In the vast landscape of culinary ingredients, the versatility and richness of whole wheat flour is often overlooked. As a staple in kitchens worldwide, whole wheat flour isn't just a common component of your favorite recipes. Its nutritional and sustainable properties deserve a spotlight.
Whole wheat flour distinguishes itself by retaining the bran, germ, and endosperm of the wheat kernel, making it a nutrient-packed alternative to refined flours. It contains higher levels of vitamins and minerals. Rich in B vitamins, including niacin, thiamin, and folate, it supports energy metabolism and overall vitality. The fiber content aids in digestion, promotes a feeling of fullness, and contributes to heart health (health.com).
For those seeking plant-based protein sources, whole wheat flour becomes an essential ingredient, offering a substantial protein boost. It's nearly a complete protein source, other than being low in lysine (one of the 9 essential amino acids needed to be considered a complete source – learn more about this at healthline.com).
More than just nutritiously beneficial, Whole wheat flour's nutty undertones add depth and character when used in place of more refined flours. You can also consider mixing it with other flours to help achieve a desired texture while maintaining some of the nutritional perks. If you don't know where to start, try substituting whole wheat flour for a portion of the flour called for in your favorite recipes and gradually increase the ratio as you become accustomed to its unique characteristics. That being said, adjusting liquid content in recipes may be necessary, as whole wheat flour tends to absorb more moisture than other flours (kpmanalytics.com).
In addition to whole wheat flour in our bakery, we also use an untreated patent wheat flour. "Untreated" typically means that the flour has not undergone any bleaching or bromating processes which are sometimes applied to flour to alter its color, texture, and baking properties. Flour naturally lightens in color over time as it is exposed to air, but some manufacturers usechemical agents to bleach the flour and speed up this process.
Flour can also be treated with potassium bromate to improve its baking performance by strengthening the gluten network, which can result in better volume and texture. However, there are some concerns about the potential carcinogenic properties of potassium bromate. This has led to its use being banned in some countries including Brazil, Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom, while it remains legal to use in the United States (Environmental Working Group). Again, the patent wheat flour we use is untreated.
Patent wheat flour is made from the center endosperm of the wheat kernel. The removal of the bran and germ does mean a reduction in the fiber, protein, and vitamin content of the flour compared to whole wheat flour, but this untreated patent flour is an important, very strong flour. It has its place and purpose as does every flour. However, the nutritional benefits of whole wheat flour make it worth considering where it can be substituted in our recipes and yours.
While there are clear differences in regards to nutrition, both whole wheat flour and patent flour can be amazingly sustainable ingredients. The crucial factor? The sustainability ethos of the farmer and the supplier.
Wheat is often cultivated as part of crop rotation and regenerative agriculture strategies. Proper crop rotation helps maintain soil fertility, reduces the risk of pests and diseases, and enhances overall soil health. Wheat is a relatively water-efficient crop compared to some other grains. It can thrive with less irrigation, making it a sustainable choice in regions where water conservation is a concern. In fact, roughly only 10% of wheat acres in the U.S. require irrigation at all. When properly managed, wheat crops often require fewer synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. This reduction in chemical inputs contributes to lower environmental pollution and supports the development of healthier ecosystems. (USWheat.org)
Whole wheat flour retains much more of the wheat kernel compared to refined flour, which undergoes extensive processing. Minimal processing not only preserves more of the nutritional value but also reduces the environmental impact associated with refining processes and waste generation.
By reviewing the sustainability claims and agricultural practices of our suppliers, we gain a deeper understanding of the impact our purchase dollars have on supporting responsible and eco-friendly initiatives. Both of our flour suppliers have excellent sustainability programs and strategies to promote regenerative agriculture. Some highlights include:
- Enrolling 250,000 acres annually into regenerative agriculture programs. In these programs, farmers are offered "per acre incentives" and access to a team of experts to establish a baseline of measurements and determine opportunities for improvement.
- Responsible Packaging Sourcing. Recently switched to only using 100% Sustainable Forestry Initiative boxes and paper.
- Re-evaluated procedure and cycle for washing trailers and equipment to save 4.8 million gallons of water annually.
- Eliminating and diverting waste resulting from food production going into landfills. 1/3 of facilities currently enrolled. 100% to be enrolled by the end of 2025.
- "Giving Back" via access to nutrition. Donating $300,000 and 100,000 pounds of food per year to food banks.
Whole wheat flour is a quiet yet formidable powerhouse that stands out for its nutritional richness. Untreated patent flour is a remarkable alternative to chemically treated refined flours. Both can be considered sustainable ingredients.As conscious consumers, the choices we make and the sustainability practices of our suppliers intertwine to shape a future where each floury creation is not just a delight for the palate but also a step towards a greener, healthier planet.
Wheat Field Photo By Tetyana Kovyrina