Flour: An Origin Story

Flour is a generic term that can applied to any grains that had been pounded into a powder form. However these days it’s commonly used to mean powder that has been produced from wheat grains.

But where did the ubiquitous powder come from? And what does it actually consists of? This series explores all of these.

Step 1

Wheat grass is harvested. In the old days it used to be done using a scythe and then the wheat grains are beaten off the stalks in bunches. These days a machine called a combine harvester is used to remove the seeds and leaves the stalks behind on the field.

What happens to the stalks then?
The stalks that are left on the ground are not going to waste. Usually a machine called a hay baler, is sent through the fields, after the combine harvester, and tie up the stalks into huge bales/rounds. These hay bales are then used for other purposes such as feed for animals. A great example of using up every part of a plant.


Step 2

The wheat grains are then cleaned and sorted so that any non-wheat things, like pebbles, twigs, are taken out. These are then sent to be “tempered”. See this as a hot bath for our wheat grains which makes it softer for crushing later.

Step 3

The wheat grains are then taken to be crushed by giant rollers. Each time the wheat germs are crushed, the fluffy white bits in the middle of the grain(called the endosperm) are crushed to a powder and that passes through the sieve. Anything that doesn’t get through are crushed again. This step is repeated until all the flour are extracted. What you have left are the skin and kernel (aka brans and germs) in the sieve.

Hang on...Whole... what?
Wholegrain and wholemeal are two words that are used to describe the fact that the germ and the bran (not just the endosperm) are crushed down and put into the flour as well.

Source: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/nutrition/wholegrain/Pages/default.aspx


Step 4

It is mandatory, in Australia, for millers to add folic acid to flour, with a few select exceptions. This is added to the product before bagging and shipping to shops all over the country.

What's that in my flour?!
The folic acid addition is a reaction to concerns that folic acid levels have been declining in society. As folic acid has been shown to be critical to baby development BEFORE conception (up to a month before), this is a strategy that hopes to maintain folic acid levels in everyone with its flow on effect to the next generation.

Source: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/nutrition/folicmandatory/Pages/default.aspx


Up Next in the Series…

A look inside the grain to see how this versatile grain gives us flour