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Why Whole Wheat Is Way Better

This article help explain why whole wheat is way better than the alternatives.

| December 2004/January 2005

  • Whole Wheat Bread

    Photo courtesy Matthew L. Stallbaumer
  • Whole Wheat
    Betsy Erickson, a Michigan homesteader, has used a motorized Corona to grind home- grown rye for 20 years.
    Photo courtesy Runo Lorentzon

  • Whole Wheat Bread
  • Whole Wheat

This article is the first of a two-part series about whole-grain breads. In this piece, we look into the nutritional benefits of grinding fresh, whole grains at home and review the different types of grain mills. In part two, we will discuss how to use a bread machine for quick and easy home baking, and report on how organic growers, millers and bakers are building networks in Maine. Plus, we’ll share some favorite bread recipes. 

Before we get to the “grist” of this article, we need to debunk a myth about whole-grain foods. Many people think they don’t like them. But that’s old-think from the batik-skirted ’60s when exuberant nutrient lovers overloaded naturally delicious breads, bars and cakes with blackstrap molasses, carob powder, soy this and soy that. Unfortunately, their nutritional intelligence exceeded their ability to persuade people that they could choke down anything, as long as it was densely packed with nutrition. It hasn’t helped that cellophane-wrapped commercial whole-wheat breads are tainted with off-flavors from overprocessed versions of these same healthful additions.

Let’s fast-forward to the 21st century. Today, home miller/bakers can make 100- percent whole-grain breads, pancakes, muffins, pasta, desserts and much more with infinitely better flavor than anything made from ordinary white flour. How?

First, by understanding that freshness is a major factor in optimum flavor. The quality and flavor of commercially produced flour varies from superb to horrid, depending on the source. If you have access to fresh whole meal milled at low temperatures on a solid stone gristmill, you are really in luck. If your natural food co-op or another local source mills its own fresh, cool whole meal, you are an equally lucky baker.

But if you are dipping out of infrequently used barrels, buying undated, unrefrigerated packages, or relying on a totally unknown mail-order source, you may be in trouble. If you are fond of oil-rich grains such as corn, rye or flaxseed, which become rancid with little provocation after they’re ground, locate a source that dates, then refrigerates or freezes the ground product, or consider milling your own flour at home.

In addition to using fresh flour, you need to choose the right kinds of wheat. Each of the many wheats grown in the United States has its own identifiable flavor and baking personality. For best flavor and performance, an optimum wheat should be used for each type of baked goods. Fluffy, light-flavored, American-style breads produced in a quick four-hour process need hard red or hard white spring wheat. Heartier European-type artisan loaves that take much longer to develop benefit from a full-flavored hard red winter wheat and probably some rye. Delicious whole-wheat pasta requires the wheat preferred by the pasta-loving Italians, hard amber durum. Finally, desserts such as cookies, bars and cakes need the lower protein level of soft white or soft red winter wheats.

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