|We only sell stoneground whole grain flours, these are made by milling the whole cereal seed and not sifting the flour. We do this because we know that wholegrain flours taste better and are better for us. But we've started selling bran and semolina, the by-products of white flour production - Josiah explains why.|
We only sell stoneground wholemeal flours, these are made by milling the whole cereal seed and not sifting the flour. We do this because we know that wholemeal flours taste better and are better for us, not just because of the extra fibre, but because they are higher in things like vitamin B6, thiamine, folate, vitamin E and other antioxidants. Nutrients that in many cases millers are legally obliged to put back into white flours after sifting, and which often appear on food labels as ‘fortification’. We also can’t help but feel that if a farmer has taken a risk and put a lot of effort into growing a cereal crop, particularly some of the lower yielding older cereal varieties we champion, surely we can do better than discard a third of their harvest.
Most flour is not whole grain and will have been over a sieve to remove at least some of the bran. In the case of a lot of brown flours 5 to 15% of the grain is removed after milling, in fact brown flour is often made by completely removing the bran, toasting it, re-milling it and then putting it back into the flour. Toasting the bran stabilizes all the delicious oils in the bran, preventing them from going rancid and doubling the shelf life of the flour. Sadly much of the flavour and many of the nutritional benefits are also destroyed. For very white flours, pastry flours or very strong bread flour for example, as much as 35% of the wholegrain is discarded. More than a third of the harvest.
Depending on the stage in the milling process and the way the grain is being milled this by-product, called milling offal, can be divided into number of fractions. From very fibreous to quite starchy. Broadly we tend to just use two terms, middlings (or semolina) and bran, to categorize milling offal - with bran generally being the larger portion.
Bran is the outer coat of the grain (the cuticle, pericarp and seedcoat), with a little bit of starchy endosperm from the seed kernel. There are many ways of removing the bran and modern high-tech mills can even remove and separate the pericarp and seed coat layer by layer, with each having a different secondary use. Stone mills tend to slough the bran off in large chunks that can easily be sieved out, steel roller mills (which produce the majority of flour) pass the grain between grooved rollers that rub the bran off at high speed.
Middlings or semolina are small particles that come from just below the bran layers and often have a little bran attached, it’s mostly made up of the wheat-germ and endosperm that have passed through the mill and are then sifted out. It’s high in protein, and has an excellent flavour. Confusingly the semolina used to make pasta, couscous or everyone’s favourite school dessert is slightly different. It is made from Durum wheat and these days is the coarse product of the first stage of modern steel roller milling (as opposed to stone milling), where the bran is stripped from the grain and chunks of starchy endosperm are separated, these would be further milled for flour but not for semolina.
Estimates vary, but with an annual global total of around half a billion tonnes of wheat going into human consumption milling, offal could amount to 100 million tonnes every year. Of course it’s not strictly waste, bran and semolina are incredibly nutritious and are a valuable animal feed, it’s no surprise that many mills also operate animal feed businesses. What can’t be used for animals is used for compost or goes into anerobic digestion to produce gas and electricity.
All of which raises a question; if milling offal is so nutritious why remove it and find secondary feed markets? The simple answer is that whiter flour is easier for bakers to work and produces fluffier, lighter bread. Bran contains enzymes that make the development of gluten in dough trickier, it also physically interferes with the working of the dough. Beyond that splitting (and sometimes reconstituting) cereals during milling allows for the creation of a much more consistent commodity, allowing bakers – especially the big industrial bakers – to operate fast fermentation processes and produce a very uniform loaf without having to continually alter their factory processes.
Technical reasons for sifting flour can and are often overcome by bakers, but our cultural preferences are harder to shake. White bread has a long history of being a high status food; any food that could only be produced through a labourious sifting process that resulted in a something not particularly nutritious with a third being thrown away was bound to be. Sifting is easier now, and the high social status associated with white bread is near forgotten, but yet a glance at the ‘crumb shots’ on Instagram will show how a fluffy, holey loaf still carries a premium!
We’re still only selling wholegrain flours. But we’re very keen to find kitchens and bakeries willing to take a little of the delicious bran and semolina that might otherwise go to animals or compost.
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