Milling of whole wheat well defined

by Morton Sosland
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Thanks to an analysis issued by a well-regarded group of food scientists, an issue deviling whole wheat flour production has been resolved. The matter centered on whether different systems of wheat milling produce measurable differences in the nutritional quality of finished whole wheat flour. The scientists have determined that no differences exist in the nutritional quality of flour produced either by single-stream milling or multiple-stream milling. Considering that this matter originated in the 19th century when steel roller mills replaced stone grinding, the determination by the Whole Grain Working Group of the American Association of Cereal Chemists International is most welcome.

In addition to resolving this venerable conflict about the nutritional quality of flour produced by stone-grinding or single-stream milling versus steel roller multi-stream mills, the W.G.W.G.’s report arrives just as whole wheat flour is expected to have a larger role in American diets. This reflects the federal government’s decision to step up its campaigning to promote increased consumption of baked foods made with whole wheat flour. Disagreement over how whole wheat flour is milled had threatened becoming an obstacle to reaching the ambitious consumption goals.

The argument resolved so forthrightly by the W.G.W.G. of the A.A.C.C.I. had its origins in the late 1800s when the introduction of steel roller mills to replace stone grinding overwhelmed American milling, as well as milling in most other developed areas. From that revolutionary era through early in the 20th century, stone-ground flour producers often contended that theirs was the only true whole wheat flour and that competing products made in modern mills with multiple streams blended in the search for maximum efficiency failed being nutritionally equal. This argument played a central role in early promotions of stone-ground whole wheat flour. It also gained from the new products like graham crackers and advertising focusing on the distinctly different whole wheat products that were among the first commercial foods meant to attract consumers newly aware of health-related claims.

Driving the present-day argument is the effort of millers operating stone-ground or single-stream operations to have the government mandate the single-stream production path. The fallacy of this understandable position becomes evident when it is realized that all of the whole grain products used to measure nutritional superiority in American diets were baked from flour milled by plants using multiple streams and recombining to come up with an ingredient meeting the official standards for whole wheat flour. Attention is also called to the tiny role of single-stream milling and stone grinding in flour output. Along this same line, the report points out that the average output of a stone grinding mill is about 2,000 pounds per hour, while steel roller mills may produce 3 million pounds in 24 hours. That certainly explains why most whole wheat flours are made by recombining millstreams at the mill.

Of lesser importance, but covered in the report in an effort to be comprehensive, are minimal processing of grain kernels to make cracked wheat or bulgur, as well, and at the other extreme, whole grain flours produced away from the mill. The latter, called reconstituted whole wheat flour, are a combination of various mill products from the same grain that are reunited by food manufacturers ahead of baking. These processors, it is suggested, “must exercise diligence to ensure that the proportions of the various ingredients meet the standards.” Of course, care is required in multiple-stream milling as well as in single-stream whether with steel roller mills or stone grinding.

Having resolved this one aspect of whole wheat flour to assure nutrition contents, the report omits the overriding question about how much whole wheat products is needed or wanted. A 50-50 ratio between whole wheat and regular flour has won acceptance from most of grain-based foods, even though attaining this seems unimaginably tough. Nothing about the A.A.C.C.I. report suggests any change or much less, an increase in the goal for whole wheat consumption.

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