Whole grain kernels.
(photo credit: MCT)
After my introduction to hand-ground whole wheat bread at age 13 by my Gemara
teacher, I cajoled my parents into buying me a hand-cranked flour mill as a
bar-mitzva present and set about grinding my own flour and baking wholewheat
bread. Only while sweating over the wheat kernels as they tediously ground did I
begin to grasp the complexity of our basic food, the staff of life – bread. This
hands-on experience prompted me to delve further into its secrets, a study that
has continued to this day.
Of the five major grains that are commonly
ground into flour (wheat, rye, spelt, barley and oats), wheat is most commonly
used due to its high concentration of gluten, a protein that gives bread its
unique structure and texture. Most bread today is made from wheat flour, while
the other grains remain marginal or specialty markets.
slightly different chemical composition, the major grains have a similar
physical structure. They are all covered by a hard outer skin called the
pericarp. At the base of each kernel we find the germ and the central portion,
which make up the majority of the grain’s volume, called the
The pericarp is a protective layer preserving the inner
components of the grain, facilitating lengthy storage periods. When it is
ground, the pericarp is fragmented into small pieces commonly known as
Bran has a very important function in the digestive system,
providing dietary fiber which slows the absorption of nutrients into the
bloodstream, like a slow-release valve. This is very important for diabetics,
for example, as it slows the rate of sugar absorption into the blood (glycemic
index). For the rest of us, it provides an extended feeling of fullness
and prevents overeating.
The germ is the nerve center, or nucleus, of the
grain. You have probably heard of wheat germ, the germ from the wheat kernel. It
is from this point that the kernel sprouts when planted and contains the highest
concentration of vitamins (especially B-complex), minerals and oils. It is
definitely the healthiest part of the grain but also the most problematic,
logistically speaking, because unless refrigerated (after being ground and
exposed to oxygen), it quickly becomes rancid. For this reason, is it vital to
store whole-grain flour in the refrigerator.
The endosperm makes up the
majority of the kernel and consists mainly of starch, with a small quantity
(less than 15 percent) of protein.
When the grains are milled in modern
industrial mills, the various portions of the kernel are separated by sifting.
The most common type of flour, white flour, contains only finely ground
endosperm. Commercial whole-grain flour has a small portion of bran added back
into the white flour, but less than the natural ratio in the original kernel.
The germ is omitted in commercial whole-grain flour altogether because it
requires refrigeration. True whole-grain flour, containing all the portions of
the kernel in their original, natural ratios, can usually be found only in
health stores and needs to be refrigerated.
Since the Industrial
Revolution, white flour has become the most widespread type of flour. The
omission of the germ and the bran allows manufacturers to extend shelf life and
provide more aerated, puffed-up baked goods. The bran in the flour acts like
1,000 little “knives” that cut and damage the fragile gluten structure and
result in a lower bread volume. Ethnic and religious prejudices have also
contributed to the predominance of white flour, equating whiteness with
Unfortunately, by removing the bran and/or the germ from the
flour and producing bread, the world staple, from that flour, we are depriving
the masses of basic, vital nutrients and dietary fiber in their diets. This has
resulted in a decline in world health and an increase in obesity. The value of
whole-grain flour was recognized as far back as Maimonides, who recommended that
all bread be made only with it.
Recently there has been a growing return
to whole-grain products as health awareness increases. However, because
the public is largely uninformed, many so-called whole-grain products
proliferate that are not truly whole grain, such as including a small amount of
bran but no germ. For many, simply seeing the words “whole grain” on a label
satisfies their conscience. It is important to delve a little deeper (hopefully
this article will help) to weed out the “wheat” from the “chaff” and find
reliable vendors who sell authentic whole-grain products if you really want to
improve your health.100% Whole-Wheat Bread
✔ 3¼ cups whole wheat flour
1¼ cups water
✔ 1½ tsp. instant powdered yeast
✔ 2 tsp. salt
Mix all ingredients
until fully incorporated and let stand for 15 minutes. Knead for 15 minutes,
stopping for breaks in the middle. Shape into oval loaf and place in loaf
pan. Leave to rise for 2 hours. Bake in 240º oven for 35 minutes. Remove from
pan and let cool on a wire rack.
For a more complex flavor, add 2 Tbsp
honey. Master baker Les Saidel, originally from Johannesburg, South Africa,
lives in Ginot Shomron with his wife, Sheryl, and four children. He is
the owner of Saidels Bakery (www.saidels.com), specializing in
hand-made, organic health breads and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also works
as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health.