Live vs Dead Flour

The quick answer:  Freshly ground flour is live, and should be refrigerated or frozen, if not immediately used.  It’s healthier, but has a limited shelf life.


John and Leah Widtsoe

In 1937 John and Leah Widtsoe coauthored a nutrition guide titled, The Word of Wisdom, A Modern Interpretation.  We are at the 75th anniversary of this remarkable and prescient book—the best book ever written on the Word of Wisdom, in my view. 

The Widtsoes were remarkably well qualified.  He had earned a chemistry PhD in Germany, the birthplace of nutrition science; had been a chemistry professor and president of two colleges; and served in the highest council of the Mormon Church as an apostle.  Leah was a formidable woman, a granddaughter of Brigham Young, a university graduate when this was uncommon for women, and had traveled east to study domestic science at the Pratt Institute. 

Though much has been learned since the Widtsoe’s time, their guidance was right on target: eat less sugar, more whole grains, less meat, and more vegetables.  An oft-repeated warning against refined grains was included in their book:  “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.”  

The book caused quite a stir and became a force for better nutrition.  Unfortunately, World War II soon consumed the public’s attention and in the following post-war prosperity, sound nutrition was forgotten.  I think the loss of focus on nutrition was almost a greater tragedy than the war itself.  Only in recent years has public focus returned to healthy food.

In Praise of Whole Grains

A prior post, In Praise of Whole Grains, proposed this Healthy Change: “Enjoy a variety of whole grains.  The post summarized all we have said about enjoying whole grains, including the highly popular post, Waking Up In The Bread Aisle, where we evaluated all the bread in a typical supermarket bread aisle by the rule, “Bread must contain more grams of fiber than sugar.” 

A few, perhaps 3% of the population, are allergic to wheat or intolerant of gluten.  Fortunately there are a variety of grains available. 

Live vs Dead Flour

In the past you could buy refined, bleached, and yes, enriched, flour at the local grocery and store it for years.  Why does it store for so long without spoiling?  Because it’s dead as an Egyptian mummy.  Think, dead flour.

Freshly ground live flour, on the other hand, is much healthier but has a limited shelf life.  When the grinder crushes the wheat kernel, vitamins, omega-3 fats, and other phytonutrients are exposed to the air and begin to oxidize.  The kernel is a remarkable time capsule, capable of preserving the contents for years.  But we must relearn how to care for wheat once grinding has compromised the kernel.  The most noticeable change is a slightly bitter taste and a faint odor of rancidity.

This is an important point.  In our home, when we make bread, we grind wheat kernels into flour and immediately mix the bread.  We preserve the leftover flour in our freezer in a dated container.

The whole-wheat flour you buy in the grocery store, unfortunately, is 4-6 months old when you buy it.  I think this is a better product than the white, refined, enriched white flour, but it’s not ideal, due to the months of exposure. 

In a prior post I reviewed my conversation with two principal suppliers of whole-grain flour—King Arthur and Bob’s Red Mill.  I think these companies provide a valuable service so I’m loath to criticize.  But in an ideal world, it’s best to use freshly ground flour, or flour we have stored in a freezer after grinding. 

The best answer, I think, is to copy the idea of coffee grinders available in many supermarkets.  If we can have fresh-ground coffee, why can’t we have fresh-ground wheat flour?  It makes more sense for the local grocery or health food store to provide a grinder for customer use than for all of us to buy grinders for our homes.


Please share how you preserve your whole grain flours.  Also, what is your preferred method of grinding?

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Reader Comments (18)

I would be really interested in knowing people"s method of grinding. Can I use a coffee grinder? Is there any device / brand people would recommend me?
Thanks heaps and long live to this beautiful blog :)

September 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

i think you would find caleb warnock and melissa richardsons' new book, "the art of baking with natural yeast" very interesting. it's beautiful and the recipes are delicious.

September 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbandreoli

I grind what I need using my blendtec blender. If I have any left I put it in the fridge and it gets used pretty quickly.

September 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy (vintagefern)

In the summer it's so hot I quit grinding my own wheat and making my own bread and buy the Prairie Grain or Great Harvest breads. It's not the same, but better than yuck bread from the big brands.
Once it cools off again, I'll grind each time I make bread. I use a NutriMill. I like the white wheat because it's softer. I only grind enough for what I'm making at the time. It's more work, but it's also SOOO much better for you.

September 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAprilA

Charlotte--we use a coffee grinder to grind our wheat. Our coffee grinder cost about $35 and I am so grateful for it! However, I have only used it for making things like bread, wheat flap jacks and 1/2 and 1/2 cookies. I have never used it for pastry or something where you might be looking for a finer grind. If a wheat grinder is out of your price range, I highly recommend it.

Skip--I really love the ideo of grinding your wheat at the grocery store. I might have to pass that ideo on to Harmon's here in Utah.

September 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeeAnn

I have a Whisper Mill grinder. I usually grind what I need for immediate use, but sometimes I will grind several batches and freeze it.

September 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I have been wanting to purchase a wheat grinder after reading your previous post on the subject (and moving all my store bought flour to the fridge). I did some research and planned to buy the nutrimill (which is what my MIL has and I enjoy using), however once I weighed the cost (over $200) I decided to purchase the vitamix blender. A vitamix is a hefty investment (we purchased at Costco for $500) but I have LOVED it! It not only grinds wheat, but I have put undetected greens in smoothies and soups, quickly pureed my baby food and even ground flour. I love it.
It has worked great so far for wheat. Not as fine as the nutrimill but it was easy and quick (plus I leave the vitamix on the countertop since we use it daily).

oh and vitamix does sell another container specifically for dry ingredients like making wheat. It's an additional $100 but the demonstration lady at Costco said I didn't need it. I think if I find myself grinding more often or exploring making different bean flours or rice flours, I'll consider the purchase.

having a wheat grinder in grocery stores is a fabulous idea. I've seen nut butter makers in addition to coffee grinders- seems like a grain grinder would fit right it.

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterToria

A wheat grinder in the grocery stores is an excellent idea! Whole Foods is just the kind of store that will sincerely listen to that suggestion, as they have proven they are customer driven. I no longer live near a Whole Foods, but, please, someone else take up this cause.

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDenae

Skip, have you shared your bread recipe? If not I would love to try it! I am not to a point of grinding my own grains yet (and I'm not sure I really want one more kitchen gadget in my house!) so would it be better for me to stick to eating unground grains, like rice, wheatberries, oats, etc?

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZarah

I also use my Blendtec blender to grind whatever grain I am using and then keep the rest in the fridge. I used to use a hand crank grinder and my 4 yo daughter liked to help me. However, I love the time savings of using the blender. I think the idea of having a grinder in the grocery store is a brilliant one, especially at stores that already have a bulk foods section. Food made with freshly ground grain, besides being more nutritious, just tastes much better!

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSabrina

I have just started using the kitchen aid grinder attachment to grind my flour. I love it! It is easy, pretty fast and (most importantly) makes very little mess! It was an anniversary gift from my husband :)

We don't eat a lot of bread at our house but have used the grinder to make biscuits. It turned out very nice. I have the kitchen aid pasta attachment as well (which works works very good!) and can't wait to try the fresh ground flour to make pasta!

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterT ana

Your idea of a mill in Grocery stores is brilliant! I really can't believe the likes of whole foods haven't thought of that. (as you can buy freshly ground peanut butter there.) maybe the sound would ruin the ambiance? I have a blendtec which I love. There are always a combination of grain and seed flours bagged in our freezer. If its in hand I'm more likely to use a variety of grains in pancakes, granola, and bread.

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKjirsti

I can't help but mention that if you truly want a live grain, as has been alluded to in the title of this post, you would need to sprout it to make it alive. The whole grains we buy are in a dormant state. From one website selling "Ezekiel" bread:

"Sprouted grain bread is made with live grains. These grains contain vital nutrients and maximize the nutrition and flavor of the bread. Sprouted grain breads are filled with enzymes that are activated in the bread itself, which causes the grains to sprout. This means each serving of sprouted grain bread contains several important vitamins, minerals and natural fats, as well as protein – things you won’t find in ordinary, processed breads at the supermarket. Sprouting neutralizes phytic acid – a substance present in grains – that inhibits absorption of nutrients and more important Sprouting neutralizes or "predigests" if you will, grains through enzymatic activity."

So grinding your dormant wheat and either using it right away or keeping it cool-- is flour that isn't alive, but is indeed more nutritious than stale wheat flour. Now the process to make sprouted wheat bread--soaking, sprouting, dehydrating at a low enough temperature not to kill it, THEN grinding it to "live flour" with which to make bread is for sure a process. After doing this method for a year, I decided it was better to drop bread out of the diet than to keep up the insanity.

Thanks for the great website--I try to keep right up to date.

September 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShirella

Wow, I'm impressed with this post :) My VERY favorite of about 3 books other than the scriptures is John A. Widtsoe's "Word of Wisdom - A Modern Interpretation" book! I've marked it up almost AS MUCH as my scriptures! And we've given away at least 5 copies to others who have asked for it. I'm thinking about buying a whole case just to have on hand for people!

So very interesting about this... my website is based on this book (as well as teachings of other leaders plus expanded modern research - which of course ends up being backed by the Word of Wisdom, duh!). I do include preparedness and natural living also, and if you want to take a peek, the website is WWW.THEMODERNPIONEERMOM.COM - - - If you click directly on the "W.O.W." tab (not any of the drop down menu, just the tab itself), you can read a whole information section that I included just on this book!!! Apparently it was backed numerous times by the First Presidency & apostles! How exciting!

Thank you so much for your website. It's in my main bookmark menu, & I refer to your posts often. I actually have your website listed under my "favorite places" section. So hopefully you'll get more visitors with that. You guys are awesome :) It's so wonderful to have more & more people coming to the forefront with websites to help members of the church - AND EVERYONE (even if they're not of our faith) to live healthier more provident & self sufficient lives... which I believe the Word of Wisdom goes hand in hand with, 100%.

Once again, I'm super impressed. Have you ever thought about doing a "link up" with other similar websites, so that we can all band together & help more people? That might be a lot of fun!

Thanks again.
(The Modern Pioneer Mom)

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Modern Pioneer Mom

Also... I use my Wonder Mill grinder & Jr. handmill - - - I grind fresh & hardly ever ahead of time. Fridge & freezer are the best way though, if pre-prep is required. I'm also learning more about soaking grains & flour before using them. This information on traditional preparation fascinates me! I've learned the most about it from Weston A. Price, "Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon, & The Healthy Home Economist website. Wonderful information!

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Modern Pioneer Mom

I have a magic mill and I love it! I use a coffee grinder for oats and for flaxseed. You can also grind beans to make a bean flour. I have also ground rice for my gluten free friends.

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany

i have been sprouting my wheat since january, dehydrating {drying} it and then griding it in my wondermill. its wonderful and it reduces the phytic acid that prevents mineral absorption!
ive been using spelt, einkorn, many great grains to try! love this site, thanks for all your info

ps-do you sprout? have you looked into/considered it?

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelly tillotson

Hi!LeAnn thank you for letting us know you can use a coffee grinder...I'm working on improving our goal of whole foods diet but I really need a grinder for the wheat (I don't have a Kitchen Aid or a Blendtec) so $35 is a lot easier to save for than $200-500!
I'm wondering does anyone have experiance grinding beans, popcorn or dent corn, and other grains like barley or rye? Does the coffee grinder work for those? Also we don't eat that much bread...mostly biscuits, tortillas, cornbread/fruit bread (pumpkin or applesauce), and occasionally rolls or crackers. Will the coffee grinder make the flour fine enough for these?

April A...I have recipes for baking bread and rolls in the crockpot...and it doesn't heat up the house at all (basement apartment but no AC)...I just did some google searches this summer (my favorite is Artisan Bread in 5Minutes a Day's -it's on their website)

Kelly...I've been using soaked recipes for all our grain different is this from sprouting? The stuff I read said this was best for preground flour (to soak) but I've only just started reading on sprouts and sprouting for bread.

Peace to all.

October 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGwen

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