There is little difficulty today in obtaining good flour, but the different brands vary in composition, and so do different lots of the same brand, in spite of the effort to keep them constant. This means that a different treatment must be used. It is well, then, in the household, to experiment a few times with a new lot of flour before condemning it as poor and returning it.
Some false standards have been set up in regard to flour. The best bread flour is not pure white, but yellowish in tint. It readily retains the impression of the fingers, if a little is pressed together in the hand. It always has a slightly gritty feeling, while pastry flour is much smoother and more velvety to the touch.
Within a few years the use of cereals as breakfast foods has become general. We have now not only the standard meals, which have been used for a long time, but a multitude of patent preparations as well. The Maine agricultural experiment station found that of fifty varieties of cereals purchased in the market, only about twenty had been on sale for more than three years. Many of these are only new in name, or differ very slightly from those before used. Within a short time there has been added to our list of breakfast cereals many that claim to be predigested foods, and some that make absurd claims with regard to their wonderful food value, while others stand for what they are, without pretence.
Probably there is comparatively little to choose between different preparations of the same grain, so far as their chemical composition goes. The analysis of the uncooked food, however, by no means represents the composition of the cereal as we eat it. An analysis of boiled oatmeal, for instance, gave: Water, 84.5 per cent; protein, 2.8 per cent; carbohydrate, 11.5 per cent; fat, 5 per cent. Comparing this with the analysis of oatmeal given on p. 99, we find only about one-sixth the per cent of nutritive material, with a corresponding increase of water. A cereal that would absorb a greater weight of water would show still greater variation.
The digestibility of the cereals is influenced by the coarseness of the particles. The coarser foods are highly desirable in many cases, especially where a sluggishness of the intestines exists, and in other cases are very irritating to the delicate lining of stomach and intestine. Individual needs must determine the use of each.
Most of the cereals, even those that are steam cooked, need much more cooking- than is ordinarily given them in order to sufficiently hydrate the starch. Of the foods supposed to be ready to eat, it is difficult to speak definitely, for lack of careful experimentation. In most of them a certain proportion of the starch has been converted into dextrin and sugar. Two questions arise in regard to this. Has the starch been sufficiently changed so that it no longer is indigestible as uncooked starch; and is it desirable to have the starch digested? There seems to be a tendency in our modern life to depend too largely upon predigested foods, particularly in the case of children. This means a tendency toward the lessening of the power to digest. It is certainly a question whether it is not best to take our starch undigested but in such a form that it can be easily acted upon by the digestive juices, rather han to have the work done outside the body.