Here's another experimental sourdough loaf. This has 30% corn flour, 70% whole wheat. I really liked the 30 percent rye loaves I made this way for the Easter weekend, they turned out quite nice. And the loaves I made with barley, quinoa and oat flour recently suggested to me that there might be other grains I could try too. "As a supplemental grain for my sourdough wheat bread, why not try some corn flour?", I thought.
To be honest: generally I steer clear of corn as a grain -- for lots of reasons, but primarily because we can never be sure any more whether the corn we eat is genetically modified, here in North America. Let's face it, the jury is still out on GMO (Genetically Modified Objects) in our food. I don't really want to be anyone's guinea pig. I may not be able to stop GMO from entering our food supply, but I can do my best to try to not eat it myself (at least, until it is proven safe, and I don't think we've reached that plateau). The wiki on genetically modified food suggests that a lot of our corn grown in North America is now genetically modified (whether in Canada it is as high as the US rates reported or not, I don't know. I bet it is at least that high -- currently 86% -- if not higher here). Mostly it appears that the GMO used in corn is designed to thwart some pests. There may also be some resistance to herbicide. That can't be bad for humans, can it? Can it? I can't answer that. And I doubt that there is a single person on the planet who can, with absolute certainty. Genetic programming is such a fledgling industry, we really don't have a clue yet what we are doing, let alone the ultimate effects it will have.*
But there are other reasons why I avoid corn. One reason I can think of, is because it sickens me to learn what has happened to corn in the interest of profit and often at the expense of health. In an essay I just read by Ursula K. LeGuin, she described how "Capitalism As We Know It" works by requiring endless expansion, "like the American waistline." As an example for how this can be accomplished, she cited Michael Pollan's research on corn in "The Omnivore's Dilemma," and put it rather succinctly:
When you’ve grown enough corn to fill every reasonable demand, you create unreasonable demands—artificial needs. So, having induced the government to declare corn-fed beef to be the standard, you feed corn to cattle, who cannot digest corn, tormenting and poisoning them in the process. And you use the fats and sweets of corn byproducts to make an ever more bewildering array of soft drinks and fast foods, addicting people to a fattening yet inadequate, even damaging, diet in the process. And you can’t stop the processes, because if you did profits might get “listless,” or even “flat.”
Here's another reason. Ever since I watched the video by Dr. Robert Lustig on the dangers of fructose I've been trying to avoid corn fructose. There is far too much corn fructose in our processed foods, and I have tried to be diligent about avoiding it. So mostly, for me, that meant corn is out.
And yet, humans have been eating corn (not our corn, but an ancestor of our corn) for thousands of years here in the Americas. Corn is not in itself inherently evil. It is a grain that can provide sustenance, and still has many good qualities to offer us. It contains starch (lots of amylose, amylopectin, and the important resistant starches), it contains protein, it contains dietary fiber and fats. And depending on the corn variety, and the amount of processing of the grain, it contains the expected carotenoids (mainly lutein, which has anti-tumor properties, and zeaxanthin, said also to prevent macular degeneration; but also xanthophyl, which gives corn its yellow colour, an antioxidant), anthocyanins, and phenolic compounds (like ferulic acid, which prevents colon cancer and slows aging: high levels of this compound alone sets corn apart from other grains, and makes corn's antioxidant properties higher than all other grains). How much remains in corn flour of these good properties after milling, processing, and baking is unknown.
In answer to "Why?" add corn to bread, I simply shrugged and ended with the question "Why not?" And there were reasons why not (I've just listed them), but apparently they were not enough to stop me from experimenting with the number one grain on the planet.
So I decided to try some corn flour in this loaf, not for any great and noble reason, or because I believed in the health benefits of corn, but because I found a tiny bag of corn flour at the Arva Flour mill. I generally trust the products of this nearby old mill; I buy most of my flour there. So even though there is no guarantee that it is GMO free, I decided on a whim to give this corn flour a try. It looked so interesting. An extremely fine flour -- and so yellow it reminded me of the nice yolk of our backyard chicken eggs.
|Yellow cornflour. This shot doesn't do it justice. Think marigold-bright yellow.|
See how it clumps a bit? Reminds me of scrambled eggs.
|I am getting my whole wheat starter to float, if I time it right.|
I suppose that means, following Tartine's instructions, I've got maximum yeast for my leaven.
It was while making the bread, that I became very curious about fructose again. If corn has fructose, don't all other grains also have it? I wanted to know, and set off to learn something.
Wheat has something like fructose
It turns out that there are people out there with fructose metabolism difficulties, and/or fructose absorption problems. And many of these people do better on gluten free diets. This is not because they are sensitive to the gluten, though. Instead, they cannot metabolize wheat's fructans (a fructose-like polymer that wheat uses to store its energy, the way corn uses fructose). Wheat fructans are called Graminan. When these chained carbohydrates are not absorbed for the benefit of the human who eats it, they pass through to the large bowel, where the bacteria derive great benefit from consuming it. And so while the bacteria have a party, the human host experiences symptoms like:
- abdominal discomfort
There may be a few fixes before you have to try a total wheat embargo. Sometimes it helps, believe it or not, to eat some glucose (not sucrose, that just contains more fructose) at the same time as the fructans. For some reason, the glucose metabolizes easily and actually helps the fructans metabolize. But then again, watch Lustig's video and ask yourself whether you really want to metabolize the fructans.
There seems to be a proper ratio of fructose/fructans to the amount of fiber one ingests. In other words, our body can tolerate ingesting fructose in small amounts, so long as it also consumes a lot of fiber. This is why Dr. Lustig wrote in his video, "When G-d made the poison, he packaged it with the antidote," and he said "wherever there's fructose in nature, there's way more fiber."
In other words, if you are gassy when you eat wheat breads, try whole wheat breads. And I'm not talking here about store-bought whole wheat bread: make it yourself so you know it is 100% whole wheat and nothing but the whole grain. Because a store-bought bread may say "100% whole wheat" but it only contains some 100% whole wheat: it likely contains other wheat products too (not to mention all the dough enhancers and additives and sugars that modern industrial extrusion baking loves). Beware the starchiest loaves. Go for the fiber. Make it yourself. That's if you have these symptoms, and still want bread.
Personally, I think that long fermentation periods will help too. I'm talking about sourdough. This will have something to do with correcting the balance of good vs bad bacteria in your gut. This will have something to do with prebiotics and probiotics, of which we've all heard so much recently. I can't cite studies though. A lot of work still needs to be done.
So here's a disclaimer. I don't know. I don't know the health risks of eating any grain. I try to research it a bit, but like anyone else I'm just getting by, living hand to mouth, and trying to make sense of it all, in this big, beautiful, strange and familiar, ugly world.
This mostly whole-wheat-some-cornflour-bread was baked with steam on a stone for 20 minutes, then turned and left another 20 minutes at 450 degrees F. In other words, a normal Tartine-method loaf, except I baked it on a stone.
This bread is a trifle over-baked (is that because corn has fructose and caused a more significant Maillard reaction, I wondered?). But beyond the crust that got too hard and dark, the bread stales quickly too. And even beyond that: the interior crumb hasn't got a particularly good taste. It is not moist.
I believe all these effects have to do with corn's starch crystallizing at a different rate than wheat, along with its much different viscosity when water is added.
This bread is going to be difficult to eat. Compared to other sourdough breads I've made recently this one just isn't up to snuff.
I think I will continue to avoid corn as a bread ingredient, in general. Unless I'm making tortillas or roti or something unleavened.
Notes to Myself
- I remain amazed that corn is the number one grain on the planet. And mostly it is because of these dangerous practices that Pollan reports and LeGuin repeats. Wheat remains the second grain in terms of production volume, and first in terms of direct human consumption, and I still maintain wheat is the most interesting, for its unique properties in baking bread. And its exorphins, of course.
But there are problems with wheat too, and lobbyists on both sides, for and against wheat's consumption. Consumers are hearing a lot about the negatives, these days. I simply ask, "if you take away wheat, whose interest does that serve? The people producing and marketing corn?" And vice versa.
I know that there are interests afoot in the world to do for wheat what the corporations did to corn. It is not all about feeding the world, it is also about profit.
It all bears watching closely.
- If someone suspects they have fructose intolerance, they can ask for a hydrogen breath test to confirm their malabsorption.
- In any study done on grain, always ask yourself "Who Benefits?" It is always difficult because it is hidden, but follow the money.
- * Of course, we can say the same thing (we don't know what we are doing) for virtually everything we
eat: proponents of the paleolithic diet and raw diets tell us that bread
is not good for us, and 10 000 years of archaeology show the damage in
our bones. I don't think they have necessarily proved their point,
though. Grains built civilization, which allowed many changes in
lifestyle, including allowing the less-than-strongest, with other gifts,
to survive. But how long does one have to run a test before one gets accurate results? Is civilization itself just such an experiment?
- I'll admit it (and with my family occasionally reading this blog, how could I deny it and have any credibility?): sometimes when I eat a lot of bread (and when do I not eat a lot of bread?) I get gassy occasionally. But I also eat a lot of fiber in that bread (and lots in my fruits and vegetables), far more than most other people who don't insist on whole grains in their bread, I'd wager. The fiber moves things along rather quickly. So my gut bacteria don't often get the chance to feast long enough to cause the bloating and discomfort reported by people with fructose malapsorption.
And of course, I will often make a joke when I toot. I simply laugh and give the vegetarian's answer to farting: "Yes, of course I fart, but my farts don't stink!"
Farts are such a happy noise.