Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between whole grain flour and white flour?
Whole grain flour is made by grinding the whole grain and not sieving anything out. 100 kg grain thus results in roughly 100 kg flour. This is what a whole grain bread is made of. I do use a sieve to filter out chaff and other impurities. In practice this means larger bran is also filtered out (about 1 to 2%), which is good as they can’t be digested anyway and may lead to intestinal irritation.
To get white flour the whole grain flour is sieved with a finer sieve. The size of the sieve opening determines how fine the resulting flour is. There are 3 categories of how fine the flour is, expressed in precents of the original weight in grain: 80% (brown bread), 60% (white bread), and 50 or 40% (sauces, pastries, cake,…).
The white flour I offer is 60%. This is fine flour where 35% has been sieved out: all of the bran and most of the germ.
The bran is the outer layer of the grain: it contains a lot of dietary fibre, and especially in the case of wheat, a good part of the grain’s minerals. The germ is where a new plant sprouts from. This contains most of the grain’s minerals.
What are the applications of flour?
Whole grain flour is used mostly for making brown bread. It is less frequently used in whole grain biscuits or pancakes. White flour is usually used for bread, and can also be used to make sauces, pastries and cakes.
Whole grain flour and white flour are often combined. For example, one could make bread from 2/3rd’s whole grain flour and 1/3rd white flour. The proportion can be changed according to personal dietary needs. If your diet contains little dietary fibre trough vegetables, fruit or whole grain products, one could opt to balance it out with bread made exclusively out of whole grain flour. Though in most cases whole grain flour and white flour are combined.
Too much dietary fibre is not good either, as it may lead to intestinal irritation. Adding a certain amount of white flour also ensures that the dough rises better, leading to more airy structure.
For pancakes one can choose to use only white flour, or for a 50/50 proportion between white and whole grain flour. For cakes, pastries and sauces, white flour is usually used on its own.
What is the expiration date?
Under “THT” one can find the expiration date. On that date 6 months have passed since the flour has been ground. Until that day I can guarantee that the product is fine, given that it has been conserved properly. Given proper conservation flour may still be of good quality up to a year after it has been ground. What entails proper conservation can be found in the rubric “How to conserve flour”. To know if the product is still fine after the expiration date has passed, it is enough to look and smell.
In these cases the flour or quinoa is no longer suitable for consumption:
- There is visible mould present (the consequence of a humid environment): most types have vivid colours (blue, green, black, orange,...) and are toxic. The whole bag should be removed.
- Presence of flour moth (the consequence of a poorly closed container): The flour moth is a small moth which lays its eggs in cereal products or seeds. These result in larvae. A telltale sign of flour moth is threads in the flour, or webs, as well as the maggot’s cocoons (the reason for the threads and webs). Although none of these things are toxic, the flour is contaminated and not suited for consumption. The best course of action is to remove the bag from the kitchen to prevent further contamination of other cereal products.
- The product smells mouldy or stale: This is the consequence of starting mould or due to having kept the flour too long in a (nearly) air-tight container. As it may be difficult to determine the cause, it is best to remove the whole bag.
It is fit for consumption as long as you don’t see or smell anything abnormal.
How to conserve flour?
Flour can be conserved short term or long term.
For conserving flour short term (up to 4 weeks) a container which can be closed well works best, such as for example a Tupperware container or similar. The primary concern is keeping small pests (e.g. flour moth) out. The flour can be kept at room temperature, though should not be kept in direct sunlight or near heating.
For conserving flour long term (longer than 4 weeks) it’s better to keep it in a paper bag so it can “breathe”. Again, the primary concern is to keep small pests out. Be aware of mice and rats if this bag is kept in a shed or similar. In that case a wooden box which can be closed may help.
Make sure the environment is not humid (rather the attic than the cellar) and that the flour and its container are not in direct sunlight. Preferably, the flour should be kept in a place with a stable temperature and which doesn’t get too hot.
Threads or webs in the flour?
In flour which has been left unattended for a while you may notice threads or webs. These are created by the larvae of the flour moth.
The flour moth is a small grey/white moth which lays its eggs (hundreds) in flour or other cereal products. This often happens at the miller, in storage, stores or the kitchen cupboard. The eggs are barely visible to the human eye. The maggots too are difficult to spot due to the similarity of their colour to the colour of the flour. They produce threads to make cocoons, which become visible due to the flour sticking to them. Larvae of the flour moth may stay a couple of weeks to a couple of months in the bag, depending on temperature.
To prevent the flour moth from spreading it is advisable to remove the whole back or container from the house as soon as possible. Although not a health issue, the flour is no longer fit for consumption due to the saliva and excrement of the larvae.
To prevent contamination, it is best to keep the flour in a container which can be closed well, such as a Tupperware container or similar. Make sure to check if larvae are already present before transferring it.
As the temperature lowers to below 10°C, the flour moth will look for shelter. During winter there should be no contamination.
On the farm we put the flour a few days in a freezer to kill potential eggs present. The larvae are fought with its natural enemies (parasitic wasps). This roots out the possibility of contamination.
Which grain variety to use for baking?
Each grain variety (wheat, spelt, rye) has its own taste and consistency when used in recipes. It also usually requires some change to the recipe depending on the grain variety. It is usually a good idea to mix between grain varieties.
Most people are used to work with wheat flour. Wheat rises well in general, and does so mostly in height rather than width. It gives an airy structure to bread, cake or pastries. It is well suited to be mixed with spelt or rye flour to make it rise more. Wheat does not require a long rise time, but does need to be kneaded relatively long to activate its gluten. If you don’t like kneading you can use a slow rise (5 to 12 hours) to halve the kneading time. A mere 5 minutes will suffice in that case.
For spelt the opposite is true: it takes a long time to rise, and short time to knead. If you knead it too long the gluten will lose their structure and won’t rise. That’s why you’ll need a slow rise (5 to 16 hours). Spelt gives a more crumby and dryer structure. If this is undesired, it can be combined with white wheat flour or white rye flour. Wheat flour gives a more airy texture, whereas rye flour gives a denser texture. Spelt flour can be used in any type of pastry or cake, but keep in mind that it rises about 50% slower than wheat flour, and rises more in width than in height. A baking mould may be required.
Rye is less suited to pastries, and if used on its own to make bread will give it a very dense structure. 2/3rd’s rye flour and 1/3rd white wheat flour are a good combination for making bread, though it is still noticeably more dense than a pure wheat bread. Rye requires a slow rise (7 to 16 hours).
When to choose rye?
Rye used to be the cereal of the poor. It could be grown anywhere, even on poor or unfertilized soil, and as such was cheap and plentiful. Due to its deeper rooting compared to other cereals it is able to absorb elements and minerals from lower layers of the soil, and thus provides a good amount of nutrition.
Rye is rich in minerals, and contains more fibre than wheat or spelt. Modern day hybrid variants of rye give higher yields, but at a high cost in nutritional value, especially concerning minerals due to its comparatively shallow roots. That is why I no longer grow these variants. I produce flour from older variants, from the 19th century (St.-Jansrogge) and early 20th century (Martin Schmittrogge). They require less fertiliser, which makes them well suited to permaculture.
In the Netherlands (Frisian, Brabantian) and Germany they make rye bread from whole grains and whole grain flour. It has a long baking time at low temperature, due to which it retains most of its nutritional value, even the omega 6 fatty acids which break down at higher temperatures. This rye bread is also rich in dietary fibre, making it an excellent choice for those on a diet.
What's the difference between wheat and spelt?
Lately there has been a lot of attention for spelt due to its health benefits. This attention is justified, when compared with wheat spelt has more minerals, which are spread over the whole grain. In wheat these are primarily concentrated within the germ and bran, which have been filtered out from white flour. Spelt thus suffers less loss of minerals due to processing.
The largest difference between spelt and wheat is the protein composition. Spelt has more protein than wheat, but what’s more important is the composition of amino acids making up the protein. In wheat there are two amino acids which make up the gluten complex, but the other amino acids are hardly present. Wheat has evolved in this way due to selection for wheat with the best baking properties (read: for bread which rises fast and well, and is airy). But the large amount of gluten present in wheat is unnatural, and our body is not equipped to digest it properly. This can be linked to the increasing number of people with (wheat) gluten intolerance.
Spelt has a wide variety of amino acids, almost having the complete array (only quinoa scores better). Moreover, the distribution between the different types of amino acids is well balanced, unlike in wheat where 2 amino acids dominate. As a result, spelt is easier to digest.
Spelt does contain gluten which give the dough the ability to rise, but they are of a different composition than wheat gluten and are easier to digest. Only people with Celiac disease can’t digest spelt, people with wheat gluten intolerance are able to digest spelt gluten, on the condition that the spelt is not a cross breed of spelt and wheat (see the rubric “What is real spelt?”) . In short, spelt is an excellent source of easily digestible amino acids, which provide essential building blocks for our cells.
What is quality spelt?
People with wheat gluten intolerance are able to eat bread made from spelt, on the condition that it is only made from spelt, and that it is quality spelt. But what is quality spelt?
It all starts on the field. As is the case with wheat, there are different varieties of spelt. In north-western Europe nearly all varieties of spelt are cross bred with wheat. This is due to there being a period in history where there was no interest in spelt for human consumption. Spelt cross bred with wheat gives higher yields, and is equally useful as food for livestock. When the interest in spelt for human consumption returned that spelt was then re-crossed with original alpine spelt varieties, but a certain amount of wheat-related genes remains, which is between 6 and 25% in modern spelt varieties. Proponents of cross-bred spelt argue that there are barely any wheat gluten in this kind of spelt, but barely is not the same as none.
When the spelt is ripe, a contractor will harvest it with a combine. There will be some leftovers from a previous harvest, usually wheat. This is the first, albeit limited contamination. Then the spelt is sold to a dealer, most of whom aren’t aware of the differences in spelt varieties. Everything is simply put on the same pile.
Sometimes this step is skipped and the spelt goes directly to the miller. Some know the differences between spelt varieties, others don’t. Usually the spelt is ground in large industrial mills, where everything is put on the same pile again. Stones and mills are seldom cleaned. The first kilogrammes are often contaminated with wheat, and are rarely separated from the rest.
Then the flour goes to the shop. The packaging doesn’t mention the spelt variety because it’s considered unimportant. But believe me, it is never pure spelt unless it comes from an alpine country and explicitly says it is pure.
The baker too is often not aware of the spelt variety and whether or not it is pure. Additionally, there are no rules which state that spelt bread must be made 100% out of spelt. Bakers usually add wheat to make it rise better.
Due to all this, it is usually impossible for the consumer to know if the product is or isn't made of pure spelt. Only when one person does everything, or the supply chain is short enough so that the information is not lost along the way, is it possible. A few farmers and smaller millers know the difference and offer quality spelt directly to the customer. But in the supermarket, and even in the health food store, it is impossible to find pure spelt products.