Is All Flour Created Equal?
Is All Flour Created Equal?
According to data gathered by the USDA in January 2008, the price of refined white flour increased to approx. $38 per 100 lbs. when purchased in bulk. Prices are higher for smaller quantity bagged product. This price represents a 250% increase since January 2005. This got me thinking — am I saving money by milling my own grain?
One of my visitors asked if milling my own flour was cheaper than purchasing store bought flour. My initial response to her was that no, it’s not cheaper if you’re comparing fresh ground whole grain organic wheat berries to Gold Medal whole wheat flour.
Then I thought about it and then I did the math.
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To purchase bleached or unbleached “enriched” all purpose flour or non-organic whole wheat flour, the cost works out to be slightly more to grind your own flour.
Then it occurred to me that this is not a fair comparison.
A kernel of grain has three parts: endosperm, germ, and bran. This applies to all grains, like rice, oats, wheat, barley and more. The germ and the bran are rich in oils, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. The endosperm is what the grain uses for “food” when it sprouts. It does have some proteins, but is mainly starch. The germ and bran quickly spoil once the grain is ground. If separated out, the endosperm has a nearly indefinite shelf life.
Food manufacturers strip off the germ and the bran so that the remaining endosperm, although lacking in nutrition, can sit around for a long, long time as white flour. Because it is so lacking in nutrition, manufacturers infuse white flour with commercial grade chemicals, essentially artificial vitamins and raw minerals that do not spoil, to “enrich” it.
The bottom line is that white flour and refined grains have almost no nutritional value. They WILL fill you up. They ARE inexpensive. But, your body quickly turns the starches in white flour into sugars and there is no assurance that the added chemicals are properly digested as nutrients. By contrast, whole grains metabolize more slowly and provide proteins and fats to help your body deal with the starches in the endosperm.
So, when comparing fresh milled whole grain flour to regular store bought flour, I am comparing a complete, nutritious, fresh grain to only a single part (one third) of a whole grain infused with a bunch of commercial grade chemicals of questionable nutritional value.
Not to say whole grains don’t have some downsides. For example, within 24 hours after it is ground, wheat loses 45 % of all of its nutrients, and within 72 hours, it loses 80-90 per cent of its nutrients. Therefore, it makes sense to grind it and either freeze it immediately or use it within a few hours.
Also, fresh ground flour contains components known as phytates, from the phytic acid contained in the bran of the grain. Phytates take nutrients from our bodies by binding to minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus so that our digestive systems don’t make use of them.
The solution to the phytate problem is to properly soak the grain prior to using it. Pure water, the universal solvent, breaks down phytates in whole grain flour. Think of soaking your dried beans. There are various methods involved in soaking that can speed the process up and so forth. The bottom line is that it removes the phytic acid and even starts breaking down some of the protiens, such as the gluten, into base amino acids. Removing the phytates makes more nutrients available for digestion and absorption by the cells.
Bottom line then: Properly soaking the grains from freshly milled whole grain flour provides my family with the best possible nutrition with 26 natural essential vitamins and minerals. So, okay, I want to compare apples to apples as closely as possible and compare my cost differential to gauge my stewardship.
I researched the cost of the brands of whole wheat flour I could find that had largely been left alone during the manufacturing process. I found these as representative samples:
King Arthur 100% Organic Whole Wheat Flour 2-Pound $3.50 $1.75 per pound
Arrowhead Mills Organic Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour 2-Pound $3.04 $1.52 per pound
Bob’s Red Mill Flour, Hard White Whole Wheat 5-Pound $7.27 $1.45 per pound
Mountain Mills Whole Wheat Flour 50 Pounds $42.99 $.085 per pound
I know that we can tweak the medians, averages, and highs and lows any way we want. I just used these four as my total mathematical sample. So, the average is about $1.40 per pound for a decent quality store bought whole wheat flour sold in a paper bag.
Cost from Bread Beckers sold in an airtight 6 gallon food safe pail:
Wheat Hard Red 45 pounds $31.71 $0.70 per pound
Wheat Hard White 45 pounds $36.99 $0.82 per pound
(Organic) Soft White 45 pounds $44.20 $1.05 per pound
Cost from Wheat Montana sold in a food safe 3-mill 50 pound bag (which I transfer to a pail):
Bronze Chief® Hard Wheat Berries $20.12 $0.40 per pound
Hard Red Winter Wheat $20.12 $0.40 per pound
Prairie Gold® Hard White Wheat Berries $22.13 $0.44 per pound
Soft White Wheat $27.17 $0.54 per pound
Spelt Berries $38.95 $0.78 per pound
Okay, even though there is some insignificant loss when the fresh milled flour is sifted, 1 pound of wheat berries makes about 1 pound of flour by weight. However, 1 cup of wheat berries makes about 1 and a half cups of flour by volume. That is the equivalent of 25 store bought 2 pound bags of whole wheat flour.
50 pounds of wheat berries = 100 cups wheat berries = 150 cups flour
So what is the frugal bottom line?
Average store bought whole wheat flour: $1.40 per pound
Average cost for wheat = $0.85 per pound
Average pound for pound saving: $0.55
Average monthly saving assuming 10 pounds per week usage: $22.00
Average annual saving assuming 10 pounds per week usage: $286.00
Average cost for wheat = $0.44 per pound
Average pound for pound saving: $0.96
Average monthly saving assuming 10 pounds per week usage: $38.40
Average annual saving assuming 10 pounds per week usage: $499.20
I realize this cost comparison does not take into account shipping, nor does it take into account my time and fuel costs purchasing from a grocery store. I still feel the cost difference is significant.
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