All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Oat Bread, Spelt Bread

1/4 Oat Bread with Steel Cut Oats

A couple of breads today.  This coming month they will be ripping apart our kitchen to put in new cupboards and floors, so I'm putting some bread in the freezer in case I don't get a chance to bake.  

1. 25% Oat Flour, 75% WW Sourdough loaf with Steel Cut Oats

  • 750g ww flour
  • 250g oat flour
  • 100g steel cut oats
  • 662g water
  • 50g wheat germ
  • 200g sourdough starter
  • 20g salt
steel cut oats
1 TBSP sourdough starter added to steelcut oats, and about 3 TBSP water, fermented overnight

Oats were the first grain discovered to be a functional food, when metabolized by humans.   Oats have a proven cholesterol lowering effect, still not completely understood.  Naturally, we want whole grain oats to ensure it works on us.  Oats are one grain that we can usually find in the grocery store in pretty much its whole form (oat meal).  Other whole grains are hit and miss (barley can be usually found in pearled form, you have to look very hard for whole wheat grains or whole rye).  You can find steel-cut oats in specialty shops, and they are touted to be even better than oat meal.

I recently walked by an oat field and brought home a few handfuls from the unharvested strips still standing beside the headland.  Oats are very difficult to clean by hand, and ultimately I gave up and gave them to my chickens, who spent a couple of determined days to break into them.  Unlike me, they do not give up.

I've been reflecting on how closely our food choices are bound to our technology, and how we select our grains and other food sources based on the tools we have to adequately plant, grow, harvest, store and prepare them.  Nutrition and health has never really been the first concern in this chain.  Of first concern is obtaining food to fill our bellies; our second concern is that the cost of putting it there is not more than the benefit it gives us.  

The long-term health risks of putting it there are generally an afterthought.  

It has always been thus, since we first milled our grains by banging two rocks together.  Imagine a time where all you had to do was walk to the field where it may be growing wild (or you might have planted it in some earlier season).  You gather enough grain for a day.  You bring your basket back to camp, and spend the rest of the day cleaning it -- removing each grain from its husk.  Once cleaned, you grind it into a fine meal using nothing but two stones.  The calories spent on doing this have to be less than the calories you will gain from eating it, or you've wasted a day*.  

Obviously, grains that are easier to clean or quicker to mill are going to be preferred.  And if a new technology comes along -- say a fanning mill or grist mill -- that will ease another part of the job, then all the better.

I do not blame our ancestors who selected a natural mutation of wheat that had an intact spikelet at maturity.  The normally brittle rachis in the wild wheat ancestors meant each grain would have fallen to the ground when ready to eat, and picking up each kernel is just extra work.  Then you had mutations that would have grown more than one kernel per stalk, which would have been seen as a huge advantage.  No wonder few people in Canada grow Einkorn as opposed to other wheat.  And finally: if you have a plant that grows more grain than stalk, like Borlaug's dwarf strains of wheat, you would try growing that too.  Who would blame you?

Perhaps now, however, we are seeing increased allergic reactions and immune responses due to our ancestor's past choices.  At least, now we are beginning to be aware that our longterm health must figure into the chain of decision-making that leads us to select our food and the tools that go into its production.

If you want to see what sorts of tools are involved in growing your own wheat (or oats or other grains) on a small scale, take a look at these 2 cute YouTube videos of Stephen Simpson (aka seedtray1) who does it all himself: from seeds to loaf.  I love this guy.

Allotment scale production of bread making wheat:

Here is a closer look at seedtray1's home-made thresher:

and the link to his small-scale thresher's design, kindly released under the creative commons 3.0 license.

2. 50% Whole Spelt, 50% ww flour

  • 500g ww flour
  • 500g whole spelt flour
  • 50g wheat germ
  • 600g water
  • 20g salt
  • 185g sourdough starter

No crumb shot of this speltish loaf, I gave one away and the other one went right into the freezer.

Results of the Oat Bread

 I quite liked this bread.  At first I thought it was sort of dry, or perhaps it was staling quickly.  But the loaf stayed tasty until it was finished, several days later.  The steel cut oats were pre-fermented a little, but they stayed a bit crunchy in the crumb, more as a texture than as a taste.

Notes to Myself
  • * In terms of nutrient density and satisfaction, is this daily life preferable to a day spent tracking some animal to kill it with a stick?
  • * Anyone who has used a stone mortar and pestle to grind wheat into flour knows what I'm talking about, when I mention calories expended vs calories gained. Even if you have a crank hand-grinder to mill your wheat (better than a mortar and pestle), you are going to appreciate an electric mill.  And roller mills took off because they were better in some ways (quicker, more efficient, etc.) than stone mills.  Not all steps forward are good for us, though, and we now know that roller mills destroyed some nutrients, not all of which are replaced through mandatory enrichment of the resultant flour.  Ultimately, we are going to become dependent on whatever tool we use to obtain our food, and that is a form of enslavement.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Whole Wheat Breads made with Kamut and Red Fife

Whole Wheat Breads made with Kamut and Red Fife

Today's Bread
A couple of Whole Grain breads.  One is made with 25% Kamut, the other is made with 25% Red Fife.  The rest of the dough (the 75%) is regular Arva Flour Mill whole wheat, a finer grind than the red fife, but not as fine as the Kamut flour.

mixing: kamut (L) and red fife (R)

begin proofing

end proofing

end baking

As usual, using Tartine math, I add 5% wheat germ to the dough, and 2% salt, and I make it with 20% sourdough.  Lately I've been keeping the hydration lower, expecting a denser crumb.  Both of these loaves are 65% hydrated.  The one with Red Fife flattened out a bit, and I suppose it was the chunks in the dough that kept the gluten from forming extra long strands while mixing, turning, and stretching.  The dough with Kamut felt silkier, and in the stage before proofing, tighter.
I've given away half of this bread, and I've put the Red Fife loaf in the freezer for the next few weeks when builders come to tear apart our kitchen and I won't be able to bake as often, if at all.

Fasting Update: the Dairy Connection
I continue to fast a couple of days a week.  This is a complete fast from all food except I continue to drink some liquids -- water, and teas.  I generally fast from dinner the one day to breakfast 2-days hence, so closer to 36 than 24 hours.  Despite my supposed exorphin cravings, this type of fast and its short length don't seem to bother me.

That means, however, that I am taking in roughly 5/7 the amount of calories and nourishment per week than I did prior to starting this fast, and I have been dropping a few pounds.  There have been times when my wife, who is also doing this fast, wants to eat a ton of pancakes when it comes time to eat breakfast.  But I find I'm somewhat opposite.  I don't want extra carbs when I break my fast.  Yes, bread -- I always want my homemade, wholegrain, sourdough bread, -- but I don't crave a lot of extra sweet stuff.  I've never been that interested in dessert anyway.  I want denser food.  I want foods that are nutritious.  I want vegetables and fruits, nutrient density.  I don't want junk, it doesn't feel right.

To recap, the reason for the fast in the first place was to try to reduce the Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).  I've been learning a bit more about IGF-1 since starting the fasts, trying to understand the biological and metabolic pathways.  One of the things I've learned is that we make IGF-1 (mostly in the liver) and it circulates in our bloodstream.  But there are also dietary sources of IGF-1.  And it makes sense to me, at least on the surface, that if you are going to fast to reduce your IGF-1 levels, you may not want to necessarily eat things that contain a lot of IGF-1 on your non-fast days.  It's like doing a brake-stand with your car, jamming on the brake while pressing down the accelerator at the same time.  All you do is spin your wheels until they start smoking.  That's going to be ultimately expensive when you have to replace the rubber.

And what are the dietary sources of IGF-1?  Mostly milk.  Dairy.  And that is a concern for me.  Why?  Well, finish this phrase:

"Bread and … "

Yes, if I butter my bread (or put cheese on it, or use yogurt to build a crust...), I'm likely increasing my IGF-1 levels.  

The FDA says that it is safe, and 3 servings of milk a day have not been found to unduly increase our risk for increasing IGF-1 levels nor to increase our cancer risk.  However, they continue to say this despite a rising tide of evidence to the contrary.

I've been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for about 24 years, with only one of those years as a vegan.  I found that after a year with no dairy at all, I began having skin problems.  I admit that I probably didn't know what I was doing when I began the vegan diet as an experiment -- does any of us know everything about what we are doing, when we begin something new?  But my skin problems began to fix themselves when I went back on dairy products.  This is precisely the reverse of what many other people find.  So I say, every body is different.  Let your body be the guide.  Figure it out as you go.

I love cheese, and bread and cheese together has become one of my staples, as a lacto-ovo vegetarian.  But I concede that ingesting a lot of fatty cheese may also be causing my IGF-1 levels (and triglycerides, and cholesterol) to go up, which may ultimately cause a whole lot of health problems -- including heart disease, and cancer.  Is the answer for me to try becoming a vegan again?  Or eat only raw food?  Or give up dairy but take up meat?  Or give up bread?

To be honest, I can't see myself taking any of these roads, not with exclusion.  I suspect that I will be eating less cheese, less butter, less milk product in the next few years, and increasing the vegetables by a factor.  I see myself getting into juicing, for example, after seeing what the Gerson Therapy can accomplish.  But at this point, I don't see myself giving up cheese entirely.  Because cheese is -- or it can be -- a nutrient-dense fermented, living food.  

And tasty.  

I suspect that might just be the exorphins in milk that is making me say that, I don't know.  

Thoughts on Butter, Milk and Cheese
So I've been curious about milk and dairy products this past couple of weeks.  This is a hot topic among people interested in food and virtually every kind of dieter and health practitioner.  It is controversial, and we have lots of people lining up on every side of the debate.  An ordinary person has trouble walking in the minefield, trying to avoid the cow patties.

My wife and I have been discovering how difficult/impossible it is to source unpasteurized whole milk from grass-fed cows (which I've wanted to obtain to try to make my own real fermented cheese from).   It turns out that such a resource is illegal in this country.  All milk for human consumption has to be pasteurized by law (although some cheese producers do manage to leap through a loophole and can somehow make cheese with unpasteurized milk -- this really jacks the price up, though, as you can imagine). Officials are actively prosecuting those who try to sell unpasteurized milk.  Take for example, the story of Michael and Dorothea Schmidt as related by Sally Fallon, of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

I've learned an awful lot from listening to the Weston A. Price Foundation people and their propaganda, and I follow their efforts to obtain whole foods from cows with interest.  At the same time, I'm not entirely convinced that milk -- and certainly not the milk we can obtain legally -- is all that good for us.  I've recently watched the movie (documentary? road trip?) "Got the Facts on Milk" by Shira Lane.

After watching this popular documentary (and another one, called "King Corn" by Aaron Woolf, which doesn't pull any punches when it comes to examining how cows are treated on a typical corn-fed diet these days), I find it difficult to support any milk producer that can legally supply us with what was once a traditional nutritional food source.

The propaganda put out by the milk marketing boards, that dairy products are necessary for calcium, seems to be ubiquitously believed in our culture.  Then one day I heard Charlotte Gerson ask the question, where do mother cows get the calcium to make their milk?  Do they get it from milk?  No.  The calves are weaned.  Cows get calcium from the food they eat, mostly grass.  But the question we then must ask: can we humans eat enough greens and vegetables to get enough calcium without eating milk?  After all, we don't have 2 stomachs like cattle, and we don't spend all day ruminating.

This got me curious, and I began looking into the claims of another book I recently flipped through: "Building Bone Vitality" by Lanou & Castleman.  Lanou & Castleman cite tons of studies that show that when too much protein is eaten, it changes the pH of the blood.  Note that this is quite different from diets that suggest you should eat foods of a certain pH -- such diets are probably bogus, because the stomach acids are going to change things in vivo anyway.

However, the blood does become slightly acidic due to excess protein consumption, and the body does seek to balance the pH by removing calcium from the bone.  So you have a strange situation, where you have people eating lots of milk and dairy products to increase calcium intake, but because of the increased protein ingested, the net effect to bones may be overall bone density loss. Calcium from the bones is pissed away, once it buffers the acidity of the blood.

The few studies on this that I've looked at, this all seems to be true, at least in the short-term.  Mid-term increased consumption of extra protein will eventually balance out, according to one study I saw.  Long-term studies are missing.

But this much is true: if you eat too much protein (and it can be animal or vegetable protein), your body will bring the pH back to homeostasis by leaching calcium from your bones.  There is a name for this: "protein-induced calciuria".   This is true of those who eat animal proteins (meat); but is this true of increased protein from cereals (i.e. bread)?  Yes it is.  If you eat too much bread, the proteins from the bread will change your blood pH, and calcium will be released from the bones to keep the pH in the range required to sustain life.  Reaching for more cheese might be precisely the wrong thing to do.  It will give you more calcium, but it will also give you more protein.

Chronic diseases and IGF-1
There are more and more paleo-diet proponents like German dermatologist Bodo Melnik, who says that milk is the promoter of many of our chronic Western diseases, including "coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, dementia, and allergic diseases."  Melnik has specifically focused on dairy's ability to increase IGF-1 levels, and furthermore, he says this is the cause of all of these ill health conditions.  Melnik lumps grains in with sugar and milk, as one of the causes of our ill health, but more for the way grains spike the insulin response than what it does to IGF-1 levels.  In another article, Melnik uses the studies of those with Laron syndrome to show the connection between cancers and IGF-1.

Never mind that humans have been consuming cow's milk for 10's of thousands of years, since the dawn of agriculture.  Those who follow a paleolithic-based diet claim that this was a mis-step, that we haven't got the capability to properly metabolize this form of food.  It might help a little if we didn't pasteurize everything, or load our cows with estrogens and milk-producing hormones (mostly an U.S. thing, not so much in Canada where its illegal), or suffuse them with antibiotics (common here as well as the U.S.), or feed them cheap subsidized food (corn) that kills them.  But ultimately, even if we could source a more natural milk (and we can't), it simply isn't the right food for us.  That's what the neanderthin or paleodieters are telling us.

Paleo Diets on Grain
Incidentally, many paleolithic diets eschew grains entirely, saying that grain is indigestible without milling or grinding, and these tools were not available to pre-agricultural humans.  If you can't hunt and gather it using nothing more than a sharp stick, they say, then you shouldn't eat it. 

For various reasons, most paleolithic diets shy away entirely from whole grains; some limit them to 2-3 servings/day.   Loren Cordain, authors of "The Paleo Diet" (2010) says that when 70% of the total calories comes from grain, illness is the result.  The high phytates of whole grains interferes with iron and calcium metabolism, and can cause zinc deficiency; many people find they cause inflammation in the GI tract, and probably elsewhere in the body.  The lectins of grains increase the antigens in the bloodstream.  Grains lack vitamins C, A precursors, folate is not bioavailable, and vitamin D deficiency can occur in diets high in whole grains.  Furthermore, grains have the wrong ratio of omega-6:omega-3 fatty acids.

This is all probably true, but increasing the amount of sharpened-stick-killed meat on the plate is not the final answer to obtaining food for the increasing numbers of hungry humans these days.  Too much protein will kill you just as dead.  As some have pointed out, there is at least one flaw in the paleo diet hypothesis.  The bone record of ancient humans who subsisted on hunting/gathering is good because few paleo humans lived long enough to have degenerative bone disease (and if the protein-induced calciuria hypothesis is true, we would see it).  We have greater longevity today thanks to agriculture (not to mention culture, writing, ethics, etc. -- all missing from hunter-gatherer clan social structures.)

I'm not giving up on grain and bread just yet.  I haven't a better alternative for myself or for the world.

Bovine Growth Hormone
Dr. Samuel Epstein of the Cancer Prevention Coaltion has been writing and speaking about many problematic things in our diet and environment that cause cancer, and has a couple of books about the dangers of milk, including "GOT (Genetically Engineered MILK! The Monsanto rBGH/BST Milk Wars Handbook," (2001) and "What's in Your Milk" (2006) 

Epstein is particularly worried about rBGH, the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone which is regularly injected into U.S. cows to make them increase milk production, but he certainly also has much to say about the dangerous IGF-1 levels and the increased female hormone 17 beta-estradiol which have been found in the bloodstream of those who use Dairy products.

Dr. Terry Etherton, animal nutrition specialist at Penn State, disagrees with Epstein, and maintains that the use of rBGH hormones are safe, both for the animals and the humans who ingest their residue in dairy products.

Specifically, he agrees that the use of rBGH will increase IGF-1 in the bloodstream of the animal, and that this will get passed on in the milk, but that "IGF-1 in milk does not pose a safety risk because it is a protein and is digested like all other dietary proteins.  Furthermore, IGF-1 is present in human breast milk, and at levels as high or higher than the levels in milk from bST-supplemented cows."

But Epstein says that IGF-1 does survive the gut when ingested (Canadian studies apparently showed that rBGH does too), and it does increase the levels in the human bloodstream, and increased amounts do show a correlative rise in cancer (breast, prostate, and colorectal), and it does turn off the body's ability to nip cancers in the bud by apoptosis when it binds to certain cell receptors.

Personally, I will not eat any cheese or drink any milk that I know comes from the U.S. -- but despite the fact that Canada simply got lucky (we had three heroes, Chopra, Haydon and Lambert who blew the whistle on Monsanto and advocated for consumer health) when they finally decided to outlaw it here, after a couple of mis-steps, I suspect that a lot of milk products are flooding back over the border to Canada in one form or another.  Thank you, free trade pact.

Making a Decision on Milk
So we try to wend our way through the facts and propaganda.  We try to learn something, but unfortunately we tend to gravitate to studies that support what we believed from the beginning.

What I believe, for example, might affect the weight I give to these articles: 

Note that Weaver is affiliated with the Dept of Foods and Nutrition at Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.  She presented her article at the "Fifth International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition", 2008, and declared that she got her research grant from the National Dairy Council.  She did a risk-benefit analysis, and determined that despite studies that show the effects of calcuria, problems of hormone ingestion, and risks of cancer, you must have milk or you won't meet the Recommended Daily Allowance for calcium and other vitamins and minerals*.  

Note that Lanou is affiliated with the Dept of Health and Wellness at the University of North Carolina, Asheveille NC.  She also was invited to speak on her research at the International Congress of Vegetarian Nutrition, and declared that she had her travel expenses covered by them.  She is the same author of "Building Bone Vitality", mentioned above.  After a 15-year study of the effects of dairy, she ultimately decided that no, vegetarians do not require dairy products, and would be better off without them.

We each have to make a decision, based on what we believe, what we learn, and what is possible.  It's time to make the decision without input from the milk marketing boards, which have really fucked things up for us.

God help me, what is bread without cheese?

I admit it, I buttered this bread and ate it with cheese.  And it was good.  

But it may one day be just a fading memory of decadence for me.

Notes to Myself
  • It seems I must substantially cut back on the milk products -- if I can't omit them from my diet entirely (and I may not be able to, as my year as a Vegan led me to believe).  I can cut out all milk products, I think, except perhaps cheese. Damn it, I would miss cheese if I had to forgo it entirely.
  • Some day, in one of these blog entries I should discuss butter alternatives.
  • If you must eat milk products or cheese, it behooves you to at least try to do it healthily. Low fat will have less IGF-1. Organic milk from grass-fed cows would be better. Unpasteurized would have less IGF-1 (one of the studies I skimmed for this blog's research said so, but right now I can't put my finger on it), but unpasteurized doesn't seem to be a possibility in this milieu.
  • * Note that Weaver doesn't tell us how this RDA for calcium was derived.  I'll bet you can guess that the Dairy Industry had something to say about that.  I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to examine.  I do want to add something about Weaver's analysis, however:  She quotes a study saying oral IGF-1 is not absorbed (which I found here: Larsson, S. et al. (2005) "Association of diet with serum insulin-like growth fact I in middle-aged and elderly men" Am J Clin Nutr. 81 pp. 1163-7).  But this study certainly does not say that.  Rather, it found that the more protein you eat, the higher your IGF-1.  In this study, milk is lumped in with other protein sources (red meat, fish, etc.).

Monday, October 22, 2012

Everyday Breads - Bauernbrot, & 1/4 Rye

Everyday Breads

Here are a couple of everyday breads that I made to tide me over this week, as I toted sandwiches to work.  As usual, they are 100% whole grain, and made with sourdough.

This has become my staple.  No other bread comes close in terms of health, and taste.  But there are variations on the steps of making them, and this was a bit different than the usual Tartine method.

1. A Bauernbrot
The first was built from my sourdough starter.  I was refreshing it, and decided that a bread made from the old stuff would be better than discarding it.  The starter was just passed its peak, but it wasn't old yet.  I added the ingredients by feel, making up the recipe as I went.  Ingredient amounts were for one loaf.

  • ~400g starter
  • 500g ww flour
  • 150g water

I mixed flour and water with the starter to make a stiff dough, that I calculated (at this point) to be 50% (35000/700).  From this I used 1.8% salt, or 13g.  But with the salt I added another 50g of water to bring the hydration up to 57%.  And of course, I added wheat germ at the same time, at the usual 5% of the flour.  In this case, that was 35g.  

Dense wholegrain crumb, reminds me of some German loaves, so I call it a Bauernbrot

Adding the wheat germ with the water and salt made it quite slimy, and I don't recommend this method.  I kneaded the dough until it was all incorporated, but in hindsight I'd have to say that adding it prior to the addition of salt and water might make for a much nicer kneading experience.  But that might also substantially change the crumb, I don't know.  I'd have to try these amounts with the different methodology and see how things change.

I expected this loaf to be somewhat sour tasting, because of the amount of starter used, and the fact that it was slightly passed its peak leavening time.  But I also expected it to raise the dough faster than I am used to, so I watched the mixture closely.  I gave it about 5 hours, and then popped it onto a hot stone with steam.

Brushing off the rice flour later, I thought how this bread looks so very much like a German Bauernbrot.   Indeed, when my wife and I cracked into it that night, to have with a bit of kohlrabi soup, she said "my mom would like this bread".  It reminds me of a German loaf.

It was a dense crumb, with not all that well-developed a gluten structure, but it tasted fine.  Because it was not well hydrated, it stood up on the stone and didn't slouch.

Here is the full list of bakery ingredients and percentages:

  • 100% whole wheat flour (500g)
  • 57% water (150g + 50g)
  • 1.8% salt (13g)
  • 5% wheat germ (35g)
  • 57% sourdough starter (~400g)
Here are some pictures of the second loaf that I made using this recipe, only this time I added wheat germ to the flour before mixing.  This dough was kneaded twice before being placed in a ceramic bowl to proof in the fridge overnight.  This time there was no flour on the crust, because it wasn't proofed in a basket.  Without the floured surface, it looks less like a Bauernbrot from the outside, and more like a north American faux artisan bread.

It was baked the next morning after being out of the fridge only long enough to pre-heat the oven.  No crumb shot, because I gave this loaf away.

2. Everyday 1/4 Rye
The next bread was a simple 25% rye bread, at 70% hydration.  I am sticking with these slightly less hydrated loaves these days, and I'm happy with the results.  Perhaps my starter, always sitting out on the countertop, feels the change in the weather as do I.  The days are getting cooler, the atmosphere moister.  Everything is harvest and the dying back of autumn in preparation for winter.  Denser loaves are required.  I made 2 loaves of this recipe, one to give away.

  • 25% rye flour
  • 75% ww flour
  • 70% water
  • 2% salt
  • 20% starter
  • 5% wheat germ

These were typical, 1/4 rye everyday loaves, made in my dutch oven.

I stretched and folded this for about 3 1/2 hours, then divided it, shaped it, and put it in bannetons. The bannetons were refrigerated overnight and then the loaves baked in Dutch Ovens (about 8 hours later) in the morning (after being out of the fridge for 2 hours).

I didn't slice into this loaf the next day, because I was fasting.  So when I first tasted it, 2 days later, I felt it was already beginning to stale.  Still, it remained good enough all weekend.

I was not happy with the many holes that appeared in the lower part of the bread, probably a result of how I rolled and shaped the dough prior to placing it into a basket for proofing.  My fault entirely.

Notes to Myself
  • I did make the bauernbrot loaf again, in the middle of the weekend, but this time I incorporated the wheat germ with the flour prior to adding the water with the salt.  The dough was still a bit slimy, but I'm not sure how it affected the crumb, since I'll never get a crumb shot.  I also changed the steps for making it: I mixed it, kneaded it twice Q30min, then put it into the fridge overnight, baking it while it was still cold, merely 30 minutes out of the refrigerator.  The crust looked slightly blonder than the one here, but there was still some gringe with the scoring of the loaf, indicating that it achieved some oven spring.
  • You see, I gave this bread away to my mother-in-law, for her birthday, but of course, I wasn't there to see her use it.  It went into the cupboard.  There were just too many other things to eat.
  • I left my mother-in-law with strict instructions to cut off the crust.  The crust of these loaves are just a bit too hard and irregular for her poor teeth. Although she loves the taste of the crust, and longs to try it, she knows that her poor teeth can't take it.  She's learned the hard way, by breaking dental work. 
  •  My wife is another one. She also believes that she has destroyed some bridgework because of my bread. There are many reasons why someone might not like my bread, and I have come to accept that.  To each his or her own.
  • I've been thinking also about why some people have bad teeth.  I have reported elsewhere that bread is considered cariogenic.  If so, someday I may not be able to eat my own bread.  I'm like the fellow who was told that if he masturbates, he will go blind, who replied, "Can I do it until I need glasses?"

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Safflower coated 25% Rye Bread

Safflower coated 25% Rye Bread

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

This week I emailed the Safe Quality Food Practitioner of Canadian Birdseed Manufacturing Armstrong Milling Co., and got a gratifyingly speedy reply:

Easy Pickens Safflower Seed

Armstrong Milling Co. Ltd
1021 Haldimand Rd. 20, RR#2
Hagersville, ON Canada N0A 1H0

SQF Practitioner, 
Quality Control

Armstrong Milling

Dear SQF Practitioner:

I recently ground up about 1/2 a cup -- not a lot -- of your easy pickens safflower seed and put it on the exterior of some bread that I was baking, where it became part of the crust, before I read on the bag that it was 

Not for Human Consumption  
May Contain Nuts

I was mostly finished eating the first loaf before I read the warning on the bag of seed.  When baked, the ground seeds made the crust taste quite good.  But what I want to know is, why can't humans eat it?  Is it because it is petfood quality (i.e. perhaps its processed with nut fragments and stones and stuff that humans normally don't eat)?  Or is it treated with something?  Perhaps its genetically altered? Or maybe it is irradiated?  Why can't humans eat it?  I'm not going to get sick now, am I?  Should I throw away my second loaf?



The reply:

The comment ”Not for Human Consumption May Contain Nuts” is to inform the public that we are not making food grade products. 

The safflower will not hurt you. Armstrong Milling suggests that you do NOT consume the rest of the bread. 

I believe that bulk food or a health food store may carry the human grade safflower you are looking for. You will not get sick from eating the safflower. We do not make human grade products here. 

Thank you for the email. 

Have a nice day

As I said, this was a speedy reply.  Not particularly informative, though.  I wanted to know more than that.  So I did a bit of research on my own.

The Canadian Grain Commission regulates our grain, and sets the standards for grading it.  Bird seed companies cannot in any way suggest that you use their seed for human consumption, and I think I'm seeing this here, from Armstrong Milling's Safe Quality Food specialist.  While they wanted to set my mind at ease, and not alarm me that I had inadvertently poisoned myself, they did want to maintain that their seeds are not for human use.

The Canadian Grain Commision's rules for grading Safflower Seeds can be found online here.  I read this page, and the table it linked to, quite informative.

What I learned

I learned that contaminated seeds are those that may be adulterated in some way, and these will be condemned as unfit for both people and animals.  But there are other things, other than contamination, and adulteration, which will lower the grade of the safflower from "food grade":

Damage - from frost, or unripened conditions, from breakage, or heat or insect damage; some may be dehulled.

Foreign material -- there may be earth pellets: balls of dirt, or stones, mixed in with the seeds.  There may also be some fertilizer pellets (if  >1%, the sample may be considered contaminated).  There may be sclerotinia, the soil-born white fungus called 'stem rot'.  Ergot is another fungus that the regulators are constantly on the lookout for.  Other seeds (weeds or other grains) may have been harvested along with the safflower and serve to contaminate the mixture.  There is a term that is often used in grading grains, dockage, which refers to all this foreign material, including chaff, stems, hulls, and anything else that is not the grain itself.

Excreta - there may be poop on or among the seeds.  Maybe rodent poop, maybe other poop we don't know where it came from.  There are allowable limits of this, even in food grade seed.

Some seeds may have been heated and deteriorated while in storage.  Some seeds might just be smelly, with no obvious reason why.  Some seeds might simply have rotted.

Seeds that have been treated with an agricultural chemical are usually also dyed with a conspicuous colour: pesticides are pink, red, baby blue or green; inoculants are said to have a green colour.  There may also be a desiccant on it (to dry the seed), but the rules don't say that there is an obvious colour associated with it.

The table of the 3 Grades of Safflower regulated by Grains Canada is most informative.  It shows that what really lowers the quality of a grain sample is the amount of dehulled seeds, and how much foreign material is in the mix.  Excreta doesn't seem to be that much of a concern to the regulators.  If it gets to be more than 1% for any sample, it is rejected completely.  U.S. regulations look to me, at first glance, pretty similar.

All in all, it seems better to at least listen to the people who have been grading food safety for us.  If they say it isn't food grade, we probably shouldn't eat it.  There is probably no way for that SQF person at Armstrong Milling to know exactly what I ate.  It's probably okay -- the sample wasn't rejected for sale to bird seed repackagers.  But they have said we humans should not eat it, so guess what?  

We shouldn't eat it.


Today's Bread

This was a very tasty bread.  Too bad I shouldn't have eaten it.


  • 25% rye with 
  • 75% whole wheat, 
  • 5% wheat germ, 
  • 20% sourdough starter @ 100% hydration
  • dough at 70% hydration, 
  • 2% salt.

I used fresh-ground safflower seeds (to a cracked/floury state) for lining the proofing basket, in the hopes that it might lessen the amount of acrylamide formation  (see the second last bread for a long description of why fewer acrylamides are important, and how safflower might help -- you have to read the last 'note to myself' on that page though, to understand my reasoning as to why I thought of safflower).

On safflower
Safflower seed looks to me a bit like tiny sunflower seeds.  It is not a grain derived from grass, but is a high-oil flower seed.  Wiki says that it has recently been transgenetically modified by SemBioSys Genetics to grow insulin -- and (depending on your viewpoint, for pride or shame) this was done in Canada -- but I am assuming that most safflower seed does not have this quality, especially the stuff that one can buy for bird seed.  It has, however, also been genetically engineered to boost its oil output.  And I think it is pretty common, this genetically-enhanced oil seed.  It will be harder to find a non-GMO safflower seed, these days.

One of the reasons I was worried about irradiation of the seed, as I indicated in my letter to the company, is because I am aware that this is a fairly common practice of birdseed suppliers who import and export seeds.  The radiation of seeds is supposedly so weed seeds in the mixture won't grow.  And this is of particular concern to those who seek to enforce the introduction of odd varieties of plants across international border lines.  This seed was grown here, after all it is one of Canada's official oilseeds.  But was it also packaged for exportation, and therefore irradiated?  I don't know, and Armstrong Mills isn't saying.

The Canadian market for safflower is for the oil.  It is made into margarine.  The oleo-makers scoop up all the food grade seed, and that is why I am having trouble finding it except as bird seed.

Bottom of my loaf, with the ground up birdseed-grade Safflower seeds embedded in crust

The safflower birdseed I obtained, once crushed, had a scent not unlike sunflower seeds, but it had a somewhat bitter taste, which I would ascribe to the aleurone layer of the bran -- probably full of phytates.  A scraggly leaved plant with an edible flower that has long been used to dye fabric (and as a much cheaper saffron substitute), the seeds apparently attract a range of nice birds, and bird watchers like them because they are said to deter some bully birds and other pests like squirrels because of the bitterness.  In addition to the list given by Melissa Mayntz of, my bag of seed said they are especially favoured by Northern Red Cardinals, Mourning Doves, and White Throated Sparrows.

A nice comparison of the nutritional content of safflower seeds and almonds and other nuts has been tabled for us here and again, comparing it to flaxseed, here at skipthepie.  I found this fascinating -- I wanted to use Safflower seeds because they are supposedly a source of cystine, which would supposedly decrease the formation of acrylamides.  But almonds have more cystine, would they work?  I don't know, but not necessarily.  Almonds have sugars.

Also note, that although Safflower does have Omega-3 oils, they have more Omega-6 oils, so the seed alone, without further processing, will not benefit you much if you want to increase these Omega-3 levels in your diet (or to increase the ratio of 3's to 6's).

Using rat studies, Kim  found that safflower seeds have some ability to reduce bone loss, and conjecture that it is due to the seed's phytoestrogens and polyphenolic compounds which help osteoblasts.

Furthermore, using human studies, Katsuya found that it does inhibit plaque formation in arteries.

So this could be a very healthy seed for humans to eat, and pretty good as a 100% whole grain or seed addition to bread, too.  If only we could be sure that what we are eating is 'food grade'.

Bread Results
Although only a 25% rye, I was hopeful that this safflower-seed solution might make my rye crust somewhat lighter in colour -- and in that, I was quite disappointed.  If anything, the results were darker than ever.

It may be that I inadvertently left the bread in the oven a bit longer than I should have.  I was washing dishes, thinking I'd set the timer, turning it on only a short time later when I double checked it.  But the crust was already darkening faster than usual, when I turned the oven down to 425 degrees F at what is usually the midway point.

And the smell of the roasting crust was a lot like popcorn -- or more probably, popcorn makers probably coat their corn with safflower oil before putting it in a microwavable bag, and that is what I've been smelling when others make popcorn.

The safflower 'flour' -- which is really just a cracked safflower seed, in my case, since I just ran it through our hand coffee grinder -- looks a bit like sawdust on the top of the unbaked loaf.

The dough didn't rise well, and the knife dragged horribly through the safflower on its surface, when I transferred the dough from the basket to the peel.  The dough, although not that hydrated, didn't stand up to this manhandling, and it flattened out some more.

I was terribly worried that the safflower seeds -- which when eaten raw taste so bitter, and which ground up look like sawdust, and which baked turn the crust extra dark and smell like popcorn -- would lend a bitter, roasted, burnt popcorn or sawdust flavour to the loaf.  But I was wrong.  Was I ever wrong.

This ugly crust is actually quite tasty.  Sweet and crunchy.  I never would have believed it.  It certainly doesn't look like it would have so much flavour, at least, not this kind of flavour.

I didn't see any turds.

Despite its flat appearance, this is a very good loaf.  I was quite pleased with myself, before I learned that the seed I used wasn't food grade.  Then it was forehead-smackin' time.

Did fewer acrylamides form?  I have no idea.

Notes to Myself
  • As usual, I'm talking to myself.  The organic safflower seed supplying companies should realize that the use of safflower may result in a whole grain solution to lower acrylamides in bread crust.  This may be a selling feature for them.  I urge them to look into this.  If anybody is listening.
  • If I were going to be making this crust again -- and I probably will try it for other loaves, if I can find a seed source -- I would want to make sure that the safflower seeds I use are organic, and not genetically modified to produce more oil.   This is not as easy as it sounds.  I find that it is even difficult to find a supplier of ANY safflower seeds that are food-grade.  The Bulk Barn here in Canada, for example, sells processed Safflower Oil, but none of the whole or hulled seeds.  And that is typical.  There seems to be suppliers out of India and China who sell by the ton, or container loads, but it seems absurd to me that I should have to go to India or China to obtain a seed that is grown here in our country, maybe even within a few miles of me.  But that is the way we have organized our grain and seed distribution.  Most of our safflower is bought by oil manufacturers, it is only a few lower grade seeds that are purchased by bird seed companies.
  • There is one organic safflower seed distributor that I'm aware of -- Avafina, who started from a farm in Argentina, but now works with organic farmers worldwide and has a distribution center in Vancouver B.C.  But again, how does an ordinary small-scale bread-making consumer like me gain access to this product?
  • Looks like there is an organic grower of safflower in Wisconsin, Valley View Ranch, that might, at certain times of the year, have some safflower seed.  And it seems likely that the best way to obtain this seed these days is to find a reputable organic seed supplier, and grow your own.
  • In the not-too-distant past, there were no regulatory grain commissions, set up for our human welfare, protecting us against chaff and other debris.  If we wanted a seed or a grain, we went to the fields and got it.  We alone were responsible for the quality of what we milled.  If there were tares in it, we removed them.  If there were rodent droppings, we picked them out by hand.  That is what de did, as humans, before others began distancing us from the land, separating us from our immediate food, and protecting us.  Now there are layers of protection and other human interference that we have to be worried about (radiation, inoculation of seeds, inorganic fertilizers, genetic modification etc) -- and of course the FUD (fear, uncertainty and dread) that is built into the food distribution networks.  I am of a mind to advise other people not to eat bird seed -- like the SQF inspectors would -- but for myself, I might just eat that second loaf anyway.  But I would not give it away, nor would I advise others to eat it.
  • A simpler solution to the acrylamide problem, that involves adding cystine to the crust at baking: coat the dough with an egg-white wash.  Safflower just seems to be a nice whole grain alternative -- if one could but find it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hodgepodge Bread: ww/hemp/spelt/chia/mesquite mix

This could have been zemblanitous, but thankfully it was serendipitous.

Periodically I have to get rid of a bunch of half-bags of flour or grains of varying sizes and description.  I end up with a hodgepodge bread.  I don't know what it is going to be like at the outset, and I don't know what sorts of amounts I have on hand.  I just know I have to clean up a messy cupboard.  I begin adding things together.  I sort of go by feel.  And scent.  And the look of it.  

I did calculate the final weight of the flours to find out how much salt to add.  But that's all the figuring I actually did.

This is the hodgepodge that I ended up with today.

Hodgepodge Loaf

  • ww 1000g
  • hemp 502g
  • chia 133g
  • whole spelt 236g
  • red amaranth seeds 49g
  • chili powder 2g
  • cumin 0g (about 2 TBsp)
  • mesquite flour 63g
  • started with 800g water; added 100g later, and still 80g more with salt
  • starter 300g
  • total flour wt: 1934g (ww, hemp, chia, spelt, mesquite)
  • 35 g salt  (1.8%)

This much flour -- almost double what I usually use -- had me looking for larger bowls in which to mix it in by hand.  I found an old metal washtub that we sometimes use for washing vegetables, and that I also occasionally use to mix my homemade kimchi before fermenting it.

I kneaded this dough twice, once for about 5 minutes prior to the addition of salt and the final water, and again following the incorporation of the saline mix by squooshling it up between my fingers.  The dough was not well hydrated, if you simply look at the baker's percentages, but was quite slimy, probably due to the high gum content of the hemp and chia.  I could not have stretched this dough, but it was nice and tight when kneading it.

They were only bulk fermented for 2 1/2 hours before being divided and set into baskets to rise.  I had intended a 4 hour proof, but I turned off the alarm while napping, and awoke a couple of hours later remembering that I should have also got up when the alarm went off.  I guess I needed the sleep, switching from working nights to working days.  So they got about 6 hours of proofing.

And that was okay, they were nicely plumped in the basket, yet still held together nicely too.

I baked these on a stone with steam, as they were a bit overlarge for my Dutch Ovens.  I was happy with the way they stood up nicely on the stone, didn't sag under the scoring process, and yet plumped up to fill in the score marks.

And the bread tastes great, to me.  It has a mildly nutty, curiously wild and woody taste, and it fills you right up.  I've figured out the baker's percentages, in case I want to make this serendipitous loaf again some day.

  • 51% whole wheat flour 
  • 26% hemp, cracked
  • 12% whole spelt flour
  • 6% chia, cracked
  • 3% mesquite flour
  • 2.5% red amaranth seeds
  • 0.1% chili powder
  • 0.05% cumin powder
  • 15.5% sourdough starter
  • 1.8% salt
  • 51% water

Notes to Myself
  • I forgot the wheat germ. I should have added 50g of wheat germ. I can't call this a whole grain bread because the germ has been removed from the whole wheat flour
  • This loaf is a good one. I don't know what it is, but the amaranth seeds and the chili powder -- both barely noticeable, but certainly they leave a trace in the tastebuds -- and perhaps the mesquite, and certainly the hemp… Quite a tasty loaf. A serendipitous loaf.