We take for granted many things in our day to day lives. I suppose it’s essential to cope with the busy schedule all working adults must deal with. Consider for a moment: Store-bought flour and baked products. Most of us assume that the grain used to make all the baked goods and even the packaged flour comes to us much like the story of The Little Red Hen. She planted the wheat, she watered the wheat, she harvested the wheat, threshed it, took it to the mill to be ground, took the flour home and then baked bread. Mmm Mmmm good, etc.
Well, up until 1870’s that is basically what happened and on the surface it may not seem to be any different now. But as the saying goes: the devil is in the details… From the book, “The Story of a Grain of Wheat” by William C. Edgar (1904) we read the following:
“The substitution of rolls for mill-stones was the most radical advance ever made in the science of milling. It is claimed by the Hungarian millers that the Americans appropriated their methods, and that to the millers of Budapesth belongs the credit of having been the first to adopt the roller process of making flour. The Americans do not claim that the roller-mill was invented by them, nor do they deny that steel rolls were in use in Hungary before they were adopted in the United States. They insist, however, that their system of milling automatically by means of rolls is their own, and that the roller-mill was neither invented nor first used in Budapesth. The Hungarian roller-mill-makers claim that the first roller-mill plant was installed in Budapesth in 1874; that rolls were shipped by them to Minneapolis in 1878, to Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Russia three years earlier, and to France in 1876. This may all be quite true; nevertheless the claim that chilled-iron rolls took their origin in Hungary is fallacious. The Farrell Foundry of Ansonia, Conn., entered an order on September 21, 1874, for chilled-iron rolls for George H. Christian & Co., of Minneapolis. However, in seeking for the origin of the type of roll now in universal use one must go back fifty years further. Unquestionably the inventor of the roller-mill was Helfenburger, who in 1820 built and experimented with the first roller-mill at Rohrschach, Switzerland. This was never developed. Jakob Sulzberger, of Frauenfeld, Switzerland, invented the first successful system of grinding cereals by rolls. His mill was built in 1832 and started in 1833, and was an immediate and complete success. The honour of the invention, as well as the practical adaptation of chilled-iron rolls for making flour, belongs unquestionably to Switzerland, and there is no lack of evidence to prove it. Sulzberger subsequently erected roller-mills at Mayence, Milan, Munich, Leipzig, and Stettin, and in 1839 tne Pfis’ ter Walzmiihle of Budapesth was equipped with chilled-iron rolls made in Rohrschach by Helfenburger, and finished by Sulzberger in Zurich. The Frauenfeld Mill Company, the original rollermill, continued in business until 1846, when it became out of date, and its owners decided not to rebuild it.
During the early ‘8os rolls rapidly superseded the mill-stone in all the principal mills in the United States and Canada, and soon became the standard for new and modern mills the world over. The mill-stone had served its allotted time and was retired with high honours and pleasant memories. It is now hopelessly obsolete, except in remote districts into which the latest milling inventions have not penetrated. These are few and far between in the milling sections of America. Following the purifier and the roll came a train of useful inventions which were incorporated in the roller system of milling—dust-collectors, scourers, bolters, separators, sifters, and other machines.”
Since 1904, when the above excerpt was written, the modern milling process has become even more sophisticated (not necessarily more nutritious or tastier). Clearly, the roller mill was more economical and more efficient at milling wheat and other grains. And, the process could be controlled to produce a white flour to meet public demand. However, white flour has no bran or germ, and consequently many nutrients are stripped away and sold as feed for livestock. So, in the 1940’s, this prompted the “enrichment” of white flour usually with a synthetic form of the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin) and iron which had been lost in the milling process. Even “whole wheat” flour in the stores is white flour with the bran added back in–not the germ, since the oils in the germ would shorten the shelf-life of the flour. It also stands to reason that the heat generated in this high-speed roller mill, causes the oil to oxidize and go rancid faster. Personally, I find that freshly grinding my own whole-grain flour makes great bread products, particularly if I throw in a tablespoon or so of freshly ground flax seed, which serves as a binder and adds more body and a pleasant nutty flavor to any baked good. (Hint: Use a coffee grinder for the flax seed.)
If you’d like to read more on this subject, I recommend the article found at the following link: Nutritional Characteristics of Organic, Freshly Stone-Ground, Sourdough & – Conventional Breads It is very interesting and well researched. I thought the following made an interesting case for general health of people today: “Dr. Estelle Hawley, of Rochester University, fed a group of rats McCay-Cornell bread made with unbleached flour, wheat germ, and soybean flour and a lot of milk solids. She fed another group commercial enriched white bread. Both groups also received an amount of margarine equivalent to 10% of the weight of the bread (Rorty, 1954). The first group lived healthy, but the second group became ill, produced stunted offspring and were extinct by the fourth generation.” I think it is interesting that it took four generations before the second group died. It seems to imply that empty calories and junk food diets won’t always show up in the first generation, but there is an impact on healthy gene expression that causes a slow decrease in a populations health. Could it be that our “occasional” binge on junk food and empty calories is the primary cause of our deteriorating health and skyrocketing medical costs? Could it be that what you eat will impact your children’s and grandchildren’s health more than your own? Something to think about the next time you not only reach for that Coke, the Twinkies or a bag of potato chips, but also that 5 lbs. bag of unbleached but enriched All-purpose flour with which you plan to bake those over-sized muffins.
Very interesting and informative – thank you!
Quite scary to think that the food habits of today may show up in the genes of our grandchildren.
Yup, this is true. What we eat affects every aspect of our body, including our genes and the ones we pass on to our children and their children and their children and so on. Read the book Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food by MD Catherine Shanahan.
In the excerpt you have included from a 1904 publication, there’s nothing about flour not being sifted prior to the invention of rollers. The development of machinery didn’t change the flour as much as you might think. Instead of it being 90-95% through the use of home sifters, with industrial sifters and bolters, now the flour was 100% refined. There are very few accounts of people consuming whole grain flours prior to the invention of rollers. But many accounts of healthy traditional people eating white bread. Even when you look at countries in Africa today, you see that people put a lot of effort into removing the bran and germ from their grains, as in the making of Ogi for example. There may be minerals in the bran and vitamin E in the germ, but there are also many anti-nutrients that will hinder digestion and absorption. The lost nutrients can be had through eating organ meats and seafood, staples of many a traditional diet.
So what? If you added the milk solids to the second batch they would have done better. If you had deleted it from the first group they may have done just as poorly. Too many variables. You can’t make any statements about using one type of wheat compared to the other from this study.