What is a wheat berry? If you had asked me that seven years ago, I would have had no idea. I would have probably responded with something like: “A berry that grows from wheat?” I’ve had a similar reaction from many people when I talk about milling my own flour. I know others who also mill their own flour, but it’s still not too common. The wheat berry is just the kernel of wheat removed from its hull. Milling the wheat berry produces whole grain flour. When I mill it myself, it contains all of the germ, the bran, and the endosperm.
Unfortunately, modern white flour does not contain all the parts of the kernel. White flour and most standard products containing flour (breads, other baked goods, pastas, desserts) are made from only 60% of the wheat berry. The bran and the germ has been removed. What remains is only the endosperm which is then processed and bleached. The end product has nowhere near the nutrition that was originally in the wheat berry. Over half of the vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fiber are lost. This is why processed baked goods are completely devoid of nutrition and full of empty calories. Not only are they full of sugar/high fructose corn syrup and bad fats, but their flour has been stripped of any quality nutrition that it once had.
Removing the bran and germ got started as far back as the middle ages. The upper classes liked the texture of white flour and thought it was more healthy than whole wheat. Mold and fungus grew on flour that was kept for a period of time and not stored in a cool dry place. The brain and the germ is what caused this. Removing them made flour more shelf-stable. After the industrial revolution, manufacturers found that they could make more money by offering a very shelf-stable product by removing the bran and the germ and bleaching the flour. However, since the 1940’s there have been laws in place to require enriching this flour with vitamins because of the health problems that were linked to consumption of unenriched white flour.
In the late twentieth century, nutritionists began to realize that eating whole grains was very healthy and 100% whole wheat flour started to be produced by manufacturers. I remember sitting in a college nutrition class in the late 90’s and being told that the only bread I should eat should be one with the very first ingredient: 100% whole wheat flour. Unfortunately, this flour is not 100% of the wheat berry either. Flour that is labeled 100% whole wheat is milled exactly like white flour. The bran and germ are removed. There are laws to tell food manufacturers just how much of the bran and germ their product needs to have in order for them to label it whole grain. So they put back just enough of the bran and germ to meet the requirement. Consequently, their product is more shelf-stable. But it also has less vitamins and flour than what I can mill in my own kitchen from a whole wheat berry. Before I started milling my own flour, I thought wheat was wheat. I thought if a label said 100% whole wheat, it really was 100% of the whole grain.
I also had no idea that there were different varieties of wheat. I was only familiar with what is commonly called traditional whole wheat. It is milled from red wheatberries. I had tried baking with this before, and my family did not like the result. Plus, I was always told that I needed to use equal amounts of whole wheat flour and white flour. It seemed pointless to me when I could buy what I thought was whole grain bread at the store. At least it said that it was made with 100% whole wheat flour.
All the reasons above are great reasons to mill your own flour, but I was hooked when I learned about the white winter wheatberry, both soft and hard. I found out that I could make my own 100% whole wheat bread that was the best I had ever tasted! My family loved it! I have been milling my own flour ever since. White winter wheat is a good wheat berry to start milling and baking your own bread if you have never done it before. It has the closest texture to store-bought white flour. Flour companies have caught onto this in the last couple of years and now you can buy milled white winter wheat in grocery stores. However, you still can’t be sure how much of the beneficial germ and bran it has.
I got started with milling the white winter wheat berry, but I have also milled rye, spelt, kamut and corn. I especially love making my own cornmeal. I use the bread setting and the result is much lighter than store-bought cornmeal. My cornbread made with this “corn flour” is so delicious. It is light, but doesn’t fall apart. Most importantly I know that my cornmeal is gmo free! I purchase my grain from a company called Country Life Natural Foods. They have the best prices I have found. If you contact the company, they may be able to direct you to a co-op in your area that combines orders for free shipping. I order mine from a Mennonite store in town that orders in bulk from them.
So what kind of mill do I use? I love my WonderMill. It makes milling flour so easy. It is actually the only electric kitchen appliance that I still use and I have a small generator in my utility room for this purpose. Of all the electrical appliances that I used to use on a daily basis, this is the only one that I can’t replace with an off grid option. (See Kitchen Appliances, Who Needs Them?) I also have a Country Living Grain Mill that uses a hand crank, but the WonderMill makes milling so much easier. If you have ever used a hand crank to mill your flour, you know it takes some time to get enough for a loaf of bread! When my boys get older, maybe that can be one of their chores!
We love making all our own bread and baked goods on our homestead. My family especially loves real sourdough bread! I believe that milling flour and baking bread is one of the most important self-sufficient skills to learn in the kitchen.