Kneading the best – organic flour
In their unrefined state, many whole grains are covered with a coarse husk which prevents their easy absorption within the digestive tract. Most of them can be milled to create flours which are sufficiently digestible and convenient for blending with other ingredients. In historical times, milling was a simple physical process which involved repeatedly cracking and grinding the grains against suitably flattened surfaces of stone. Today, the technology of milling has advanced to include many additional applications which homogenise, bleach, blend and fortify our basic flours.
Consumers demand wholesome food
The current shift toward wholesome and unadulterated food ingredients encompasses the organic approach which restricts the unnecessary use of chemical substances in food. Organic flours are milled from crops grown without synthetic fertilisers and other agricultural chemicals.
To protect the integrity of their product, organic mills are subject to numerous restrictions and safety precautions which are not necessarily enforced throughout the processing of conventional flours. One set of these concerns the various measures which are applied to protect grain products, as well as the storage and working premises from bacterial moulds and insect pests. A closely related set of restrictions concern the appropriate use of industrial hygiene and maintenance products within the milling environment.
Preserving harvested grain
Once harvested, large quantities of loose grain are vulnerable to insect attack and various types of mould infestation. Conventional grain crops are routinely fumigated with a range of chemical applications to protect them during their transportation, storage, and processing into flour and cereal products.
The organic alternatives to chemical fumigation include dry rinsing and secure containment with positive air pressure environments and intense heat treatments. Chaffed grains can be carefully rinsed to remove dirt, insects, fungal spores, and other particles of debris. In an organic mill, the principal rinsing agent is likely to be dry air. This dry rinsing is an essential step for organic grains which are extremely prone to fungus and mould growths once exposed to moisture.
In combination with sophisticated filtering systems, positive air pressure can be used to restrict insect access to the stored grain and milling facilities. Intense heat treatments are based on raising the interior temperature to a level which destroys the eggs of grain eating insects. The main drawback with these methods is the additional cost of implementation.
Much of the cleaning within an organic processing mill is achieved with simple physical tools like compressed air hoses and vacuums. Under organic guidelines, industrial cleaning agents are prohibited as are many household grade disinfectants and cleaners.
Flour grades and uses
With the assistance of mechanical rollers, dry grains are milled into the various grades of flour. Each flour demonstrates unique properties depending on the basic grain structure and mill settings. Flour milled from hard kernelled wheat contains a high proportion of glutenin proteins, making it ideal for bread making. Soft kernelled wheat produces flour with less glutenin proteins which is appropriate for baking pastry, cakes, and biscuits.
Health advocates are now promoting the advantages of stone ground flour. Apart from the aesthetic appeal of this traditional material, there is scientific evidence that the heat generated within conventional steel rollers may degrade several important nutrients. Whether such unstable nutrients can be consistently preserved through standard baking and food preparation techniques is yet to be determined.
Progressive sifting can remove the outer layers of grain to produce the highly refined flour which is preferred for softer breads, sponge cakes, and for use as a thickening agent in soups, sauces, and frying batter.
Genuine wholemeal flour contains all components of the grain. In the case of wheat, this includes the outer bran and nutrient dense germinal layer, in addition to the starchy endosperm. Nutrition based research confirms the health benefits of consuming entire grains. In wheat and other grains, the germinal layer is a natural source of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids while the bran is a valuable source of fibre.
In addition to residual traces of pesticide and other agricultural chemicals, most conventional flours contain chemical substances added during the milling process. Most of these are supposed to enhance the appearance, physical characteristics, or nutritional qualities of the product. Gaseous chlorine dioxide is often used to artificially bleach wheat flour while potassium bromate and other chemicals may be included to increase the elasticity of glutenin proteins.
It is ironic that bleached and highly refined flours may then be fortified with a selection of synthetic nutrients. Folate, zinc, iron, calcium, ascorbic acid, B group vitamins, and various protein compounds have all been added to refined flours with the aim of addressing perceived nutritional deficiencies or to increase the commercial value of these products.
Organic flours are frequently blended to improve their physical and nutritional properties without the use of chemicals. Oat flour is mixed with other types of flour to improve texture and consistency while cornflour increases binding capacity. Wheat flour has an excellent protein yield with the exception of the amino acid lysine which can be included with the addition of a lentil or pea based flour. High protein flours can also include the South American grains quinoa, and amaranth which both contain lysine.