As I stated with my last post on this subject, I fully recognize that some of you have very tight budgets or only have access to mega-marts due to your locations. Others will have the funds and availability to choose the best of the best. Either way, this post isn’t to condemn someone who can’t pick the best of every option, it is to help you make the best decision you can with what you have, where you are.
For the beginning of this series, we will look at your choices in purchasing grains. We will not get into gluten vs gluten-free, whether or not you should eat grains, and the like. If you are currently buying grains, this is to help you decide what is the best option for your budget. This posting is my opinion, and after research, you might come to a different conclusion. If you do, please comment and share what you found and your reasoning. I’m always open to changing my opinion and updating this post if new or different information comes along.
Best– home-milled, organic grains
Better– home-milled, conventional grains
Acceptable– store-bought, already milled organic whole grains
Poor– organic grain flours that are not whole grain and conventional grain flours. An example of this would be bleached or unbleached, refined white flour. Starches, such as tapioca, are safe to purchase already milled because they do not have the rancidity problems that grains do. Pure starches store indefinitely with no loss of quality based on the information I can find on the subject.
Why do I rate already milled, organic grains as being lower quality than a conventional grain you mill yourself? It’s all about rancidity. When you mill a whole grain, the oil in it begins to degrade. When an oil degrades to a certain point, we consider it rancid. You can not taste all levels of rancidity. A flour can be mildly rancid, and thus not be healthy, without a noticeable flavor change. It is only when a flour is severely rancid that you notice the changes in taste and smell. Therefore, you will only notice the off flavor and smell once the oils have severely degraded. Rancid oils create free radicals in the body that stress your immune system and contribute to aging. It is difficult for your body to digest and process these oils. Storage conditions greatly affect the speed at which the oils degrade, and you have no knowledge or control over storage conditions before the flour comes into your home.
The vitamins and minerals have also degraded. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1971 showed that flour on the shelf had, on average, 88% fewer vitamins and minerals than their free-milled counterparts. In addition, enriched flours are enriched with mostly artificially-occurring vitamins, not the same ones in the same forms that were lost during processing. Why? Because they aren’t shelf-stable!
What About Pesticides?
Yes, pesticides are a concern. In fact, I struggled with rating home-milled conventional over store-bought organic. So why did I make that choice? After some research and seeing what pesticide application rates were for wheat (here and here), barley (here) and rice (here), I decided that pesticide application rates and residues weren’t as likely to be as much of an issue with whole grains sourced from a responsible company as the burden the consumption of rancid oils and the degradation of vitamins would be to a human body. You’ve only got about a 50% shot of being exposed to one chemical in wheat and a 30% chance in rice, but you’ve got a 100% chance of rancidity and vitamin degradation with purchasing already milled flour. Obviously, if you are in a health situation, you will have to judge that for yourself. However, I believe that more long-term damage is done by free radicals than a potential pesticide exposure when your liver is healthy. If you are not healthy, I don’t recommend you expose yourself to either. Mill your own organic grains.
I couldn’t find reliable information for grains other than wheat, barley and rice. Personally, if you’re having to choose between organic grains and organic fruits/veggies, the application rates are MUCH higher for the dirty dozen than for grains. If I had to choose due to a limited budget, I’d put my money towards organic dirty dozen fruits and veggies and conventional grains and clean fifteen fruits and veggies.
What if all I can do is the acceptable option?
There are some ways to help slow down the rancidity process. First, purchase from a reputable company if you can. Second, order directly from the company yourself instead of purchasing from the store if you can afford the up-front expense. Order during cool months, if possible, to help ensure lower temperatures during transport. Because this often saves money in the long-run, it can be a valuable option. Third, store all ground grain flours in the freezer if you have space. If not, the fridge. Finally, do a sniff test each time you use it to make sure you don’t mess any rancidity.
If you must purchase flours from a store, buy small amounts and keep in the freezer. Try to avoid the bulk bins. Instead, go for the sealed packages, as air exposure speeds up the oils going rancid.
If you have a local health food store and can afford the outlay to get a 25-pound bag of flour and you have the freezer space, ask the HFS to order you a bag through their distributor and call you when it arrives. They will often discount it by 10% or so, and you can know that it’s as fresh as you could get in your situation.
A Word About Grain Mills
My grain mill is one of my most-used kitchen appliances. I mill all of my own grain flours and use them fresh. If you have any flour left over, seal it in an airtight container and put it into the freezer. My mill sits with my blender and food processor, it gets used so much. I mill at least three times a week.
I have a Family Grain Mill. Before that, I had an UltraMill. The only reason I got rid of my UltraMill was that I went gluten-free and you can’t clean a mill well enough to prevent contamination. I was highly impressed with both. When I was able to get another mill once I learned to cook gluten-free, I went with the Family Grain Mill because it had a hand-cranked base option. Since we normally have a power outage at least twice a year and it can be extended, I wanted the option to hand mill if I needed it.
What if I Can’t Afford A Mill?
If possible, find a local friend with a grain mill and go over to their house and mill your flour a couple of times a month. It will immediately start saving you money, and you can squirrel away the difference until you can afford a grain mill for yourself.
If that is not an option or you don’t know anyone with a mill, invest in some whole grains and grind your own by doing a blender batter. This allows you to both mill and soak your grain, so you avoid the rancidity issue and reduce the phytic acid. Two birds, one stone. 😉 And the recipe works just fine in a Mega-Mart blender. The key is to keep the vortex going.
The cost of sorghum has a significant difference. When I order whole sorghum through Twin Valley Mills it costs 50 cents a pound and it comes to about $1.28 a pound once you include shipping for my location. Locally, a package of the Bob’s Red Mill sorghum flour works out to be about $2.25 a pound at the Health Food Store and I’ve never seen it on sale. You can order a 25-pound bag of the flour from Bob’s Red Mill for 91 cents a pound, plus shipping. Whether or not this is a good deal will depend on how close you are to Washington State.
White rice is another good example. Locally, it’s $2.50 a pound at the health food store. At the Asian market, it costs about $1.70 a pound for sweet rice flour. If the budget is extremely tight, I can get a big bag of white rice from Sam’s for $15, so each pound of rice flour is about 60 cents a pound. At a quick glance I saw that UNFI sells a wide variety of white rices for less than $1 a pound to $1.50 a pound for organic. It is cheaper for me to mill my own rice flour than it is for me to buy a bag of potentially rancid rice flour at the local salvage that would normally sell a big bag for $2.
Grain flours should always be stored in the freezer. If you absolutely can’t store them in the freezer, store them in the fridge and only buy small amounts, using it as quickly as possible.
If you are purchasing whole grains, you can freeze them for 72 hours, allow it to come back to room temperature in the packaging you freezed it in, then immediately store it in an air-tight container (mason jar with metal lid and ring, 5-gallon bucket) to help ensure they will stay bug-free. Freezing it kills any potential bugs or bug eggs lurking in the grains. This step is VERY IMPORTANT to avoid infestations that are just about impossible to get rid of. If you can’t do the whole amount, do it a few pounds at a time if you have to.
Once it is properly packaged, whole grains can last for many months in the bucket. If you wish for longer storage, you’ll need mylar bags and oxygen absorbers.
Twin Valley Mills – they ship their whole sorghum in a sealed, five-gallon bucket. It’s great because you don’t have to figure out how to store it!
Bread Beckers has some co-ops that do local ordering at a discount. See if you can find a local group.
I’ve been told that in certain parts of the country, you can get whole wheat grains in stores like Wal-mart, in 25-pound bags. If your budget only has room for Wal-mart or it is your owly source, check to see if your store offers this.
Do the best you can, with what you have, where you are. When you do to the best of your abilities and availabilities, you can place the rest is in God’s hands and sleep well, knowing you are a good steward of what you have been given. And that’s all anyone can do. Carpe Diem.
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the above links or companies and I receive no money if you click those links. The opinions expressed are my own and I have received no compensation or free samples.
KerryAnn Foster runs Cooking Traditional Foods, the longest running Traditional Foods Menu Mailer on the internet. KerryAnn has over nine years of traditional foods experience and is a former Weston A. Price Foundation chapter leader. Founded in 2005, CTF helps you feed your family nourishing foods they will love. Each mailer contains one soup, five dinners, one breakfast, on dessert and extras. You can learn more about our Menu Mailers at the CTF website. For a free sample Menu Mailer, join our mailing list. You can also join our forum to chat with other traditional foodists and learn more.