#Unprocessed FAQ: Flour & Grains

September 20, 2013 7:35 am
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Happy Friday! Today’s October Unprocessed FAQ is going to cover one of the most common ingredients: Flours and grains.

“Intact” Grains

Although you probably won’t hear “intact” very often when it comes to grains (it’s not common on labels), it’s the best word I’ve found to describe them. The idea is that it’s the whole grain, completely intact as nature made it — it hasn’t been cut, ground, or pulverized in any way. When you buy a bag of whole grains of barley, wheat, rye, farro, kamut, spelt, teff… all that’s been done to it is that it’s been harvested, cleaned, and dried. You could do all that at home (though it’s probably not worth the effort!), so those totally pass the kitchen test.

“Whole” Grain

Anything that includes the entirety of the grain — the bran, germ, and endosperm — can be called “whole grain,” even if it’s been ground up (or even separated and put back together). Steel-cut oats, for example, would be whole grain, since they start with intact oats, and then cut them with steel blades. (Here’s more on oats and oatmeals.)

Here are some of the things to watch out for on labels when you’re shopping for whole grain products.

“Whole Grain Flour”

This is really just taking the grain and grinding it down even more, until it’s a fine powder. For it to be called “whole,” it still needs the bran, germ, and endosperm — though technically, it’s legal to separate all the components and then put them back together.

In a previous October, Cassidy from Bob’s Red Mill shared a very informative post about flour — it’s well worth the read.

Refined Flours, or Just “Flour”

It’s safe to assume that anything called “flour” without the word “whole” preceding it has been refined — it’s lacking the nutrient-rich germ and bran. It might be called “All Purpose Flour,” or “Unbleached Flour” or simply, “Wheat Flour.”

By law in the United States, unless it’s certified organic, manufacturers are required to add back in some vitamins, because the refining process strips them out. In Canada, even organic flour must be enriched.

Theoretically, you could grind your own grains at home, and then take the resulting whole grain flour and pass it through finer and finer sieves, until you’ve sifted out all the bran and germ, leaving just the light endosperm. You’d probably never do it, but in theory you could.

To bring this back to the Kitchen Test, then: Strictly speaking, “unbleached, unenriched flour” will pass the kitchen test. But if it’s been bleached or enriched — two things you wouldn’t do at home — it doesn’t pass the test.

[Sidenote: Please don't fall for the "Wheat Bread" trick that many companies and restaurants play, trying to make you think it's healthier than any other bread. All it means is that it's made with wheat flour, which is most likely refined. Your best bet is to get "100% Whole Wheat Bread," and short of that, seek out "Whole Wheat Bread."]

“White Flour” and “White Whole Wheat Flour”

This is very confusing, so it’s worth mentioning here. Most flour (whole or refined) these days comes from a species of wheat called “red wheat.” If you buy a bag of white flour, it’s probably been milled and refined (and bleached) from red wheat. However, “White Whole Wheat” refers to whole wheat flour that comes from “white wheat,” a different species.

So regular wheat flour probably comes from red wheat.  “White Whole Wheat Flour” actually comes from white wheat.  Got it?  (If not, check out this on Wikipedia.)

Matty and I prefer using White Whole Wheat Flour at home, because it’s a little bit less dense than the red wheat, so it makes a slightly lighter loaf of bread (or pizza crust!).  Both Red Wheat and White Wheat have effectively the same nutrition, so that’s not really a concern.

White Rice and Pearl Barley

White rice is a common question — it’s basically brown rice that has had the outer layers of the grain removed, or “polished.” The question then becomes, can this be done at home, at least in theory? I just found this forum post that shows someone doing it at home, and Amazon.JP actually sells home rice polishers! (Here’s one that’s available on the main Amazon site – also shipped from Japan.) I think the process is similar for pearl barley. So I’d say that this does pass the test.

Applying This Info for the Challenge

100% Whole Wheat Flour (or 100% Whole [Insert-Grain-Here] Flour) and unbleached, unenriched flour both pass the kitchen test. Bleached and/or enriched flours do not.  So read the labels, and eat accordingly!

Did I miss anything? Help us out in the comments!

 Photo of “Oats on the Water” by WebbShots.

40 Comments on "#Unprocessed FAQ: Flour & Grains"
  1. Comment left on:
    September 21, 2013 at 7:20 pm
    Erin says:

    Thanks for the sensible comments on white rice. I have talked with so many Americans who think that white rice is an industrial food introduced to Asia only recently. But it’s actually a traditional food, and I have been in remote villages in Thailand with no electricity where they use mechanical means to separate the bran from the rice.

  2. Comment left on:
    September 29, 2013 at 12:31 pm
    Lindsay says:

    Question – on the October Unprocessed Guide, there is a link to make your own sourdough starter. I used to have a starter (that I let die) and wanted to make a new one – but the given instructions call for all purpose flour. Is it possible to use white whole wheat flour instead??

    • Comment left on:
      October 1, 2013 at 12:58 am
      Nancy B says:

      Yes! You can make sourdough from practically any grain… there are some rather geeked out sites that give different water to grain ratios for different grains… in general I have luxk surfing Pinterest when I want to expeeiment making new starters.

  3. .
    October 1, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    […] white bread/flour, no white rice. I read on the October Unprocessed site that some people may find these “unprocessed” enough to be acceptable, but not me. Having a […]

  4. .
    October 17, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    […] I decided to be a little more relaxed about things like white flour and rice after re-reading  this post. I decided my goal was to avoid purchasing store-prepared things that I could make at home (i.e., […]

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