home milled. How many people do you know who have struggled to conceive?
Buying Healthy Whole Wheat Flour
What if you don’t have access to a grain mill to grind you own flour? It’s just not realistic that everyone can achieve this. Buying commercially milled flour doesn’t have to be scary.
First, commercial flour generally has the wheat germ removed, since that’s the part with the unstable oils that would cause the whole thing to go rancid. You might miss out on a few vitamins and nutrients, but avoiding the risk of rancidity is worth it.
When you purchase flour at a store, try your best to buy from a store with a high turnover rate, so you can at least hope that your bag of flour hasn’t been sitting on the shelf for a very long time. When you get it, freeze it right away.
I like to look for “certified chemical free” flour from mail order sources. Here in Michigan we have some access to Country Life Naturals, where they have some really nice flour.
In the store, it’s important to avoid potassium bromate, often added to flour as an enhancer. It’s pegged as a cancer risk and banned in many other countries (but not the U.S.). You can tell if your store whole wheat flour is unbromated if it states it on the package (like King Arthur brand) or by calling the company. I checked with Gold Medal for you, and they assured me their whole wheat is unbromated.
Did you see the other post for today? A $149 value giveaway that will help you learn to grow bacteria (yum!) and boost your family’s nutrition! Check it out. Nutrimill giveaway coming tomorrow morning at 6 a.m.!
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