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?