Understanding about food provenance is key to getting a handle on food security. Have you ever wondered where the wheat flour in your bread came from?
Sourdough bread has had quite a boost over the last 18 months or so, with many spending long lock-down months at home getting on a first name basis with fermented starters, perfecting their folding techniques and proudly producing tanned, blistered loaves with a provenance they can be sure of.
Or can they? In the flurry to embrace the whole paddock-to-plate movement, just how many of us have considered where the wheat flour in our home-made or artisan-bought loaves comes from, or what is actually in it?
While these sourdough loaves are certainly much better for us than the soft, spongy stuff in the plastic bags on the supermarket shelf, a local label on the wheat flour bag is no guarantee that it has been milled as nearby as one might think, or is of a superior nutrient content.
South Australian artisan bakers Emily Salkeld and Chris Duffy, of Small World Bakery at Langhorne Creek, work hard on producing premium hand-made bread and have gone to extraordinary lengths to guarantee the quality of their product. They have expanded into the field of grain growing, testing out older, traditional, more nutrient dense styles of wheat in small batches on their property, and have gone on to collaborate with local farmers to grow crops from the successful strains.
They then purchase that grain, cleaning it and storing it in temperature controlled conditions. Taking the next obvious step in the process, and to gain even more control over the flavour and nutrient density of their product, they have purchased a stone mill from the US and mill that grain, making their own wheat flour.
Flour is flour, I hear you say – how much can difference can it make?
Wheat flour is made from wheat grain, which is itself made up of an endosperm – mostly starch and protein, bran – high in fibre, and the wheat germ – which is rich in healthy fats and nutrients.
Good quality, traditional stone ground, whole wheat flour is a nutrient dense product, containing all of the above. None of the bran or germ is removed from it during the milling process, and today it can be milled much more finely than the ‘hearty’ whole grain flours that were around in earlier years.
The way commercial white wheat flour is produced strips almost all of the bran and germ from the product – the grain is soaked, rolled, sieved, filtered, pressed and bleached (See “Flour” in How Food is Made). After all this some nutrients are added back in.
Commercial whole wheat flour is processed in the same way, with the bran and germ reintroduced to the white flour.
In fact the research I did, looking into desirable wheat properties, lists “distinct quality attributes for processors and end-users” like hardness, colour and colour stability, and mouth-feel. And just to be clear – the end users they are talking about aren’t you and me, folks. They are talking about “processors and millers”. I may have missed some fine print, but I saw no reference at all to wheat flour flavour or nutrient properties.
Modern wheat is bred and grown around the world, prized for the above properties, plus reliability and yield. Wheat is valued for its adaptability, ease of storage and ease of processing into other foods, but in the quest for dependable crops and income, modern agriculture has compromised sustainability, nutrition and agricultural diversity.
Small World Bakery are part of an international group striving to create and cultivate wheat and other cereal grains that are good for the soil, help create healthier diets and that actually taste better. Working with like-minded farmers here, elsewhere in the world, and by working with organisations like Washington State University Bread Lab, they are preserving seed and expanding production of heritage varieties, and growing the crucial conversation around food security and sustainability.
This is a conversation we all need to be a part of. You put this food on the plates of your loved ones and yourself, so maybe you need to be taking a bit more interest in where it came from.
You can join in by supporting producers like small World, getting to know the story behind their bread and flour, and by discovering what places like Bread Lab are striving to achieve.[mc4wp_form id="16750"]