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Types of Flour

Is Wheat a food?

First, it’s important to know a little about the grain that makes wheat flour. People have been making bread, noodles, fried dough, and so many other things from wheat for more than 10,000 years. Wheat is made up of ears of grains, which are long rows of seeds in papery husks (the chaff). Over that time, humans have learned how to grow and process wheat. (stand mixer)

Wheat grains, like corn, need to be strip of their husks in order to be eaten (or at least digestible). Wheat plants are mature when they turn a golden colour, like straw. At this point, the stalks are cut and bundled together into bundles, or “sheaves,” to dry as they ripen so they can be sold. When the stalks are dry, they are thresh, which loosens the grains, then winnowed, which separates the grain from the chaff by moving the air (some less common varieties of wheat, like spelt, emer, and einkorn, have an inedible hull that also needs to be separate from the grain and removed). A wheat berry, farro bowl, or spelt grain bowl, for example, is a way to eat the grains as they are. They can also be made into something else.

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The first thing you’ll notice if you look closely at one of these whole grains is that it has a dark coating. This outer layer is call the bran, and it’s full of B vitamins, a lot of fibre, and a good amount of protein. Peeling away the bran reveals the endosperm, which makes up about 85% of the kernel. It’s mostly made up of starch and protein, and it feeds the germ, or embryo, inside. Germ: This part of the kernel only makes up 2.5% of the whole thing. It’s full of essential fatty acids as well as protein, minerals, vitamins B and E. Germs can start new life cycles if they are in the right place. They can grow into plants and start over again.

Milling wheat into flour is what we’ll be talking about for now. We’ll be talking about how that wheat is turned into a powdery substance called flour when you do this.

How Wheat Turns into Flour

Stone milling and roller milling are the two most common ways to grind wheat into flour. Hunter-gatherers used a process similar to pounding ingredients in a mortar and pestle to grind seeds into flour at least 32,000 years ago.

For Stone-Milled Flour

Early stone mills used human or animal power to move a top “runner” stone against a bottom “bedstone,” which stayed the same. In this grinding movement, whole grains were broken down into small and small pieces, but there was a big problem with that. Even as stone-mill technology advanced and they began to use wind and water power, they still needed a miller to keep an eye on them to make sure that the friction wasn’t making the stones overheat. A lot of vitamins and minerals are lost when flour is heat above 170°F. This is because the fat in wheat germ quickly oxidises and turns rancid.

Stone-milled whole grain flour that comes out at the right temperature is more golden than white, and it has all of the grain’s vitamins, minerals, and fibre in its bran and germ. But whole grain flour is also more likely to go bad. Millers started to use a process called “bolting,” in which they sift the bran out of the flour to make it whiter and keep it from going rancid.

Stone mills that are both modern and mechanised are still use to make whole grain flours on a small scale, but commercial mills use the more modern technology of roller milling.

Rolling Mill Flour

In 1865, roller mills were invent in Hungary. They were first sell in the United States in the 1880s, and they were used there for many years. They were first powered by steam, but now they run on electricity and run by passing wheat grains through pairs of rollers. This process reduces the high temperatures that can be cause by stone milling (though the grains may reach 95°F for a short time, that temperature doesn’t threaten to destroy any nutrients).

Corrugated rollers break the kernel into pieces, which are then sift and separate to remove the endosperm and germ from the bran and germ. The industry calls this the “break.” To make it more fine, the endosperm is send through an endless number of smooth rollers. Breaks, siftings, and grindings are repeat several times, each time producing a different commercial grade of flour, or “stream,” in the industry, which calls them flour grades.

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Four edible streams are make when roller milling is done. People who make flour with the first two streams get high-quality “patent” flour that’s make from wheat’s endosperm and doesn’t have germ or bran. The flour made from different types of wheat can then be sell alone or mixed with other flour to make the bags of bread, all-purpose, pastry, self-rising, and cake flours found in supermarkets. These flours can last up to eight months at room temperature, up to one year in the refrigerator, and up to two years in the freezer. To make up for the nutrients that are lose when the bran and germ are remove, flours have been fortify with iron and other B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and folic acid) in the US since the 1940s to make up for them.

The last two streams make lower-quality flour, which the industry calls “clear.” This flour is make up of the outer part of the endosperm. It has more bran and germ, which means it has more protein, and it’s a little grey in colour (not exactly living up to the name “clear”). In breads made with whole grains and rye, clear flour is often add. It adds strength and hides its drab colour. Clear flour is also use to make vital wheat gluten.

Making Flours better and whiter

“Weak gluten,” “slack dough,” and “a dense loaf” are all things Harold McGee, the author of On Food and Cooking at Amazon, says. Maine Grains and Bluebird Grain Farms, as well as some larger flour mills, like Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur Flour, let their flours naturally age. naturally ageing flour lets it come into contact with oxygen, which both darkens the flour’s colour and encourages its glutenin proteins to form even longer gluten chains. This means that doughs made with flour that has been age will be able to stretch more easily (if you want to nerd out on gluten, our exploration of how gluten works is a great place to start). This process of air-aging takes a long time and makes flour that isn’t dye.

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It was at the turn of the 20th century that commercial flour mills tried to make more money by using maturation and bleaching agents to speed up the process of ageing flour. Commercial mills like Pillsbury and White Lily chemically treat some flours so that the effects of flour-aging can be achieve in two days. It was first used to oxidise the glutenin proteins and make the dough more elastic. Potassium bromate, a maturing agent, was use to do this. Many countries have banned potassium bromate as a food additive because they don’t think it’s safe for people to eat. In the 1980s, mills started to use ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or azodicarbonamide instead of bromate, which isn’t ban in the United States.

Mills use benzoyl peroxide or chlorine gas to copy the whitening process, so they can make their own. Because benzoyl peroxide doesn’t change the pH of bread, all-purpose, cake, and pastry flours, it is use in these flours. It has no effect on their pH, starch, or protein behaviour, so its only effect is to look nice. Chlorine gas is use only in the flour for cake. In addition to whitening, the process of chlorination improves the baking properties of soft wheat flour by weakening gluten and lowering pH. This makes the baked goods have a sweeter taste, a finer crumb, and a more aerated texture.

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