This section of the book is from the "How and When to Be Your Own Doctor" book, by Dr. Isabelle A. Moser with Steve Solomon, published in 1997.
One of the largest degradations to human health was caused by the roller mill. This apparently profitable machine permitted the miller to efficiently separate wheat flour into three components: bran, germ and endosperm. Since bread made without bran and germ is lighter and appears more "upper class" it became instantly popular. Flour without germ and bran also had an industrial applicationit could be stored virtually forever without being infested by insects because white flour does not contain enough nutrition to support life. Most health conscious people are aware that white flour products won't support healthful human life either.
Essentially, white flour's effect on humans is another demonstration of Health = Nutrition / Calories. When the bran and germ are discarded, remaining are the calories and much of the protein, lacking are many vitamins and minerals and other vital nutritional substances.
Whole wheat bread has been called the staff of life. In ages past, healthy cultures have made bread the predominant staple in their diet. Does that mean you can just go to the bakery and buy whole grain bread, or go to the healthfood store and buy organically grown whole wheat flour, bake your own, and be as healthy as the ancients? Sorry, the answer is almost certainly no. There are pitfalls, many of them, waiting for the unwary.
White flour has one other advantage over whole wheat flour. It not only remains free of insect infestation, it doesn't become stale (meaning rancid). In the wheat germ (where the embryo resides) there is considerable oil, containing among other things, about the best natural source of vitamin E. This oil is highly unsaturated and once the seed is ground the oil goes rancid in a matter of days. Whole wheat flour kept on the unrefrigerated shelf of the store is almost certainly rancid. A lot of its other vitamin content has been oxidized too. If the wheat flour had flowed directly from the grinder into an airtight sack and from there directly to the freezer, if it had been flash frozen and kept extremely cold, it might have a storage life of some months. Of course that was not the case. Maybe you're lucky and your healthfood store is one of the very few that has its own small-scale flour mill and grinds daily. Probably not.
How about your baker's whole wheat bread? Where does the baker get flour? From the wholesaler's or distributor's warehouse! In fifty pound kraftpaper sacks! How much time had elapsed from milling to wholesaler to baker to baking? The answer has to be in the order of magnitude of weeks. And it might be months. Was the flour stored frozen? Or airtight? Of course not.
If you want bread made from freshly ground flour you are almost certainly have to grind and bake it yourself. Is it worth the trouble? You bet. Once you've tasted real bread you'll instantly see by comparison what stale, rancid whole wheat flour tastes like. Freshly ground flour makes bread that can be the staff of life and can enormously upgrade your healthif the wheat you use is any good.
But before we talk about wheat quality, a more few words of warning. If you think wheat goes rancid rapidly, rye is even worse. Rye flour goes bad so fast that when you buy it in the store it usually is the rye equivalent of white wheat flour. The germ has been removed. The bag may not say so. But it probably has. If you are going to make rye breads, even more reason to grind your own. Corn meal from the grocery store has usually been degerminated too. If it hasn't been, the oil in the seed's germ has probably gone rancid.
Grinding flour at home is easy these days. There is an abundance of at-home milling products and no shortage of hype about them. You'll find staunch advocates of stone mills. These produce the finest-textured flour, but are costly. The sales pitch is that stones grind at low temperature and do not damage the oils (remember the development of rancidity is a function of temperature) or the vitamins, which are also destroyed at high temperature. This assertion is half true. If you are going to store your flour it is far better to grind it cool. However, if you are, as we do, going to immediately bake your flour, what difference does it make if it gets a little warm before baking. That only accelerates the action of the yeast.
On the negative side, stone mills grind slowly and are very fussy about which grains they will grind. If the cereal is a bit moist or if the seed being ground is a little bit oily, the mill becomes instantly blocked.
Steel burr mills grind fast and coarsely and are inexpensive. Coarse flour makes heavy bread. The metal grinding faces tend to wear out and have to be replaced occasionallyif they can be replaced. Breads on the heavy side are still delicious; for many years I made bread with an inexpensive steel burr mill attachment that came with my juicer.
Some steel burr mills will also grind oily seed like sesame and sunflower. However, oily seeds can be ground far more easily half-a-cup at a time in a little inexpensive electric spice/coffee mill, the sort with a single fast-spinning propeller.
I currently think the best compromise are hammermills. The grain dribbles into a chamber full of fast-spinning teeth that literally pound the grain into powder. Since air flows through with the grain the flour is not heated very much. This type of mill is small, very fast, intermediate in price between steel mills and stone mill, lasts a long time, but when grinding, sounds like a Boeing 747 about to take off. It is essential to wear hearing protectors when using it.
Awareness of bread quality is growing. One excellent new U.S. business, called Great Harvest Bakery is a fast-growing national franchise chain. They bake and sell only whole grain breads; all their wheat flour is freshly ground daily on the premises in the back. Unfortunately, as of the writing of this book, they do not grind their rye flour but bring it in sacks. I can't recommend their rye breads. The founder of Great Harvest is a knowledgeable buyer who fully understands my next topic, which is that wheat is not wheat.
There are great differences between hard bread wheats; being organically grown is no cure all for making good or nutritious bread. Great Harvest understands this and uses top quality grain that is also Organic.
When I first stated making my own bread from my own at-home-ground flour I was puzzled by variations in the dough. Sometimes the bread rose well and was spongy after baking like I wanted it to be. Sometimes it kneaded stickily and ended up flat and crumbly like a cake. Since I had done everything the same way except that I may have bought my wheat berries from different healthfood stores, I began to investigate the subject of wheat quality.
The element in the cereal that forms the rubbery sponge in risen bread so it doesn't crumble and rises high without collapsing, is gluten. The word glue derives from gluten. The gluten content of various wheats varies. Bread bakers use "hard wheat" because of its high gluten content. Gluten is a protein and gluten comprises most of the protein in bread wheat; the protein content and the gluten content are almost identical.
Try this. Ask your healthfood store buyer or owner what the protein content is of the hard red wheat seeds they're selling. You'll almost certainly get a puzzled look and your answer will almost certainly be, "we have Organic and conventional." Demand that the store buyer ask this question of their distributor/wholesaler and then report back to you. If the distributor deigns to answer, the answer will be the sameI sell Organic or conventional hard red wheat. Period. When I got these non-answers I looked further and discovered that hard bread wheats run from about 12 percent protein to about 19 percent and this difference has everything to do with the soil fertility (and to an extent the amount of rainfall during the season), and almost nothing to do with Organic or conventional.
This difference also has everything to do with how your dough behaves and how your bread comes out. And how well your bread nourishes you. Thirteen percent wheat will not make a decent loaffourteen percent is generally considered #2 quality and comprises the bulk of cheap bread grain. When you hear in the financial news that a bushel of wheat is selling for a certain price, they mean #2. Bakers compete for higher protein lots and pay far higher prices for more protein.
We prefer our bread about 25% rye, but rye contains no gluten at all. Mix any rye flour into fourteen percent wheat flour and the dough becomes very heavy, won't rise, and after baking, crumbles. So I kept looking for better grain and finally discovered a knowledgeable lady that sold flour mills and who also was a serious baker herself. She had located a source of quality wheat with an assayed protein content and sold it by the 50 pound sack. When I asked her if her wheat was Organic she said it was either sixteen or seventeen percent protein depending on whether you wanted hard red spring wheat or hard white spring wheat. Organic or conventional? I persisted. No, she said. High protein!
So, I said to myself, since protein content is a function of soil fertility and since my body needs protein, I figured I am better off eating the best quality wheat, pesticide/herbicide residues (if there are any) be damned. Think about it! The difference between seventeen percent and fourteen percent protein is about 25 percent. That percentage difference is the key threshold of nutritional deficiency that makes teeth fall out. We can't afford to accept 25% degradations in our nutritional quality in something that we eat every day and that forms the very basis of our dietary.
Please understand here that I am not saying that high protein wheats can't be grown organically. They certainly can. The founder of Great Harvest Bakery performs a valuable service locating and securing high-protein lots of organically grown wheats for his outlets. But often as not Organic products are no more nourishing than those grown with chemicals. Until the buyers at Organic whole food wholesalers get better educated about grain, obtaining one's personal milling stock from them will be a dicey proposition.
Sometimes Organic cereal can be far worse than conventional. To make a cereal Organic is a negative definition; if it hasn't had chemicals, then its Organic. Grain is one of the few foods that will still produce economic yields of low quality seed on extremely infertile soil or when half-smothered in weeds because herbicides weren't used for reasons of ideological purity. Vegetables will hardly produce anything under those conditions; carelessly grown fruits and vegetables are inevitably small, misshapen, unmarketable. But seed cleaning equipment can remove the contamination of weed seeds in cereal grains (at a cost.)
The price the farmer receives for Organic cereal grain is much higher, so it is possible to accept rather low yields or expend more money for cleaning out high levels of weed seeds from the field-run harvest, and still make a good profit. A lousy Organic cereal crop like this might even make a higher profit because the farmer has been spared the expense of fertilization, of rotation, of weed control. I remember once I bought a sack of Organic whole oats that were the smallest, most shriveled, bitterest oats I've ever tried to eat. We ended up throwing out that tiny, light (lacking density) seed in favor of using the "conventional" whole oats that were plump, heavy and sweet.
Wheat is not the only cereal that is damaged by industrial milling. So are oats. Most consumers have never seen whole oats; they look very much like wheat berries. But rolled oats become rancid and stale on the shelf much like wheat flour on the shelf.
Another pitfall about using whole grains is that to be nutritious they must still be fresh enough to sprout vigorously. A seed is a package of food surrounding an embryo. The living embryo is waiting for the right conditions (temperature and moisture) to begin sprouting. Sprouting means the embryo begins eating up stored food and making a plant out of it. All foods are damaged by exposure to oxygen, so to protect the embryo's food supply, the seed is surrounded by a virtually airtight seed coat that permits only enough oxygen to enter for the embryo's respiration (yes, seed breaths slowly). Often the embryo is located at the edge of the seed and has its own air intake port. When the seed coat is removed or damaged, the innards are exposed to air and begin deteriorating rapidly. In the case of oats, especially rapidly, because oats are the only grass-based cereal that contains large quantities of oilfive percent oil, more or less. That's why oats "stick to your ribs." Rolled oats become stale and lose their flavor (and nutritional content) and perhaps become rancid very rapidly. So we make porridge from whole oat groats that we coarsely grind to grits (steel-cut oats) in an electric seed/spice mill just before cooking.
It is not easy to cook oat grits. They take a lot longer than rolled oats and if not done exactly to the recipe I'm about to give you, will almost inevitably stick to the pot badly and may also froth over and mess the stove. Here's how to cook them. Coarsely grind (like corn meal) your whole oats until you have one cup of oat grits. Bring exactly four cups of water (no salt) to a very hard boil at your highest heat. You may add a handful of raisins. Light or turn on a second, small-sized burner on the stove and set it as low as possible. Into the fast boiling water, slowly pour the ground oats, stirring continuously. Take about 30 seconds to pour it all or you'll make clumps. Keep on the high heat until the water again boils vigorously. Suddenly, the mixture will begin rising in the pot and will try to pour all over the stove. This means it is all at boiling temperature again. Quickly move the pot to the low burner; that instantly stops the frothing. Then cover. Let the porridge cook for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice to prevent sticking. Then, keeping it covered, turn off the heat. They can be eaten at this point but I think it is better to let the oats finish soaking on the stove for at least two to four hours. Then reheat in a double boiler, or warm in a microwave.
We usually start a pot of oats at bedtime for the next morning. See why people prefer the convenience of using rolled oats? But once you've eaten oats made right, you'll never prefer the flavor of rolled oats again. And if the human body has any natural method of assaying nutritional content, it is flavor.
Nutritionally, millet is almost the same story as oats. Millet seed is protected by a very hard hull. Cooking unhulled millet is almost impossible. After hours of boiling the small round seeds will still be hard and the hulls remain entirely indigestible. Worse, the half-round hulls (they split eventually) stick in your teeth. But prehulled millet, sitting in the sack for weeks and months, loses a lot of nutrition and tastes very second-rate compared to freshly-hulled millet. It is possible to buy unhulled millet, usually by special order from the health food distributorif you'll take a whole sack. Millet can be hulled at home in small batches. Here's how we figured out how to do it. There probably are better ways.
Using a cheap steel-burr flour mill, set the burrs just far enough apart that the seed is ground to grits, but not flour. This pops the hulls loose. An old mill with worn-out burrs works great for this job. Then you have to get some hand seed cleaning screens just large enough to pass the grits but not pass the hulls (most of them). Window screen or other hardware cloths won't work. Seed cleaning screens come in increments of 1/128 inch; we use a 6/64" round screen. Other batches of millet might work better with a screen one step larger or smaller. It will take you a little ingenuity to find hand-held screens. They're used by seed companies and farmers to clean small batches of seed for inspection and are usually about one square foot in size with a quality wooden frame. Larger frames made of the same screening material are used in big seed cleaning machines. (The hulls could also be winnowed out by repeatedly pouring the grit/hulls mixture back and forth between two buckets in a gentle breeze.)
After you've screened out most of the hulls, the rest will rinse out, floating off as you wash the grain prior to cooking. We never hull more than enough millet for two or three meals and keep the uncooked (unwashed) millet in the freezer in an airtight jar. It is interesting how people will accept poor nutrition and its consequent sickness as the price of convenience.
If you eat much buckwheat you should also figure out how to hull (sometimes called groating) it yourself. Someone should write a thorough book on the home milling of cereals. And perhaps sell the equipment by mail. Probably would be a good little homestead business.
Something else you need to keep in mind about seed. Even though the embryo's food supply is protected by the seed coat, it still slowly deteriorates, steadily oxidizing and losing nutritional value. Eventually old seed looses the ability to sprout. The decline in germination ability matches a decline in nutritional quality. Any seed you are going to use for eating should possess the ability to sprout, strongly and rapidly. (After you've comparatively sprouted a few grain samples, you'll know what I mean by this.) Fortunately, cereal grains usually sprout well for quite a few years after harvest if they have been stored cool and dry. Eating dead or near-dead seeds will help move you closer to the same condition yourself.
Finally, one more warning about buying store bread. Salt-free bread tastes "funny" to most people. It bakes fine, salt is not necessary to the leavening process, but no bakery could stay in business without salting their bread. The standard level of salt is two percent by weight. That is quite a lot! Two percent equals one teaspoonful per pound. I'll have more to say about the evils of salt later on.
I imagine some of my readers are feeling a little overwhelmed by all these warnings and "bewares ofs," and intricacies. They are used to taking no responsibility for securing their own food supply quality and have come to expect the "system" to protect them. I believe it is not because of lack of government intervention, but because of government intervention itself, our food system is very perverse. Until our mass consciousness changes, if you wish to make yourself and your family truly healthy, you are going to have to take charge and become quite a discriminating shopper. Unconscious consumers are on a rapid road to the total unconsciousness of death.
And again, let me remind you here that this one small book cannot contain everything you should know. The bibliography at the end of should become your guide to earning your post-graduate education in nutritional health.