Don’t know about you, but I feel uncomfortable whenever I hear food described as a ‘commodity’. It’s a situation that’s evolved in response to demands for consistency.
Taking the bran and germ out of flour removes the oils and enzymes which provide nourishment and flavour. Flour that’s had the bran and germ removed has a long shelf life because there’s no oil to go rancid. It creates a predictable, stable product, making it much easier for commercial bakers to produce the consistent bread demanded by their customers.
Wholegrain flours respond differently. Rye is completely different to spelt. Gluten-free flours perform differently to gluten flours. Wheat is a wonderfully adaptable grain, but all its diversity and flavour is lost when it’s reduced down to white flour.
Each flour has its own texture, smell, taste and ways to make it shine… or not….
With so much pressure on farmers to produce cheap, high yielding wheat, we’ve lost many local varieties. Not to mention the loss of other grain varieties – different types of rye, barley and spelt – each carefully selected by generations of farmers to suit their specific climate, topography and rainfall.
Outside of large-scale agricultural practices, which rely on a diminishing selection of proprietary seeds and treat each crop as a monoculture, grains should naturally vary - from season to season, paddock to paddock and mill to mill. Organic and biodynamic farmers rely on variety and diversity to build healthy soils and produce healthy food without pesticides.
It’s the skill of an artisan baker to work with the inconsistencies of wholegrain flour, and to adjust in response to each particular batch. For those of us who aren’t artisan bakers, it’s an adventure of discovery with much to teach us.
So, embrace the stickiness of rye, the grassiness of buckwheat and the graininess of brown rice flour. They’ll reward you with flavour, texture and joy. Celebrate the inconsistency. And together we’ll help to create a market for to support complex, beautiful and diverse farming systems.