If you attempt to live a healthy life and eat nutritious foods, you may want to consider purchasing a grain mill (grinder) and whole grain berries (seed) for your home! Not only is it long term, cheaper method of providing, but you can’t beat the flavor (or nutritional content) of freshly-ground flour. Not a chance!
Perhaps you’ve tried purchasing whole wheat or spelt flour from the store? Were you disappointed with the strong, rancid-like flavor?
I grew up on home-ground grains and couldn’t understand why folks didn’t enjoy the nutty, rich flavor of whole wheat breads, muffins and pancakes. After I moved out on my own, I purchased some whole wheat flour from the grocery store, thinking that I’d like to carry on with my mother’s tradition. The first time I whipped up a batch of pancakes, I was terribly disappointed! They tasted nothing like those made in the farm-house kitchen! In fact, they tasted like something-gone-wrong. Rancid. Bad. Like the flour had sat out for a year and then someone had packaged it up to sell!
“If this is all that others have to compare ‘whole grain’ products to, no wonder they don’t like ’em!” Horrible indeed! How was it that such a good thing could taste so bad?
In my research and pursuits for nutrition, I discovered that grocery-store whole grain flour tasted rancid because it is! And pardon me for saying, but so is the stuff purchased at the health food store unless it was kept in a freezer. At least some stores put the milling date on the sack. But even still…
Each individual grain seed has a pocket on one end that contains vitamins and oils. The bran (brown, skin-like coating) also contains oils. Once the contents of a seed are exposed to the oxygen through the grinding of flour, oils begin to go stale and vitamins begin to deplete. In 3 days time, the nutrition in home-ground flour will drop significantly. And that same rancid flavor will slowly creep in.
When whole grain flour has been bagged and sits on the grocery store shelf for at least a year…there isn’t going to be much to it except starches, roughage and the terrible flavor of rancidity.
The Truth about Using Home-Milled Flour
I believe changing to freshly-ground flour is a wonderful choice but it does take some adjusting. Whole grain products aren’t going to be so light or fluffy as white refined flour. They are denser and coarser in texture due to the bran (outer coating) in the seeds. It will be a new learning experience. Sometimes the loaf may not rise so high as you’d like, but there is a huge bonus regardless: nutrition and wonderful flavor! Some folks, particularly if new to home-milled flour, prefer to adjust slowly. Instead of baking 100% whole grain loaves, they use half white with half whole grain flour. Aside from adjusting taste buds, suddenly sending such roughage through the body can have “side effects.” For some, its easier to ease into this change of diet!
Choosing A Grain Mill
I recommend purchasing a grain mill so that you have fresh flour on hand every time you bake! But what kind of grain grinder should you choose? And what are the costs involved?
Oh my! There are so many grain grinders on the market! We personally use the NutriMill grinder (nutrimill.com). It is quite loud and because of this, has a permanent home in the pantry! The Wondermill is another good choice. My mother used it exclusively for years to supply fresh flour for her baking and raised 12 children by it! The downside is that this brand is also quite loud! A quieter choice would be the KoMo brand. KoMo makes a high quality grain mill, and if you like the idea of a wood base instead of plastic, go with KoMo!
In the States, you’ll be paying anywhere from $200-$400 for your grain mill. One company I’d recommend is Pleasant Hill Grain, located in Nebraska, USA. They carry high quality kitchen products from Bosch to Nutrimill and KoMo and have a wonderful variety to choose from. Even when living in Canada, we have purchased from their website! I’m a fan-but not an affiliate!
In Canada, you will be paying $400-$800 for a good grain mill. In the western provinces, Fieldstone Organics, (located in Armstrong, BC) carries a wide selection of grain mills and rollers. They even have dual purpose options: a grain mill with a grain flaker on the side. Want freshly rolled oats or rye? Perhaps consider the two-in-one option! See my post: Why You Should Purchase a Grain Flaker
Choosing Grain Types
There are lots of different grains out there! And if you include seeds…whew! We all know the most common grain: good ole’ wheat. If you delve into choosing and purchasing a few sacks, you’ll quickly discover there are various types of wheat: red and white, spelt, winter and summer varieties, it goes on! Generally speaking, hard wheat (regardless of variety) contains more gluten than soft wheat. Higher gluten content makes for a bread that rises quicker and in most cases, is lighter. Beginners may want to start with hard wheat varieties. We have recently begun using the Red Fife variety, known as Canada’s oldest wheat.
Spelt is in the wheat family and is an unadulterated ancient grain, low in gluten and yet makes a light loaf! I think it has the most delicious, nutty flavor of all wheat berries! In our home, spelt is the favored grain!
There are also other common grain types, such as barley, oats, and rye. When baking with home-ground flour, each has its own unique needs, and these three, specifically so! I highly recommend using proven recipes before you attempt to create your own with these grains! They are dense, yes more so than wheat due to their lack of (or very low) gluten content. Most often they are added to a bread dough base of wheat flour. On their own, they make a very dense loaf indeed! If you need a door-stopper, the loaves may just work for that!
Seeds are a gluten free and while they are easily added to baking soda or powder breads, they will weigh down a bread loaf and also ought to be used minimally. The common north American choices include: amaranth, buckwheat, flax, millet, quinoa and rice. Due to the high oil content of flax seeds, I recommend you mill them in a coffee grinder. Not all grain mills can handle such oily seeds long term.
Finding and Purchasing Whole Grain Berries
Most farmer’s who sell whole grain berries do so only 1-2x per year. For some, planning and ordering ahead is essential. In the western States there is a large organization called Azure Standard that carries a wide variety of whole grain seeds for grinding. Request their catalogue and they’ll send it to you regularly. They won’t ship to your home, but instead have a semi-local drop off point where you must go 1-2x per year and pick up your grains.
Regardless of where we’ve lived, we’ve discovered that our best option for finding a good grain supplier is through word of mouth. The baker’s stand at a your local farmer’s market is also a great place to begin. Particularly in western Canada, there are many smalls-scale grain farmers who only sell locally. And I like supporting local businesses! If all else fails, your community may have a farming facebook page or local paper. Advertise there. You’re sure to get some leads.
Don’t let the cost of setting up deter you. Think of it as a long-term investment for your dollar and health! When milling your own flour, it takes approx 8 oz of wheat berries to make 1 C of (unpacked) flour. A 50 lb sack of wheat berries gives you 100 C of flour. That ought to hold you over for a while!
Storing Whole Grains & Flour
When you bring your order home, make certain you have a mouse-proof place to keep your grains! We use rubbermaid totes because we inevitably get a few mice every winter. Nothing is worse than having a germ-infested rodent chewing on your precious supply of grains!
When grinding grain to make pancakes or bread, you rarely grind the exact amount needed and most often, overdo it. Bag and keep it in your freezer. It will help hold nutritional content. In fact, we purposely grind up extra for the freezer and use it up within 2 weeks time. Its particularly handy to have pre-ground flour for whipping up the pancakes and muffins my man so dearly loves!