The simple act of making food from scratch can have a lifetime, even generational, effect on people’s health. Join us as we look at the history of whole grains, the milling process, and how the economy shaped the food we consume and the nutrition we lost in the process.
It Starts at the Farm
The development of plant life is dependent on the soil that it’s grown in. If the soil is naturally nutrient-rich, then the seed will get what it needs for its growing process. Organic farming enables soil to retain its natural nutrients without the negative additions of chemicals and other processes. Both plants and animals can recognize this. Studies in 1938* found that earthworms migrated away from a box of soil with mineral fertilizers toward one with organic compost. Seeds, worms, and of course, people, want and need real food.
What is Organic Farming?
Composting, soil mapping, buffer zones, insect traps, predator insects, crop rotation, companion planting, pollinators, beneficial microorganisms and mechanical weed removal are examples of organic farming practices. These are alternatives to non-organic farming, which often uses non-organic material or chemicals to achieve faster results and higher yields. Those materials can impact the short and long-term structure of soil and the food grown from it, as well as potentially affecting the health of people that consume the food grown by non-organic methods. This is why organic farming is so important.
From Farm to You
Organic grains are harvested by combine and then cleaned to remove any objects that shouldn’t be there (ex. sticks, rocks, etc.). Once clean, the outer shell is removed, revealing the grain seed that we eat or use to make flour. These grains are then cleaned and then packaged for shipping to a distributor or direct to a customer. Whole grains should be stored in an airtight container to avoid future contamination or infestation from bugs, who want good food as much as the rest of us. For longer-term storage, freezing them is best.
Types of Whole Grains
Wheat varieties, oats and buckwheat are all common grains that we hear about regularly. Quinoa has experienced popularity over recent years and so has also become somewhat standard. Quinoa, buckwheat and oats are all potentially gluten-free grains, as long as they were not handled in a facility that also handled wheat or any other gluten containing grain.
Less common, but growing in popularity, are Ancient Grains. Whole grains like the previously mentioned quinoa, plus spelt, emmer, einkorn, millet, amaranth and teff are all examples of ancient grains. These grains have remained relatively consistent in their structure and profile, with little natural or commercial modification for thousands of years. Because of this, their flavor is stronger and their nutrient content is higher than more common grains like standard wheat, oats and buckwheat. These characteristics are what seem to be driving a renewed interest in cooking and making flour with ancient grains.
The History of Milling
Traditional stone milling was common in the United States up until the year 1890. Along with the many other changes the industrial revolution brought, millers were faced with higher demands for product with faster turnaround times, so a new method, called roller milling, was developed. While this process helped satisfy the needs of millers, for consumers, it meant a lessor product. Instead of a traditional stone mill, which slowly grinded whole grains into flour by rotating repeatedly over an engraved pattern between two millstones, roller milling explodes the grain on one pass, speeding up the process. Because roller milling is faster, the grain doesn’t get ground as finely as stone milling, so sifting is required. The sifting process removes the germ and the bran from whole grains, essentially eliminating the most nutritious parts of the grain. These nutrient-rich parts of the grain are more perishable. So without them, the flour has a longer shelf life, which is ideal for the food industry, but not so ideal for the nutritional value of grains.
As this kind of flour became more common, consumers noticed that it had a whiter color than the whole grain flour. This color change was viewed as an indicator of quality (the idea likely driven by savvy marketers of the time). Since people thought white flour was better, of course that’s what millers wanted to provide. They even began bleaching it to make it appear as white as possible.
What affect would this have on people’s lives?
In 1900, FDA employee Dr. Harvey Wiley brought a case to the Supreme Court to ban bleached flour. Although his testimony made clear that bleached flour was negatively affecting people’s health, he lost the case, likely because at that point, the industry was too large and powerful to waiver. He soon left his government position to focus on creating change in the food industry.
A man named Dr. Royal Lee heard about Dr. Wiley’s work, and was intrigued. Dr. Lee was doing some of his own work with food and nutrition and, like Dr. Wiley, believed that the food that was being offered to consumers was not as healthy as it should be. Dr. Wiley’s efforts showed that the industry was not likely to change their ways, and so something needed to be done. Eventually, Dr. Lee developed the Lee Household Flour Mill, giving people the ability to make their own flour and not be forced to consume low-nutrition commercial flour. In his words, “Truly nutritious bread can only be made with flour that is within hours of being ground.”
Whole Grains Today
With a growing complexity of environmental, nutritional and other factors affecting our health, it’s good to know that there are steps we can take to increase our chances of a longer, healthier life. One of those steps, as suggested by various nutritional studies, is consuming more whole grains. The complete grain, including the nutrient rich germ and bran, can play an important role in living healthy.
The FDA found that diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, may reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and other health issues due to their dietary fiber and soluble fiber.
Avoiding highly processed foods that are high in sugar, saturated fats and refined flour is also important. A diet focused on whole foods and whole grains will give your body more of what it needs to survive, healthily and longer-term.
Today, when we consider cooking with whole grains, or baking with flour, we can look at the information and history to educate us on making better choices. Essentially, the more we do ourselves, the more control we have over the nutrition we get. Royal Lee Organics exists to help you take more control over your nutrition.