Egyptians are believed to be responsible for introducing the process of leavening around 4000 B.C. For a long time, bread was in fact central to their economy, as wages and bills were often paid in the form of dough.
For centuries wheat was milled into flour with large milling stones which crushed the seed grain into whole wheat flour. There were no supermarkets for selling flour, and so people made their flour as and when they needed it, ensuring minimal time difference between making flour and eating the results.
The kernel of wheat is composed of the outer bran layer, the germ, and the endosperm. It is rich in nutrients, many of which are concentrated in the bran and germ. Of special importance is that it contains the entire B complex, except for vitamin B12. B vitamins function as co factors in many metabolic reactions involved in the release of energy.
The germ, which includes the scutellum, is especially rich in vitamins B and E, high quality protein, unsaturated fats, minerals, and carbohydrates. The bran consists mostly of the insoluble carbohydrate cellulose, and contains incomplete protein, traces of B vitamins, and minerals – especially iron. The endosperm is the largest part of the grain, and consists mostly of the carbohydrate starch, incomplete protein, and trace amounts of vitamins and minerals.
STONE GRINDING OF GRAIN
In the third century B.C., rotary grindstones powered by animals, and small rotary hand mills called querns, replaced stone or wooden mortars and pestles for the grinding of grains. Querns are still used in rural areas of the Middle East, Far East, and parts of Africa.
There are several advantages to stone-ground wheat flour. The endosperm, bran, and germ remain in their natural, original proportions. Because the stones grind slowly, the wheat germ is not exposed to excessive temperatures. Heat causes the fat from the germ portion to oxidize and become rancid and much of the vitamins to be destroyed. Since only a small amount of grain is ground at once, the fat from the germ is well distributed which also minimizes spoilage. Nutritive losses due to oxygen exposure are also limited by the fact that stone-ground flour is usually coarser.
ADVANTAGES OF FRESH FLOUR
Because grains contain only about 12% water (or about 0.6 water activity), they are not predisposed to spoilage. However, grinding removes the protective layers and endangers the grain’s biological stability. Deterioration of sensory and nutritional qualities depends on storage conditions, such as temperature, humidity, oxygen concentration, and light exposure.
The nutritional importance of using freshly ground grains for bread-making was revealed in the results of feeding studies in Germany. Rats were fed diets consisting of 50% flour or bread. Group 1 consumed fresh stone-ground flour. Group 2 was fed bread made with this flour. Group 3 consumed the same flour as group 1 but after 15 days of storage. Group 4 was fed bread made with the flour fed to group 3. A fifth group consumed white flour. After four generations, only the rats fed fresh stone-ground flour and those fed the bread made with it maintained their fertility. The rats in groups 3 to 5 had become infertile. Four generations for rats is believed to be equivalent to one hundred years in humans.
A very sophisticated process is currently employed for the milling of grain.
Cleaning is accomplished by means of separators, aspirators, scourers, magnets, and washer-stoners. During the milling process, steel rollers crush the grain, and the flour released from the endosperm is separated by sifters into different grades or streams. The bran and germ, which make up about 28% of the wheat, are totally removed in this process.
Bleached white flour undergoes 60% extraction; the standard for most wheat products in the United States, including breads, noodles and pastas, baked goods like rolls or biscuits, and cookies, which means that 40% of the original wheat grain was removed, and only 60% is left.
Unfortunately, the 40% that gets removed includes the bran and the germ of the wheat grain which is its most nutrient-rich parts. In the process of making 60% extraction flour, over half of the vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fibres are lost.
ENRICHMENT OF FLOUR
Since 1941, laws in the United States have required “enrichment” of processed wheat flour with vitamins B1, B2, B3 and iron in response to the problems created by 60% extraction. However, in the ‘enriched’ flour only the B vitamins; thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin and the mineral, iron, were added, in amounts approximately equivalent to those removed from whole wheat.
For approximately 20 nutrients, there is an average loss of 70-80% to in refined and enriched flour.
To ensure today’s milled white flour lasts long enough to sit in warehouses and on shop shelves for months on end, todays millers have had to remove all trace of the bran and the germ; losing at least 22 of the 26 known vitamins and minerals in the process, and all of the valuable roughage our bodies need to absorb and remove unwanted toxins and poisons within our digestive system.
Whole wheat flour is produced by recombining ground bran with endosperm flour, but the germ is usually left out, because it would go rancid. The resulting flour may represent only 95% to of the total grain (by weight), or in other words a 95% extraction.
About 95% of the flour used in the USA is white and of only about 72% extraction. Only 20 to 30% of the grains original vitamins are retained, and the protein content is about 1 – 1.5.