"White bread is not ideal"

michael-pollan-2.jpg
Bob Klein
Bob Klein

This month in the Bay Area there was a inspiring conference held among whole grain enthusiasts hosted by Bob Klein,  founder of Community Grains, and the proprietor of Oliveto Restaurant in Oakland - one of my  favorite local restaurants and where I'll be celebrating my birthday later this month.

Bob Klein's conference, Intact Whole Grains, had an impressive line up of farmers, millers, bakers and scientists, including; journalist-Michael Pollan, baker- Chad Robertson from Tartine Bakery, Stephen Jones from the Bread Lab at Washington State University, and the senior statesmen, miller-Joe Vanderliet from Bay State Milling.  Each speaker covered material that was  so dense and inspiring  I've decided it's best to 'digest'  one topic at a time.   Starting with Michael Pollan's reminder that white flour is a processed food.

Michael Pollan 2
Michael Pollan 2

Michael Pollan's quote, "white bread is not ideal" is a massive understatement and it's interesting it hear his rational.  We all talk about processed foods being bad for us but we don't think about flour or bread as being the processed food that it is.  About  130 years ago a "new" milling technique was invented called a 'roller mill.'  Roller mills quickly replaced stone mills because they could mill faster and cheaper but essentially created a processed food out of wheat flour which was once a basic nutritious whole food.  As Michael Pollan describes it, "roller milling fundamentally changed the nutrition in bread because it removed the vitamins and minerals."  Roller milling literally removes the two healthy parts of the grain, the bran and germ, and leaves only the starchy endosperm which is then milled into white flour.  To get unprocessed flour one must use a stone mill which crushes the intact whole grain between two stones.  Nothing is lost or separated in the stone milling process.  Stone milling evenly distributes the healthy oils from the germ over the flour and results in a fresh, alive whole food which will go rancid over time.  Whereas white flour can stay in our cubbords for years and never go bad because it was never alive in the first place.

Intact whole grain flour also contains bran which is a dietary fiber.  Michael Pollan commented that "fiber is a favorite food of microbes in our gut.  If they (microbes) don't do well, we don't do well."  In other words, if our microbes don't get fiber then they don't do well.  So not only do we need fiber for proper digestion, apparently our microbes need it too.  If you didn't catch Michael Pollan's article in the New York Times about microbes, it's worth a read.  Some of my Best Friends are Germs.

joe vanderliet
joe vanderliet

Perhaps Joe Vanderliet (one of the most well regarded stone millers in California) said it best, "I find it very sad that for 150 years we've been milling white flour and haven't done anything about it."