A MILLER’S TALE: The health and baking benefits of freshly milled, organic flour

Bread, as they say, is “the staff of life”— a nourishing, comforting food that’s eaten every day, in every corner of the world — and more bakers are discovering the joy of baking with stone-ground organic and ancient grain flours, milled right here in BC.


By CINDA CHAVICH


If you’ve caught the bread baking bug, you’re not alone.

According to the trend watchers, the pandemic unleashed a bread baking frenzy — flour mills couldn’t keep up and would-be bakers often found supermarket shelves bare.

But it’s giving consumers time to think a little more about where their food — and their flour — is coming from, opening the door to local millers to fill the grain gap and offer an education in the wonders of freshly milled flour.

Here in BC, we’re lucky to have some milling pioneers among us, whether it’s Anita’s Organic Grain and Flour Mill, True Grain, or The Flourist, the latest in the local milling game. All are specializing in freshly milled flour, often starting with local, organic grains, and offering a range of heritage and even ancient grain flours for bakers to try.

Beyond the iconic Red Fife, the genetic ground zero of Canadian wheat, there’s large-kerneled Khorasan (a.k.a. Kamut®), an early ancestor of Durum wheat, rye and spelt, a nutty, high protein cereal that traces its lineage to both emmer and wild oat grass. Emmer, also called farro, is modern wheat’s Italian ancestor and considered a “foundational” grain, tracing its lineage back 8,000 of years.

Einkorn, the oldest and most primitive wheat on earth, is renowned for its digestibility among gluten intolerant individuals, and its high levels of lutein and Vitamin A.

All are predecessors of today’s modern, hybridized wheat which has been developed for industrial production, high yields and high protein (gluten) for commercial bakeries, prized for conformity over flavour.

But heritage grains are gaining ground.

According to research from the NPD Group, grains eaten by ancient civilizations — including quinoa, sorghum and teff — have seen annual growth approaching 20 per cent in food service in recent years.

So whether it’s interest in health and nutrition, concerns about gluten in modern wheat, or simply a switch to fresh, locally-sourced foods, ancient grains deserve a place in your pantry.


CANADA’S GRAIN HERITAGE

In the world of flour, wheat is king in Canada. Since WWII, we’ve modified and hybridized wheat for large-scale production, and when it comes to ancient and heritage grains, the supply has been small.

But more farmers are planting ancient grains, especially in BC where small farms are the rule rather than the exception.



Red Fife wheat is the Canadian heritage grain Cinderella story, literally yanked from the brink of extinction by devoted farmers and bakers. In 1986, pioneer seed conservationist Sharon Rempel rescued a handful of Red Fife seed grain and planted it as part of her Living Museum of Wheat at the historic Grist Mill in Keremeos, BC. That led to a revival of Red Fife, adopted by the Slow Food movement and added to the international Ark of Taste.

While whole grains have stayed on the menu in other parts of the world — think Italian farro, Middle Eastern freekeh and sweet Ukrainian kutia — they are relatively new to Canadian tables. But Red Fife became the gateway to our interest in a heritage and ancestral grains.

We now have a grain handling facility in BC dedicated to cleaning and storing these specialty crops, boutique flourmills, and chefs and bakers milling fresh flours.

In Seattle, chef Eduardo Jordan’s Lucinda Grain Bar specializes in ancient grains, served in grain bowls, house-made crackers and even einkorn-infused ice cream.



Flour is milled in-house at Lucinda, and milling is also a daily affair in several BC artisan bakeries, including Victoria’s Fol Epi, Wildfire and Fry’s, and Vancouver’s Bad Dog Bread and The Flourist.

The Liberty Distillery in Vancouver makes its Trust Ancient Grains Whiskey with a blend of organic spelt, emmer, khorasan, “with a small addition of barley.” And DeVine Vineyards distills their barrel-aged Ancient Grains spirit, dubbed an “alternative whisky”, starting with BC barley, spelt, emmer, khorosan and einkorn.

Ancient grains are in the rotation at Beyond Bread and Terra Breads in Vancouver, too, using Anita’s flours in their artisan loaves, while In Grain Pastificio has spelt and farro pasta on the menu, and sells bags of slow-dried traditional pasta to cook at home. Even the popular Vancouver-based White Spot chain serves a Farro Power Salad for lunch.



MODERN MILLERS

Anita’s Organic Grain & Flour Mill in Chilliwack is a pioneer when it comes to stone milling organic, ancient grains in BC.

“People are taking more time to educate themselves about this basic food ingredient,” says Jayda Smith, Anita’s general manager, noting sales have increased by 50 per cent this year. “A lot of time is now spent around baking at home — it’s pretty neat to see that coming back.”

Anita’s produces 26 different organic flours, ranging from whole grain and sprouted ancient grain flours to blended flours and pancake mixes, sold directly to consumers and supplied to bakeries, pizzerias, and supermarkets.

Last year, the company consolidated its operations into a new 34,000 square-foot facility, with grain milling, sprouting, packaging and warehousing under one roof. There’s also Anita’s Bread & Coffee, a new bakery cafe to serve the local community with their fresh whole grain breads and pastries.

“Our baker is developing new recipes to highlight our incredible variety of organic grains,” says president Taylor Gemmel. “We’re also planning to open an education centre with classes for both professional and aspiring home bakers, to teach them more about using our flours.”

It’s an important goal as baking with these whole grain flours can be tricky, even for experienced bakers. Education is key to growing this niche market, says Smith, with Anita’s website and Facebook Bake Club group connecting a new generation of bakers with whole grain recipes and tips.

Anita’s flours are now available in supermarkets across Canada, direct from the company online, or at the Local Harvest Market in Chilliwack, which carries the entire line of Anita’s organic baking products and bakes it’s own wood fired pizzas and breads using Anita’s ingredients.

Growth has been exponential this year at True Grain, too.

With bakeries in Summerland and Cowichan Bay, True Grain is a pioneer in small-scale milling of whole, organic, BC-grown grain, supplying bread, flour and grain to consumers.

It began in 2004 with one small stone mill, still on display inside its bakery on Vancouver Island. Today the company has expanded to a larger facility, milling a variety of whole grain, certified organic flours for it’s own bakeries, direct retail sales, and wholesale sales to bakers and retailers.

“We’ll mill about 3,000 tonnes of grain this year and every speck of flour in True Grain bread (or pastry or cookies) comes from a BC farm,” says president Bruce Stewart.

Stewart is committed to buying organic grain from local growers. It’s both an effort to minimize the company’s greenhouse gas emissions and shine a light on the social and environmental cost of imported food, he says.

“More and more people are mindful of where their food comes from and, if we do it right, knowing where your flours and grains come from will be ‘a thing’, too,” Stewart says. “I hope that is the legacy of True Grain.”

Stewart is also hoping to educate consumers about large-scale wheat and flour production in Canada, and what he says may be driving wheat intolerance issues for consumers.

Our everyday white flour is a highly processed product — stripped of both it’s germ and bran (the bits that can go rancid), sometimes bleached with chemicals, bulked up with maturing and dough conditioning agents, and always “enriched” with the nutrients removed in manufacturing.

“We need to understand Article 13 of the Canadian food (labeling) laws, regarding what is added to wheat,” Stewart says, noting regulations state that flour can contain a dozen chemical additives, from chlorine and benzoyl peroxide to bone meal and l-cysteine derived from human hair and chicken feathers, without any indication on the label.

Furthermore, most non-organic, conventional wheat grown in Canada is sprayed with Roundup (glyphosate), just before harvest to dessicate the plants for easier cutting and combining. It is the most widely sold herbicide in Canada and deemed a “probable carcinogen” by the World Health Organization.

Some experts point to these additives and chemicals as the source of apparent wheat allergies, and why many people find ancient and organic grains easier to eat.

“To this day, I have never met anyone who can’t tolerate einkorn,” says Stewart. “Some people come and buy 30 loaves at a time.”

Todd Laidlaw, a True Grain co-owner and operator of the Summerland bakery, says most grain is sourced from farms around Armstrong and Enderby through Fieldstone Organics, and they still use Osttiroler stone mills from Austria to mill the flour in small batches to preserve flavour and nutrients.

Consumers love the unique texture and flavour of breads and pasta made with their organic spelt, rye, emmer, Red Fife and einkorn flour, he adds.

“Red Fife has a natural nuttiness and has always been popular, but some people flock to spelt, which has a lot more earthiness,” says Laidlaw. “When you have a whole grain in pasta or a loaf of bread, you are really going to taste the grain.”

True Grain works with Cowichan Bay Pasta Co. to create artisan dried pasta, including BC Durum Spaghetti, Emmer and Red Fife Fettucine, Khorasan Campanelle, and chunky Spelt Cresti de Gallo, dark, nutty, high in fibre and often tolerated by those who are sensitive to modern wheat.


FROM SEED TO TABLE

Like single origin chocolate or coffee beans to grind at home, selecting unique grains adds interest to cooking and baking.

Dan Jason, owner of the mail-order seed company Salt Spring Seeds and author of Awesome Ancient Grains & Seeds, writes that heritage and ancient grains are the next frontier in our food explorations, each with its own character and provenance. Whether it’s Blue Tinge Ethiopian Emmer or Black Einkorn, grains can be planted on small plots and in many regions beyond the traditional Canadian Wheat Belt.

“If you're seriously thinking about growing more of your own food, nothing can be easier or more rewarding than grains,” he writes. “They grow like the grass of your lawn — only you allow them to mature instead of mowing them down.”

“Easy to grow and delectable to eat, these ancient seeds and grains are the nutritional powerhouses that sustained civilizations for thousands of years,” Jason adds. “If you don't mill them or pearl them or roll them, but just cook them, you get all of their goodness.”

Whole, presoaked wheat berries should be simmered in plenty of water or stock until tender (about two hours), or can be cooked from a dry state in a pressure cooker in just 30 minutes. Once cooked, whole grains can be portioned and frozen for convenience.

Jason also recommends sprouted grains, simply soaking kernels overnight then rinsing for over two days for “a raw food with a soft yet crunchy texture and a rich sweet taste.”

Along with various ancient grain flours, Anita’s, True Grain and The Flourist sell whole kernel grain to cook for pilafs, risotto and salads or to mill at home. You can also buy whole organic grain direct from Fieldstone Organics in Armstrong and learn more about specific ancient grains from their website, including how to cook, sprout and mill them. Fieldstone Organics also has an impressive selection of small mills and flakers for use in home or commercial kitchens.


YOUR DAILY BREAD

Bread, as they say, bread is “the staff of life”. It’s a nourishing, comforting food that’s eaten every day, in every corner of the world.

As more people stay close to home, it’s likely they will experiment with baking bread, honing their baking skills and including new flours and ancient grains in the mix.

Polls indicate most home bakers plan to continue their bread baking adventures, even after life gets back to “normal”.

Because baking bread is not only practical, it’s fun and empowering to know you can create this staple at home.

Good bread requires just a few ingredients and a little time — but next time you bake, consider the grain and the miller who turned it into tasty, freshly-milled flour.


This feature story originally appeared in Edible Vancouver and Wine Country magazine


RECIPES:

ANITA’S NO KNEAD ANCIENT GRAINS BREAD

Here’s a recipe that’s From Anita’s Organic Mill, and their online Baking Club. This loaf will bring back memories of an old-fashioned loaf of brown bread like your grandma used to make. It’s packed with flavour from the ancient grains and has no added sweeteners or oil. You can replace the white flour with whole grain flour if you choose, but expect a denser loaf. Feel free to experiment with the ratios of the different grains to best suit your taste.


Prep Time 6 hrs

Cook Time 35 mins

Total Time 6 hrs 35 mins

Servings 2 900g loaves


Ingredients

  • 200 g Anita’s Whole Grain Spelt Flour

  • 200 g Anita’s Whole Grain Khorasan Flour

  • 200 g Anita’s Whole Grain Emmer Flour

  • 200 g Anita’s Whole Grain Einkorn Flour

  • 250 g Anita’s All Purpose White Flour

  • 730 g Warm water (30˚C)

  • 21 g Fine sea salt

  • 2 g (1/2 tsp) Instant yeast


Instructions

1. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, salt and yeast.

2. Add the water and mix by hand until no dry flour remains.

3. Cover and let rise 1 hour in a warm spot. (In the oven or microwave with a bowl of boiling water is a good place.)

4. Fold the dough. Pull up one side of the dough and fold it back over itself. Rotate the bowl 90 degrees and repeat. Repeat 2 more times until you have gone all the way around the bowl.

5. Let the dough rise for another hour and then repeat the folding process.

6. Allow the dough to rise for another hour (3 hours total).

7. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured counter and divide in two.

8. Shape the dough into a light ball. Go around the dough gently pulling up the sides and tucking them into the center. Flip the dough over and using cupped hands rotate and tuck the dough under itself to round it out and tighten it up.

9. Allow the dough to rest for ten minutes and then tighten the ball up one more time. Dust the tops with rice flour and then place in two proofing baskets which have also been dusted with rice flour. A bowl lined with a tea towel can be used if you don’t have a proofing basket but be sure to dust the towel well with rice flour to prevent sticking.

10. Allow the loaves to proof for 2 hours in a warm place. You can also allow the dough to rise for 1 hour and then retard in the refrigerator overnight.

11. 45 minutes before baking preheat the oven to 475˚F. Place a pizza stone on the rack one below the center and on top of that a dutch oven/cast iron pot to preheat with the oven.

12. If you must bake the loaves one at a time, place the second loaf in the refrigerator after 1 hour to avoid over proofing.

13. Gently turn the loaves out onto a sheet of parchment paper. Score the loaves with a razor blade and place in the preheated dutch oven (still on the parchment). Replace the lid and turn the oven down to 425˚F.

14. Remove the lid after 20 minutes and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes until the loaves are a dark mahogany brown.

15. Allow to cool fully on a wire rack. If you cut into the loaf while it is still hot it will not have set yet it may seem a little gummy.



POWER MUFFINS

A recipe from Anita’s Organic Mill, using their sprouted spelt flour and other organic baking ingredients.


Prep Time 15 mins

Cook Time 15 mins

Total Time 30 mins

Servings 12 muffins


Ingredients

  • 2 cups Anita's Organic Sprouted Spelt Flour

  • 2 tsp Baking powder

  • 3/4 tsp Baking soda

  • 1 tsp Cinnamon

  • 1/2 tsp Salt

  • 1/4 cup Anita’s Organic Sunflower Seeds

  • 1/4 cup Anita’s Organic Pumpkin Seeds

  • 1/4 cup Anita’s Organic Hemp Seeds

  • 1/4 cup Anita’s Organic Chia Seeds

  • 1/4 cup Anita’s Organic Unsweetened Shredded Coconut

  • 1/4 cup Anita’s Organic Ground Flax Meal

  • 1/2 cup Anita’s Organic Rolled Oats

  • 3/4 cup Anita’s Organic Thompson Raisins, scolded (soaked) in hot water for a few minutes & then drained

  • 4 tbsp (57g) Butter, softened

  • 1/2 cup Date paste (or ½ cup pureed dates)

  • 2/3 cup Oil

  • 2 Eggs, beaten

  • 1/2 cup Applesauce

  • 1 cup Low fat yogurt, plain & unsweetened


Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 475˚F and grease or line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

2. In a medium sized bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add in the seeds, shredded coconut, flax meal, oats, drained raisins and mix.

3. In a large bowl whisk together the butter, date paste, oil and eggs until light and creamy. Add in the applesauce and yogurt and whisk everything together until evenly mixed.

4. Slowly add a cup at a time of the dry mixture to the wet and fold everything together until just combined. Spoon batter into the prepared muffin tray.

5. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes at 475˚F and then turn the temperature down to 375˚F and bake further for 12 to 15 minutes. Do not open oven until the end of the second baking period. Check muffins are ready by inserting a wooden toothpick into the center. If it comes out clean they are ready.

6. Allow to cool in the muffin tray for a few minutes and then move to a wire rack to cool fully.