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Sunday, February 19, 2012

18: Yummy Partial-Wheat Bread

About ten years ago, I received a bread-maker as a Christmas present. Ever since I got into the habit of using it, our family has enjoyed the delight of fresh bread on a regular basis. Once I found that I could buy organic whole-wheat flour from a local mill, I had the added confidence that I was serving my family the healthiest bread on the face of the planet. Or so I believed. Friends always looked forward to bread at my house, and at church potlucks it always went like proverbial hotcakes.

Whole-wheat flour is notorious for rapidly going rancid. I buy it as fresh as possible and keep it in the freezer to preserve the oils in the highly nutritious wheat germ. But there was something that puzzled me: the mill mentioned one day that it didn’t need to be put in the freezer.

I quietly wondered about it for a couple of years.

At the Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays, I frequently have long conversations with some of the local Hutterites, whose table is a short distance from mine. I’ve been impressed with the agricultural knowledge and ethics of this particular colony, Pine Haven, located a few minutes southeast of Wetaskiwin. They seem to consider it their responsibility before God to carefully steward their land. And well they should.

Although the colony does not call their produce organic (the certification process is a long and difficult one), their vegetables are grown without synthetic fertilizers and their meat and poultry are raised using things like oregano in the feed and water as well as probiotics to ward off disease before it starts.

One market day last summer, I had a long chat with John Hofer, who has taken an interest in growing original grains. He told me that he has been working with three different ancient or heritage grains, as they are called, and making some of the flour available for sale along with their other produce. I was keen to buy a bag of his flour and try it out. As I paid for it, he told me to make sure to keep it in the freezer.

So I talked to him about the organic flour I had been buying and how confused I was that they’d told me it wouldn’t spoil. He promptly offered an answer to the riddle. Most wheat today, he said, has been genetically modified to one end or another, and one of the modifications they make is breeding the wheat germ right out of the kernel in order to improve the shelf-life. This leaves just the endosperm, which contains the gluten (a form of protein) and the wheat bran. So if this were true of my flour, it would mean that all this time I had been buying—not whole-wheat flour—but two-thirds-wheat flour. One very important, God-designed part would be missing. I was not impressed with this possibility.

Since that day, I have done some reading on the whole GMO thing. I understand now that there are over 30,000 different strains of wheat. They have been developed to many different ends: to make them resistant to herbicides like Round-Up; to help them survive difficult climatic conditions; and to change the composition in different ways for various reasons, the remove-the-wheat-germ scheme being a case in point. Gluten contents have been manipulated to make them “perform” better in specific products. One of the concerns here is that the “super-glutens” created are difficult for us to digest properly, and one of the questions posed is whether this trend in part explains the burgeoning numbers of people being diagnosed with celiac disease.

The health concerns include “endocrine disruption, reproductive disorders and sterility, digestive problems, rapid aging, organ damage, autoimmune problems, insulin imbalances.... Every human currently consuming GMOs on a regular basis is actually an unwitting test subject in a giant biotechnology experiment.”* Even crazier is the news that human DNA is being used in some of these grains, now no longer technically called plants but rather “organisms.”

All my reading was making me pretty paranoid, and I was ready to throw away my “organic whole-wheat flour” from the local mill on principle alone. But I decided to let them speak for themselves first.

A phone call reassured me that my flour is not genetically modified.

But neither does it contain wheat germ. It is mechanically removed so that the flour can sit on the shelf for six months without spoiling. “But,” I protested, “you call it whole wheat, and it’s really only two-thirds.”

And he answered, “But we don’t call it 100% whole wheat.”




  1. So, what kind of flour are we supposed to buy/eat?

  2. I am fortunate to have access to some fresh-ground heritage grains here that I then keep in my freezer. I also still use about 25% of the organic but wheatgerm-less flour from the local mill, because the bread rises better. If I did not have these options, I would probably first contact Rogers Foods in Armstrong, BC, to ask if they have any flours from non-GMO grains. Their flours are available in Safeway, etc., so it's a good place to start. Second, I would try a local organic store. Failing that, I would find a source to buy a heritage grain whole, buy a little flour mill, and grind my own as needed.