Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Holy Whole Wheat, Batman!

Unless you've been living on a remote island with no contact to civilization, you've probably heard that you are supposed to be eating whole grains, as part of a heart-healthy, weight-loss promoting, food guide pyramid-following, upstanding citizen diet.
Ever notice how in pictures of whole grain themed groupings, all you ever see is cereal flakes, bread, and maybe a muffin, or two?

I'm here to say that limiting your whole grain choices to breakfast and the occasional sandwich is--quite frankly--BORING.  The more of that whole-grain goodness you can stuff in at any mealtime, the better, which--I'll admit--can take some creativity on your part.

Luckily, I am here for you.

I'm not some long-haired hippy who sips eucalyptus tea and grinds grain between two stones.  Nor am I a domestic diva who can fry up crepes suzette one-handed, wearing a blindfold, while I knit designer baby-booties with the other hand.  Nope, I'm just a regular mom (no pun intended) with a blog.  It just so happens that I have some experience with adding whole wheat to all kinds of things when I'm cooking for my family.

Oh, and did I mention that I'm trying to earn a Masters of Domestic Bliss degree from U of SAHM?

Here's my thesis:

Whole Wheat: It's Not Just for Breakfast
That's a joke...please don't do an online search for master's programs at U of SAHM.  It only exists in my imagaination.  But seriously, that is the title for the newest on-going feature here on my little blog.  I'm going to be sharing some of the fun ways I've learned to incorporate whole wheat (and possibly other grains) into meals besides breakfast. 

By way of introduction, let me tell you why I'm passionate about whole grains.

a) I grew up in a home where my mother served whole grain foods with admirable frequency.  Whole grain breads, rolls, pancakes, waffles, muffins, granola, and hot cereal were staples at our breakfast table.  To be honest, I hated the hot cereal and still do.  However, I learned to appreciate a good, hearty whole grain bread.  And I wolf down Mom's granola every time I'm visiting at home.  It's what I'm used to.

b) Whole grains make my husband happy.  All I have to do to put a smile on his face is say. "This has whole wheat in it," as I dish something onto his plate.  He's a whole grain fanatic.  (A happy husband equals a happy wife, and a happy wife equals a happy life.  Just a little formula, for ya'.) 

c) Seems like every time I go on a diet, one of the rules is that if you are going to ingest carbohydrates, they must be whole grain carbohydrates.  I go on diets a lot.  Hunger can be quite inspiring.  

d) One of the commitments I've made as an active member of my church is to obey a law of health known as the Word of Wisdom.  Besides avoiding coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol, and other addictive substances, I choose to follow the suggestions given in the Word of Wisdom for a healthy diet and lifestyle: one of these is that grains are the "staff of life." 

e) I'm on a budget!  Buying prepared whole-grain foods is more expensive than purchasing their enriched white flour counterparts.  By milling my own whole wheat and baking up things myself, I save a bunch of money and promote better health for my whole family.  Not only that, incorporating whole grains into a recipe makes it more filling.  I can cook less and feed more people.

Yes, you read that right: I mill my own wheat.....and it doesn't even require a separate outbuilding.

Purchasing whole wheat from your local grocery store or specialty shop is more expensive than purchasing white flour, and it is more processed and less nutritious than it would be if you milled it yourself.

The truth about whole wheat flour is that it has a shorter shelf life than white flour.  As it sits, unrefrigerated, on a store shelf, it loses vital nutrients.  This is why you rarely find whole wheat flour in bulk, and why when you purchase it at a specialty shop, it is kept in the refrigerated section.

Let's take a look at cost.

5 lbs. of flour yields 20 cups
A 5 lb. bag of Gold Medal's unbleached all-purpose flour can be found online for $2.84.
A 5 lb. bag of Gold Medal's whole grain wheat flour can be found online for $5.99.
Currently, I can buy enough actual wheat (5.8 lbs.) to mill at home into 5 lbs. of flour (or 20 cups) for $2.70!

Purchasing your own grain and milling it yourself not only saves you money, but it really enhances the health benefits of whole grains.  You completely bypass processing plants.  You can select the variety of wheat you want.  You can buy it in bulk for additional savings.  You can store it for an extended period of time before milling it.  (And I mean very extended--did you know they've actually found wheat in Egyptian tombs?)  You can mill the wheat at leisure, and refrigerate the flour properly as soon as you've milled it--optimizing its nutritional value.

You may have a lot of questions about how all this is possible.  Let me try to answer a few.

Where do you buy wheat grain?
You can find wheat at almost any health food store.  It is less expensive if you find a bulk source, such as Whole Foods, Wild Oats Market, or Trader Joe's.  Another source is directly from the farmers.  Do a search online for farm co-ops or grain co-ops, and you may find a means of purchasing it wholesale.  My best tip is this: if you have a Mormon friend who lives near you, ask her where she buys her wheat.  She probably has an excellent source and can help you find a way to store it in bulk on the cheap, too!

What do you use to mill your grain into flour? 
If you are serious about milling your own flour, then you need to get serious about shopping for some kind of grain mill.

If you aren't sure if milling your own flour is for you, but you want to try doing so without a major investment, then you might try one of the "As Seen on TV" Magic Bullet Blenders.  I've heard that you can grind wheat into flour in them, but I can't vouch for the quality of the flour.

Baking with a finer flour, you will get better results.  In fact, a very finely ground wheat flour's texture can produce baking results similar to what you will get with white flour--the difference will be a nuttier taste and a tiny bit of texture.   I find that the more finely ground my whole wheat flour is, the less people notice that I've sneaked whole wheat into something.  This picture shows my white flour and my wheat flour, sitting next to each other in a bowl.  Notice that my whole grain wheat is very light, and less lumpy than my white flour.  This is ideal!

If you really want a high-quality wheat flour, then I recommend that you invest in a high-quality grain mill.  For the past 10 years, w'eve owned a K-Tec Kitchen Mill.  (Note: since we purchased our machine, the brandname has changed from K-Tec to BlendTec.)
This mill is compact (about the size of a toaster, when boxed for storage) and has high-speed, micronetic milling.  (The Bionic Man tells me that this is the same micro-chip technology used in the pharmeceutical industry.)  You can adjust the mill to produce different textures of flour.  The texture I prefer is very, very fine--ideal for baking.  In addition to wheat, you can mill flour from other grains in this machine: oats to oatflour, popcorn to cornmeal, etc.  

How much does something like that cost, and where can I get one?
I just did a quick search online, and found a BlendTec mill just like mine on for $179, with free shipping.  You can view it here.  An online search should provide you with multiple options.   

I haven't checked, myself, but I think you could probably find grain mills on Craigslist, Ebay, or even Freecycle (advertise that you are looking for a mill--someone may be ready to part with one they have).

Another option to cut down on the initial purchase price would be to form a grain mill co-op.  Since this is an appliance that you won't need to use every day, split the purchase between a few families and share it.  Is there someone you know who loves homemade bread, but doesn't like to make it themselves?  Offer to bring a loaf of homemade bread to them every week if they'll purchase a grain mill for you.  There are a number of home-based distributors of grain mills--you might offer to trade goods, services, or advertising space in exchange for a discount or freebie.

Is is easy to use?
Would I be writing about it, if it wasn't?  Trust me, if you can run a blender, you can run a grain mill.  It's as simple as flipping a switch, pouring whole grain down a hole, and emptying out a canister of finely ground flour.  Maintenance is incredibly simple--I just rinse out the canister and brush off the flour after each use.

Do you mill flour every time you want to make something with whole wheat flour? 
No, I don't.  I like to enjoy the ease of having whole wheat flour on hand all the time, since I use it so often in my cooking.  I only actually mill my flour about four times a year.  I mill a large quantity of flour each time, and store it in a large, plastic bin with a tight-fitting lid inside my upright freezer.  I keep a smaller container of flour in my kitchen freezer, and refill that as necessary from the big bin. 

How do you store your grain and your flour?
Grain should be stored in a container that will keep out moisture, dust, and vermin (as in creepy-crawlies and rodents).  When stored in a cool, dry location, your wheat grains will keep for years and years.  (Egyptian tombs, remember?)  Once you've ground your wheat into flour, take what you don't use immediately and put it into a storage container with a tight-fitting lid, then place it in your freezer.  It will maintain optimal nutrition, this way.  

If you store your flour in the freezer, does that mean you have to give it time to thaw out before you use it?  
Nope!  I use my flour directly from the freezer.  It maintains the smooth texture you would expect flour to have--as long as moisture doesn't get to it.   It is colder than flour from the pantry, but this shouldn't make a difference in baking.  If you are concerned about temperature, leave your flour out on the counter for a little while and it will soon be room temperature. 

Whew!  I think I've exhausted my limited knowledge on this topic.  Tune in for upcoming features of 

Whole Wheat: It's Not Just for Breakfast
In the future, I'll be showing you how to make things like gourmet pizza, the best chocolate chip cookies ever, homemade tortillas, focaccia, and sourdough bread.

Did you miss the news?  I'm hosting my first-ever GIVEAWAY this week.   It's not too late to enter....Click here for the details. 



  1. It's so great to find someone who is so passionate about whole grains. I work for Oldways and the Whole Grains Council, and I love reading posts like this! Keep spreading the good word :)

  2. I also grind my own grain to make bread. Do you have any really good fresh ground bread recipes?