“It’s like night and day,” I say whenever I talk to somebody about freshly milled whole grain flour, as opposed to flour that’s been previously milled and sitting around on a shelf somewhere. The flavors and aromas are so much livelier when that wheat berry has been just freshly cracked open and milled into flour. That comes through in the final product, too. We have been doing just that using our 26- and 40-inch New American Stone Mills since 2018, and we are loving every bit of it.
Fresh = Flavor
We have been strategically injecting the livelier flavors and aromas of freshly milled flours into our breads and pastries, making them just a touch more delicious and nutritious. You can read more about why we love milling our own grains in our blog post, “7 Reasons to Fall for Freshly Milled Flour.” To be honest, if fresh flours did not win us over in the flavor department, we in all likelihood would not have chosen to go down this path. You know what we say, we want you to “taste the difference.” That’s number one. That said, there is another component of freshly milled whole grain flours that we have not expanded upon as much, which is the added nutrition they bring to the table.
And more nutritious, too
Simply put, by milling the grain ourselves, wheat or rye, we are including all the vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, starches, proteins, and fiber that come from the germ, endosperm, and bran of the whole grain (more on grain anatomy in our “Some Granular Facts about Grains” blog post). Literally, you get the benefit of using (and then eating) the whole food. In this case, the whole food is the flour, which is the backbone of almost all the baking we do. More flavorful and more nutritious. What’s not to like!?!
One of the specific benefits of using whole grain flours in this manner is the benefit of antioxidants we get to introduce to our bodies as well.
Let’s ask then: What are antioxidants and how are they related to whole grain flours? Here is a quick summary inspired by and adapted from The Sourdough School, Center of Research & Education in Nutrition and Digestibility of Bread & The Gut Microbiome of England, which has been a great resource and education destination for sourdough bakers.
The surprising power of antioxidants
In a nutshell, antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress in our body. The oxidative stress comes from the action of tiny molecules, called free radicals. They’re created by our own body in an attempt to protect us from toxins in our environment, such as cigarette smoke, ultraviolet light, and countless other chemicals that we get exposed to in our daily lives. Free radicals are also produced when our body starts to strain from factors of our own doing, whether we choose it or not, such as lack of sleep, psychological stress, too much work, or exhaustive exercise, to name a few. When there is inflammation in the body, free radicals are there, too.
While these free radicals are out and about in our body trying to get at whatever has signaled the body to release them, they also cause the body’s cells to suffer oxidative damage and deteriorate. Hence the term oxidative stress. That can’t be good, right? It’s not quite that simple, but in a general sense, yes, it’s not good, and there are lots of common diseases (cancer, Alzheimer’s, irritable bowel syndrome, coronary heart disease…) where oxidative stress and inflammation play an important causative role.
Why antioxidants are important
So, the body needs antioxidants to neutralize free radicals and reduce their degenerative effect on the body, helping us stay healthy. Some of these antioxidants are produced by the body itself, but we also need to be getting a whole bunch of others through our diet. Think of colorful fruits, vegetables, and grains. The research shows that micronutrients, which come from such foods, help antioxidants function more effectively. What we eat really matters.
Coming back to flours… in nature’s beautifully designed wheat grass seed, or wheat berry, antioxidants are most abundant in the aleurone layer (the outermost layer of the starch- and protein-rich endosperm) and the germ. Whole grain flour has both of those components milled in it. Furthermore, the fresher the flour is, the less oxidized it will be (okay, going back to oxidation again!), meaning it will retain more of its antioxidants. All this is to say, freshly milled whole grain flours are the way to go if you want to increase your intake of antioxidants through anything you cook or bake using flours! And finally, in the world of bread, it is the sourdough process—thanks to the actions of lactic acid bacteria—that makes the plant-based nutrients and antioxidants of whole grains more bioavailable and effective for our bodies.
If you are curious, some of these powerful antioxidants present in whole grain flours include:
- Fat-soluble Vitamin E, mostly present in the germ
- Carotenoids, naturally-occurring pigments produced by the plant that give the flour its non-white, creamy color (think of the yellow semolina or einkorn flours for example)
- Phenolic compounds, including flavonoids and tannins, which are mainly present in the outer layers of the grain
The next time you want to bake and want to taste the difference (with a really good feeling of the presence of antioxidants in the back of your mind), we suggest you give that freshly milled whole grain flour a try.
Hungry for more?
- Try Hazim’s recipe for freshly milled whole grain pancakes.
- Learn how to make whole grain breads in a hands-on baking class.
- Read about how we’re getting back to our vision of supporting a local grain economy.