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Wheat: The Staff of Life PDF Print E-mail

by Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist
November 2014

There is nothing like the smell or taste of a freshly baked piece of sourdough, yeast bread, or cornbread. Of course there are many other varieties of bread too, too numerous to mention!! Many of us take for granted the multiple types of flour that are found in the many bins of the bulk section at the Co-op. Of course then there are the many packaged flours for sale too!

Wheat is the staff of life for many people all over the world and it is consumed daily not just as flour but in cereal, pasta, and tortillas, to name a few. Wheat berries and cracked wheat are other tasty treats produced from wheat, which is a member of the grass family. Can you imagine what it would be like without wheat flour, a daily staple for many? There are some who can’t tolerate wheat but thankfully there are many other grains that can replace it.

Wheat is an ancient grain that is believed to have originated In southwestern Asia. It has been reported to have been consumed by various cultures for over 12,000 years. Many cultures referred to it as “the staff of life” and therefore it often was a part of sacred rituals and many countries had gods and goddesses of wheat. Even in some areas of China, a major rice consumer, they considered wheat to be sacred. Rice, corn, and wheat are the three most commonly eaten grains in the world, and rice and corn surpass wheat in consumption. Wheat arrived in this country around the late 1700s and now the U.S. is one of the main producers of wheat in the world.

We are fortunate to have access to Green Mountain Flour at the Co-op. Green Mountain Flour is produced at their grist mill just up the road in Windsor, VT, that specializes in milling locally produced grains from a variety of farms in New England. The grains that they mill include wheat, barley, spelt, buckwheat, corn, triticale, and rye, and it is exciting to think that they are available from the Northeast region, rather than from the Midwest or other regions of this country that surpass us by leaps and bounds in their wheat production. Green Mountain Flour is unique because of how it is produced. The natural grist mill process they use leaves the nutrients and fiber intact compared to the industrial milling process. Their flours are not enriched since their gentle milling techniques leave the micronutrients as well as the bran and germ (fiber containing part of the wheat kernel) intact. This is what sets them apart from many other flours available on the shelf. Other varieties they produce are “bolted” wheat and “bolted” corn flour. Bolting is a process that many industrial mills used originally to lighten flour and hold back some of the bran when flour was milled for different uses. Green Mountain Flour basically sifts some of the bran out when they bolt their flour and leaves behind a flavorful all-purpose flour with some bran and the germ and the mineral content intact.  In modern industrial milling, the bolting process removes most of the nutrients and bran and germs so therefore most flours are enriched. The bran and germ are often then used for animal feed. The enrichment process seems contradictory when you think that companies are removing 11 or more nutrients along with the fiber initially before then enriching their flour with only five or six of the original nutrients. What happened to all the others they took out?
For best retention of flavor and nutrition store any whole grain flours in a cool, dark place. During the warm months they should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer so that the naturally occurring fats do not go rancid. If the flour has an off scent to it when you open the bag discard it, since it will not produce a tasty product and it is not healthy to consume either!