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.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Experimenting with Bread

Dried apple and sunflower seed Sourdough Whole Wheat Bread

The kitchen is one of the places where humans learn about science for the very first time.  Experimenting in the kitchen has got to be the place where most of us first "get it": the concept of trying new things, of testing an hypothesis.

I remember when I was a kid, one of the first experiments I ever made was at breakfast.  I liked peanut butter on toast, and I liked cheese whiz on toast.  I hypothesized that they would taste great together on toast.

I was surprised by just how bad it tasted.  It was awful.  Each taste combined to bring out the absolute worst in the other taste.  I had discovered chemistry in my mouth.  And not in a good way.

But there was something about finding things out for myself that remained very satisfying, even if the meal itself was a flop.

Bread Experiments
Last Tuesday I was in a bit of a baking mood.  My wife was away: no one to annoy, so I messed up the counters in a kitchen frenzy.  I made a couple of loaves.

The first was an experiment with a sourdough that was just past its prime.  I often experiment with sourdough discard, wondering what to do with it.  I've made breads, and pancakes, and muffins, and quickbreads, and indeera-like flatbreads, and cookies and granola bars, and I've been unhappy with most of what I've made.  Perhaps the reason is, sourdough discard is a bit more sour than you might expect for these baked goods.

A few recent discard experiments:

Today I figured: if I was just going to make something like cookies with this discard, adding sugar, why not try adding some sugary substance to it to make a bread?  If I was just going to make something with baking powder, couldn't I just as easily make something with yeast?  I generally avoid adding sugar or yeast to my bread.  And I avoid using processed, white flour too.  But for this sourdough discard, I figured I'd try it.  Besides, we had some newly-made maple syrup on the counter.  I began tossing ingredients together.  LIke the maple syrup, I used whatever was at hand.  And I wasn't weighing anything.

  • Recently refreshed, but past-its-prime Sourdough Starter (~400g)
  • 1 c wwflour
  • 1 c organic white
  • ~1/c udad flour
  • ~1 c water
  • 10g salt
  • 10g yeast
  • ~ 1 teaspoon maple syrup

This was kneaded a bit and tightened, and then placed in a buttered tin.  It was to rise about 2 hours and then baked.  I baked it at 400degrees for about 45 minutes.  This loaf turned out fairly nice.  

One for the chickens.

Later, I made another version of the same recipe, just skipping the white flour.  It too was okay, but was a bit too moist, or needed a bit longer baking.  Or something.  One for the chickens.  Like most of the other cookies and flatbreads and pancakes that I've been playing with here.

Dried Apple and Sunflower Seed Bread
This is another bread I made on this day in the kitchen.  Later, when I had several finished loaves on the counter, and could pick and choose whichever one I wanted, this was the bread I mostly chose.  It was lovely. I froze one, and ate the one I applied the egg wash with great joy.
  • 200 pickle juice
  • 500 water
  • +100 water
  • 5 c wheat
  • 38g apple, dried
  • 170g sourdough
  • 100g sunflower seeds
  • One of the loaves is topped with egg wash following baking, sprinkled with a small amount of rock sugar, then placed in cooling oven to set.

Partial Rye Loaf with Onions and Garlic, making it up as I go
A couple of days later, I was still in a baking mood, so I made this onion and garlic Rye bread.  It largely started as an experiment in a high-hydration sourdough starter.  But from the beginning, I intended on adding onions.

The onions should have been caramelized a teensy bit more.  The garlic infused what was left of the olive oil that the onions were frying in with lots of flavour, and of course, this permeates the bread.  A very curious taste, it hits deep in the throat, as if it is a tonic for the thyroid.

  • 2 c water (228g x 2 = 456g)
  • 1 c wheat (~200g)
  • 1 tsp sourdough

This sourdough starter is at approximately 228% hydration!  It was mixed up and left on counter overnight, until foamy.

  • 730g water (~4c) 
  • sweet onion + garlic + olive oil = 300g
  • salt 22g
  • sourdough (all)= 656g+20g= ~676g

The sweet onion was fried in about 1 1/2 tbsp of olive oil while I chopped the garlic bulb.  The cloves were starting to sprout a bit, and I used the green sprouts too in the frying pan.  It could have used a bit more frying, but I always freak out when I see the onions start to stick to the bottom of the pan, and start backing off the heat.  The onions and garlic and olive oil cooled a little bit -- but not too much -- before I added them to the wet mixture.

I mixed the above ingredients before adding any flour at all.  Afterwards, I simply added flour, freshly milled, from either rye or wheat kernels.  My original intention was to use 1 c of rye, and 4 c of wheat, but because everything was so wet, I ended up using more.  I tallied the weights as I went, only totalling it when I was finished.

   added grains:
  • 1 c rye 185g
  • 3c wheat 675g (total 860)
  • 1/2 c rye 86g (total 946g)
  • 1/4c rye 43g (total 989g)
  • 1/4 c wheat 47g (total 1036)
  • plus 1/2 cup more (94g), x4 (376g) of wheat


Total Grains, freshly milled (figured from the above list of added grains):
  • 1 3/4 c rye kernels: 314g
  • 5 1/4 c wheat berries: 1098g

Total Flour: 1412g

If you add the wheat from the starter, the total flour of this bread is 1612g, and if you add the water from the starter to the total hydration, you get 1186g.  The total hydration is thus 74%.  Typical Tartine-style salt would be 1.8% of this total flour, somewhere around 29g, so the saltiness of this loaf is a bit low; but the extra flavour from the garlic oil and onions makes up for what might otherwise be blandness.  

This bread turned out nice, for an experiment.

Notes to Myself
  • All recipes are lab notes from other people's experiments.  
  • Figure out what the author of any given recipe is trying to prove, and then make your own assumptions.  That's what is fun about the kitchen.  There's always something else to prove.
  • Expect some failures.  Revel in failures.  You learn best through failures.  Failures are more memorable than successes.
  • Lab notes are supposed to provide you with methods and procedures that make what you've proved verifiable to others (or to yourself in other circumstances).  Since my bread rarely if ever turns out the same twice, does that make it less science, and more art?  But when did the definition of art become "hit or miss?"
  • How many variables are there to control for, in the baking of a simple loaf of bread?  Beyond what's already been counted, that's for sure.  There are always more variables to consider.
  • Bread is infinite science.  Like any other thing we can try.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pan Integral celebrates Cracked Wheat

Today was a perfect day to make another 100% whole wheat bread, with nothing but wheat kernels, water, salt, and my wheat sourdough.  Yet another pan integral.

I had been working nights all weekend, and I didn't want to think about what ingredients to add.  This is the economy of simple.  It is wheat (100%), milled fine, added to water (80%), tossed with salt (2%), and sourdough (20%): voila.  The perfect bread for tired minds.

This is also the perfect bread for today because this is a red-letter day in the history of wheat.   March 25, the day when the world has finally sequenced wheat's genome.

Wheat's Code Cracked
Yes, wheat took much longer to sequence than the human genome.  Of course, what we learned in solving the genome of yeast and other relatively simpler organisms was a help for us as we began to sequence the human genome.  And the tools that were developed for our own DNA have now helped us to sequence the DNA of other living things that are important to us.  Like wheat.

These polyploid species are pretty complex.  When the raw data was published back in 2010, researchers claimed that "the wheat genome is five times larger than the human genome and presents a huge challenge for scientists."  It is also 8x larger than maize, 40x larger than rice.

But just having a giant string of letters like we already had in 2010 didn't mean we were closer to understanding it.  What today's news means is, now we can put a name to each of the wheat genes of the A genome.  In 2010 we had the alphabet.  Now we have the dictionary.

This project has been taking place for years, via an international task group (International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium).  It began in 2005, following the influential article by IWGSC (Gill, B. et al (2004). A Workshop Report on Wheat Genome Sequencing.  Genetics 168(2) pp. 1087-1096).  In 2011 in Cannes, the G20 nations approved the international effort.  China was one of the nations invested and involved.

It makes sense that the project was completed under the auspices of Chinese researchers in Beijing. China has the biggest stake in the project, after all: China grows more wheat than any other nation.  And China imports more wheat than any other nation.  In other words, China consumes a lot of wheat, and it is costly to them.  China is invested.  It makes perfect sense that a nation so dependent upon wheat would want to learn about wheat -- with the ultimate aim of improving it, of course.  Improving yields, and nutrition, and varieties that will grow well in China's varied climates makes perfect sense.

Back in December, Nature indicated that Britain, Germany and the US were working on the genome.  Since the raw data of the sequence has been published in the UK in 2010, many breakthroughs have been cited, and newer tools were devised to examine boring slices of gene code.  These tools would garner excitement among geneticists (e.g. Wheat genome's key parts unlocked in new study (2012)), but the rest of us would roll our eyes and say "what?"  But now pretty much anyone can jump into the murky waters of wheat's DNA with online databases like this one.

What will it mean for wheat, now that the geni is out of the bottle?

Now we can write novels, using the dictionary of wheat's DNA.

I remember very clearly returning to school as an older adult and taking a basic anatomy class, and thinking that very little had changed in biological science since I took courses in university as a younger adult.  They were still teaching the same old definition of life that I had learned back in high school, back in the dark ages -- that something is considered alive when it consumes, grows, reproduces.

But recently I read another book that challenges that.  And its not a biology text, its something else, part science, part philosophy, part vision: Beach, J. (2010) Symbolic Life: the Future of Human Evolution.  Beach sat down in a library, preparing to write a book, and his surroundings gave him the eureka moment that thereafter occupied his mind and his life for decades.  "I suddenly realized that I was sitting in the middle of a new and vastly more powerful type of gene that had freed us from the leash that tethers all other animals to their DNA," he writes of his insight.  

"Life generates and stores information through selection and then uses this information to guide its actions," Beach later elaborates.  "The 'information' of a living system is the coded instructions in its DNA, but it also can be the DNA translation machinery in each cell or the learned information in an animal's brain or nervous system."  Specifically, human consciousness arose as an adaptation to store and use information.  

Beach's rather dizzying vision suggests that while humans are bound to their DNA, new symbolic life forms are evolving to handle new levels of information.  Humans will be domesticated by these symbolic life forms, and we cannot stop this evolution.  It is already happening, as humans give life to governments, corporations and other organizing bodies.  We as individuals surrender some of our independent will to these entities; but their survival, and their means of using information, is beyond our control.  The final symbolic life form that is selected will be the one that best exploits reality.

Since the completion of the human genome project, Beach writes, "We have already been uploaded and we didn't even notice."  Beach sees humans as a sort of interface to the new symbolic life form.

This Bread
Wheat is going to change (as it has already changed, ever since we began this symbiotic dance with it called agriculture).  It is inevitable, as inevitable as we ourselves are changing.  We can't stop it.  If we try to, we will die as a species.  

Life will find another way to exploit reality -- or it won't.  The universe can continue on expanding until it peters out, and no one will be the wiser.

Today I bake bread, and raise a toast to the brave men and women of the Chinese scientists of the Wheat Genome project, who have cracked the code of wheat.  Not so very long ago on an evolutionary scale, humans first cracked the grain and started the ball of human civilization rolling with a little thing called agriculture.  

What will this new information start, I wonder?

One of the finest breads I've ever made.  A little stiff to make, at 80% hydration, but workable.

Nice even crumb.  Good taste.  I'm happy with this bread.

Notes to Myself
  • Another reason why it was perfect to make a pan integral today: it was snowing out.  I hate late March snows.  I mean, really, we've had enough winter already.  I want warmer brighter weather before I slip outside.  Also: I'm fasting.  Nothing to do but hang out and play with dough.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Hamelman's Vollkornbrot, free standing, and a 90% Soft Wheat Bread

Free-standing, panless Vollkornbrot

Panless Hamelman's Vollkornbrot and a 90% Soft Wheat Bread

I have been noticing boredom creeping into my loaves.  They remained nourishing, nice looking, nice tasting, but I was becoming tired of them.  It was time to try something different.
I grabbed Hamelman's book, "Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes" from my shelf and leafed through it.  Quickly I was reminded of why I don't use this book more often: although it is very thorough, and is often considered the complete reference to bread among bakers, there are very few whole grain breads here.  Most of his bread uses high gluten flour, or bread flour, somewhere along the way.  It is in my nature to avoid these breads.  You can buy these kind of breads anywhere.  I'm not interested.  Despite the many different breads and tastes that can be achieved with these white flours, I simply don't like them.  I realize I'm alone in this.  The world has embraced them.  

As usual, I tend to go my own lonely way.  I'm insisting on whole grains.  I'm embracing bread at a time in the world's history when paleo dieters are saying all grain is bad for you, when our culture is once again turning away from bread (as they do when low carb diets are all the rage, i.e. periodically), when bread is being blamed for all of our ills, our weight, our depression, our psychosis, our chronic diseases, our cancers, our general poor health.  I'm selecting glutenous wheat as a base for most if not all my bread, at a point in time where "gluten free" processed foods are becoming more widely available.

At the same time, I've been researching grain, especially wheat, and how it affects our health.  I know I started with a bias -- I like bread -- so much so, I call myself the Exorphin Junkie.  I find that there have been dangers and pitfalls with wheat and other grains that we've used in bread: environmental and growing conditions have not always been favourable, we've had to learn how to store the grain to keep it safe, we've changed the way we grow it, we've changed the plant itself to give us grain that fits in better with the way we mill it now; and we've established this huge world-wide network of grain distribution that moves this grain and provides the food; and this has redistributed wealth, lining the pockets of the rich and powerful at the expense of those who cannot afford more food than the cheapest, worst bread.  So I have this love of bread, but I also am wary of it.  

There have been many scientific studies about bread, and you have to read them with discernment.  Who funds them?  What is being withheld?  I limp from one study to the next, teaching myself as I go, letting my attention and curiosity take me where it will (see, for example, what I've written below about crease dirt).  But what do we actually know about bread?  Is bread -- still our most basic food -- good for us, or not?  What I've found is that we as a species still do not know enough to make even this simplest pronouncement on bread.  We've been eating bread 10,000 years or so.  It has sustained us.  But we still don't know if its good for us.  I find studies both pro and con, as we rip into our understanding of loaves, of grain.  I'll be the first to admit that I don't know what I'm doing.  And I don't believe any of us really know, not yet.

I make the most wholesome bread I can, with what I've learned.  My bread, the bread I insist on eating now, is quite different from the loaves that are bought at your corner store.  The bread I've been eating is whole grain, is denser, is fresher, is fermented, is made with sourdough rather than extruded and puffed.  

Because of my monomania, my insistence on whole grain bread, I feel like a stranger, even in the home bread-baking blogger world.  It's a self-imposed sentence.  I'm not sure I want to join their ranks.  I feel at any moment I may decide, "gee, bread is not good for me."  I'm not there yet, though.  I mean, I have decided that everyone else's bread is not good for me, when eaten regularly.  But I'm taking a different route through the bread of the world.

I did find a couple of whole grain breads in Hamelman's recipe book, but even here I've made some changes.  He calls for his Vollkornbrot to be made in pans.  I wanted to see how it might work if I turned it into free-standing loaf.  I knew from the outset that my loaf would be flat, without a pan to support it, but I wanted to try it anyway.  This is how I handled my loaf boredom this week.

1. Hamelman's Vollkornbrot
The bread is unusual for me in that it uses sourdough in the early build and yeast in the final dough.  Making this bread made me think of beer.  The scent of the yeast and the sourdough together reminded me of a German beer hall.

The yeast is added at the last build, and it expands the gluten structure, which is pretty fragile.  I put my dough into a basket, which provided the support a pan did, but when I dumped the airy yeasted expanded dough onto the hot stone, the loaf deflated.  That's why you need to make this bread in a pan.  

One of the nice things about this dough is, it gave me a chance to try out different settings on my mill.  The bread calls for rye chops.  I used the coarser setting for the soaker, and ended up not with chops but with cracked rye at various levels of coarseness.  Hamelman suggests that if you do this, you should boil the soaker, but of course I ignored that advice too.

I mixed up the build and the soaker prior to working nights.  Once home, I was able to make and bake the final dough before I went to sleep.  I was tired, but by noon I had some bread on the counter.

Ingredients of the Vollkornbrot (using Tartine-baker's math):

Sourdough Build (14-16hrs):
   Rye meal 41%
   Water 41%
Soaker (overnight):
   Rye chops 32%
   Water 32%
Final Dough (Mix 10min, rest 20min, ferment 60min, bake 75min):
   Rye meal 27%
   Water 9%
   Salt 2%
   Yeast 1.8%
   Sunflower Seeds 5.5%
   Soaker (all)
   Sourdough (all)
Total Rye: 100%
Total Hydration: 82%

Mis en place: sourdough, soaker, rye flour, sunflower seeds, water, yeast, salt

Uggh.  Hamelman advises using a machine.  I used my hands.
Very gooey dough.

Finished Vollkornbrot

2. A 90% Soft Wheat Bread
The other bread I made today was a 90% Soft Wheat bread.  Mostly soft wheat is mixed with hard wheat, to make a flour that can be made into a bread.  Soft wheat is mostly used for cakes and crackers.  It has a nice taste, but it doesn't have the right amount of protein to make bread.  Or so I've read.

The creases in this wheat looks like ass.  I think so, anyway.
This wheat is cleaned, but it still has the odd bit of "beeswing" grain covering.

I wanted to try it, so I bought a package of soft wheat off the counter at a grocery store.  I can't find this in grocery stores near me, but I was in Ottawa recently and found it there.  The wheat is grown in Canada, and bagged and distributed by Cedar Phoenicia (here's the product page).  Cedar Phoenica seems to be a Canadian based company (Montreal, Toronto), run by the Phoenicia Group, which is incorporated in the US with Middle East (Libya) ties and a North American distribution network.

90% Soft Wheat, and some Hard Wheat on top
Finished loaves, 90% Soft Wheat
The flour from this wheat is a nice tan colour.  It feels different.  You can tell that the gluten is not as strong as what comes from Hard Red Winter Wheat.  You have to be more gentle when you touch it and stretch it.  I deliberately kept  the hydration low because I was thinking too much water might destroy the gluten rather than improve it.  While I was making the Vollkornbrot, I mixed this dough, teased it a little, divided it, put it in a basket and then I refrigerated it in the cold garage while I slept.  After I woke up, I removed the dough from the cold storage, let it sit for an hour, and then baked it.

This bread saw a really nice oven spring.  One loaf kind of blew apart on the side, but that was because I was being extremely gentle when I shaped the loaf, and didn't pinch it shut.  I was trying to do a stretch and flop-over, kind of like what Allan Scott did with his Desem loaves.  His loaves looked sloppy going into the oven, but they rose dramatically.  Mind you, his loaves never blew apart like this, either.

  • Soft Wheat 90%
  • Hard Wheat 10%
  • Sourdough (Hard Wheat) 20%
  • Water 70%
  • Salt 2%
Why 90%?  Because the package I purchased was slightly less than a kg.  I made up the difference with some hard wheat.

As promised above, here is where my attention has wandered to this week, and how I've stumbled into the strange world of "crease dirt":

We are not alone, on this planet, the way we have evolved and learned how to cultivate plants for food, the way we enjoy a diverse diet.  We have competitors, we have fellow life-forms who have evolved in side-step with us, parallel travellers through time, cohabiters on this ball that turns around the sun.

Recently I've looked at ergot, that infests rye and other grains; today I'm speaking of "the most common fungus on Canadian western wheat," -- Althernaria alternata.  This is a fungus that causes leaf spots in several host plants, and infects all of our grains, most of our oilseed crops, and a large number of our vegetables (e.g. see: Pero, R. (1973) Toxicity of Metabolites Produced by the 'Alternaria'. Environmental Health Perspectives. June. 4 p 87-94).

A couple of toxins from the fungus (alternariol (AOH) and monomethyl ether (AME)) are mutagenic and likely carcinogenic.  Peter Scott and his team from Health Canada, Ottawa,  (Scott, P. (2012) Alternaria toxins alternariol and alternariol monometyl ethel in grain foods in Canada.  Mycotoxin Res 28. pp 261-266) conducted research on these toxin levels in our Canadian food, and the toxins seem almost ubiquitous.  

Canada is not alone in this; there have been other studies in wheat and other grain in Europe, Argentina, China and Australia.  I've seen no studies about U.S. levels yet -- but it is mentioned in agricultural control studies.  These seem rather unconcerned, because the leaf blight does not actually reduce yields.

Scott quotes the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA, (2011) Scientific Opinion on the risks for animal and public health related to the presence of Alternaria toxins in feed and food. EFSA Journal 9(10) 2407) which gave an opinion on safe levels of the toxins, based on its research.   

Scott reported that EFSA said 256 ng/g of AOH and 86 ng/g of AME are to be considered maximum concentrations for human food (I didn't actually get that from skimming the original EFSA source, what I got was, more study was required before they could evaluate the risk.  EFSA said that there are more than 70 phytotoxins produced by Alternaria species, and their study looked at a couple more than the Canadian study.  EFSA did say that vegetarians are more at risk, since it is concentrated in grains and vegetables; furthermore, it is more likely to affect children than adults, as they are more vulnerable.  They also suggested that composite foods -- foods with several ingredients -- may concentrate the toxins, and need to be more closely studied as a risk.  They were especially concerned about the effects of chronic exposure, because everyone seems to be at risk of that, even if levels in any one food may appear low.  As far as I could tell, there was no reporting in this study on whether organic grains and vegetables fared better or worse than foods 'conventionally' grown.)

Canadian levels of Alternaria toxins in a broad range of tested products came in at a mean of 1.8-7.3 ng/g for AOH and 0.37-1.99 ng/g for AME.  This was the first time these toxins have been looked for in our food, however.  Scott points out the disturbing fact that these mutagens are even found in our baby food, where one would hope there are much fewer things that are going to cause genetic damage.

This early study should be considered merely the first step toward putting in place some sort of monitoring system of these toxins in our food supply.

Of course, Alternaria spores are in the air too.  Mould spores have been implicated in causing asthma in susceptible people.  Agricultural workers and, not surprisingly, millers and grain processors are particularly vulnerable (see for example Sanchez, H. and Bush, R. (2001). A review of Alternaria alternata sensitivity. Rev iberoam Mocol 18. pp. 56-59).

Inevitably, my research into Alternaria alternata has left me with more questions than answers.  Here are a few of them:

What does the process of sourdough fermentation do to the Alternaria alternatae spores?  Does it concentrate them, or select against them?
I have found no information on this whatsoever.  Some labs ferment the spores in vitro in order to concentrate them.  In a culture, however, they are going to be competing for resources.  How will they fare in the acidic environment of a sourdough?  Nobody is saying yet.

Might there be more fungus and its toxic products on whole grain, or will there be more on grain whose bran is removed -- e.g. on white flour, that is more highly processed?  The Canadian study showed that there is substantially more on bran than on flour (Table 2, for example, tells us that AOH is not detected in most flours tested; it is found at levels of 0.5 ng/g in 1 whole wheat flour sample, and similar levels in one soft wheat flour; but it is found at levels of 2.1-6.0 ng/g in hard wheat bran, and at levels of 'not detectable' to 63 ng/g in soft wheat bran)  In general, there is more in whole wheat and whole rye breads and in multigrain bread than in white bread (Table 4 gives levels of 0.4-1.1 ng/g in 6 samples of white bread tested, whereas 8 samples of whole wheat bread have levels of 0.7-5.3 ng/g; five rye breads were tested, and the levels here ranged from 0.9-6.7; and multigrain breads tested at levels of 0.6-3.3 ng/g in four samples.  Similar levels can be found in these tables for AME)

If Health Canada has found more of this toxic substance in whole grains why does it insist on saying that whole grains are better for us?
Good question.  No easy answer.  I think that the reason is, we don't know the effect of these toxins in vivo, in the long term; but we know that we need the fiber of whole foods, and the phytates in the bran are helpful, and the oils in the germ are beneficial.  So the scale still seems to tip toward whole grains in this analysis.

Might there be more mycotoxins in organic grain, as opposed to grain that has been grown with the use of fungicides and herbicides and pesticides?  Preliminary research by Semaskeiene in Lithuania (Semaskeiene, R. et al. (2004) Toxic Fungi Infection and Mycotoxin level in organic grain.   Botanica Lithuanica pp. 17-25) suggests that there may be more toxins in the organic grain; however, amounts of toxins in grains are more specifically tied to the wetness of the season, the condition of the soil, and the type of grain grown, than they are to the method of growing.  No Canadian data on this, so far as I can tell.

Since Alternaria alternata affects leaves and not the grain itself, is there any way to remove the spores, or reduce the amount of spores on the grain prior to milling?
Perhaps there is.  

Grain, after it is harvested goes through several steps before milling. Let's look a little more closely at some of these steps that have developed to create our modern grain-delivery system, and then let's think of where, precisely, we might be able to reduce the levels of Alternaria alternata:

Cleaning the Grain

1. Sweating
In the old days, sheaves of wheat were stacked in the fields in stooks or upright piles that resemble teepees, to "sweat," or dry out slightly, to make the grain easier to crack open in a mill.  It could be done even before threshing.  Today, harvesting and threshing is done in one step, combining.  So sweating is accomplished in grain elevators, and takes about six weeks.  It is performed with fans and grain rotation.  Both new and old methods are going to ensure that the spores are airborne and land on our grain.  All of the grain.

2. Cleaning
The wheat is sifted to remove foreign material -- sticks, stones, dirt, poop etc. -- and often, these days, it is magnetized to remove all metals (screws, cultivator blades, hunks of tractor, what have you) that may have fallen into the bins.  Then it is aspirated, which means air currents move the grain or chaff and straw to separate them.  

Sorting continues when foreign seeds (barley, oats, rye) are removed via separators, horizontal drums that are indented, too small to hold the wheat grain, but they hold the smaller seeds which are removed.  Grain falls into the next drum, which holds the wheat seeds but larger seeds are removed.  Now disc separators have replaced drum separators -- we are continuously devising many clever ways to get our grain cleaner.

Next the grain is scrubbed:  it is passed through scourers lined with emery that removes beard or tuft, that appear on every grain. Adhering dirt is also removed together with the cellulose grain covering known as "beeswing."  The scouring amount can be altered by using paddles to continuously fling the grain at the abrasive walls, until an appropriate level of bran/grain covering is removed.

A typical grain of wheat has a crease in it, which collects dirt as it grows.  If you look closely at a kernel of wheat, you see it has a crease in it, that looks a little bit like ass.  Well, sort of.  From some angles at least.  I was reminded of plumber's crack when I examined one kernel closely.  Anyway, the point is, "crease dirt"  is somewhat removed via grain scouring.

(NB: How much bran is removed has to be studied on an ongoing basis, because it begs the question: "how whole is whole grain?"  If you remove beeswing, that's one thing -- although even this removal has to be studied for nutritional changes in the grain (see, for example, Ring, S. and Selvendran, R. (1980) Isolation and analysis of cell wall material from beesweing wheat bran (Triticum aestivum). Phytochemistry 19(8) pp. 1723-1730).  If you begin removing layers of bran, you are definitely affecting phytonutrients and the way the grain behaves nutritionally when we eat it (see, for example, Jessica Andersson's 2011 Master's thesis in Upsalla Sweden: Andersson, J. (2011) "Whole Grain Wheat -- effects of peeling and pearling on chemical composition, taste and colour" SLU. pp. 1-28).  The more the grain is scrubbed, the more dirt from the crease of each grain is removed -- but we never get rid of all of it, this way.)

Finally, the grain is washed.  A gentle wash removes more dirt, and the grain is propelled through water by an endless screw.  Any remaining stones sink and are removed.  The grain has to be dried again: whizzers take the surface moisture off.

3. TemperingConditioning
Usually just before milling, the grain is soaked in water.  Often the water has chlorine in it, sometimes experiments have been done with the addition of ozone in this tempering process, and it works too to remove microbiota.  The water additives are there to kill microorganisms that feed on the grain, but just soaking the bran in water at this point makes the bran tougher and more brittle; most bran will be removed in the roller milling process, and tempering the grain makes it easier for the roller mills to separate the bran. Lauren Chattman, author of "Bread Making: A Home Course: crafting the perfect loaf from crust to crumb" (2011) says that the soaking takes only 2 hours in the US, but in European mills, the kernels are tempered for up to 48 hours.  The longer the tempering, the less damage will occur to the starch and the protein in the finished flour.  I hadn't really considered tempering before reading Chattman.  I skim-read a few articles from the science journals, but from what I've read, despite the tempering, not all of the spore organisms are removed.  Especially, there are lots of extremely tiny living things that survive all of these cleaning processes in the deep of the grain's crease.  By 'tiny living things' I mean things like the spores of Alternaria alternata, which leave toxic metabolites in our food.  

4. Milling
Roller Milling is a lot more complicated than old fashioned stone milling, which essentially just grinds up the grain and spins the flour and the bran and the germ (and spores) all together out to the outer edge of the millstone.  Later, this stoneground flour can be sifted to remove the bran, if that is desired.  No, roller mills were built with the idea to remove the bran and germ entirely, and then these byproducts of the whole grain can be added back to the pure white flour -- if that is what is desired.  Break rolls are a series of rollers through which the grain passes on its way to becoming flour: the first break roller shears the grain, the products of which are sent to scalpers in different streams: the germ, which is tough and oily, flakes off and is easily removed, as is the bran, which usually flakes off in relatively large sheets, following tempering; large pieces of starchy endosperm are sent to still finer rollers, in series; the semolina or coarse flour, is graded into dunst (very fine powder), and coarse middlings, and these in turn get passed to a series of ever more fine reduction rollers; and some flour is bagged at this point.  Successive breaking rollers have given rise to the terms second break and third break.  At each stage, the flour may be subjected to pan sifters, centrifugals, and fine silk (the flour is bolted).  Chunks can get sent through again and again until the desired flour consistency is achieved.

Fragmentation mills can control precisely the size of the molecules they are separating with a centrifugal air separator, down to the micron (millionth of a metre).  Based on the size of the molecule, the miller knows how much protein each stream has, and can combine flour from various grains to ensure that a consistent amount of protein goes into each product.

Additives are combined with the flour to be bagged, and our flour is finally recognizable in the form it is known to home consumers.  The bags may have some chemicals in them that prevent the sacks from skidding about when handled -- that's important when you are carting these things around on palettes with a forklift.

5. Aging
Aged flours, we are told, are better for baking.  This generalization is perhaps not so true of whole grain flours, but is true for flours that have the bran and germ removed (in other words, the flour that most of the world except me tends to use).  A period of oxidation will stabilize the grains of starch and ensure that the gluten is strong.  When the chemical reaction that causes this was investigated, it was determined that bleaching could be accomplished so that the waiting period could be skipped.  Artificial ageing has always been controversial.  Chemical additives have been found to be dangerous in the past.  In Canada and Europe, many of the older chemical bleaching methods (e.g. bromide) have been made illegal.  You can still buy bleached flour in the U.S.  I've examined this before, so I won't repeat it here.  Canadian flour still has plenty of chemicals in it, so there's no reason to gloat over how enlightened we are that we can't buy something that has been shown to cause cancer.  We still don't know what we are doing.

Now if you want to age the flour but you don't want to bleach it chemically, that means you have to store it.  And to store it, you want to keep it free from insects, moulds and rodents.  Good luck with that -- without further chemical protectants.  I've looked at some of these recently.

6. Transporting
Moving the grain is as problematic as storage, so far as rodents and spores and insects are concerned.  If you are going to truck some grain, the container (truck, train boxcar, ship hold, etc.) has to be scrupulously cleaned -- with chemicals that will once again come into contact with the grain.

Finally, I should mention that I've encountered a few studies that have looked at developing wheat that has no crease in its berry -- that way, no dirt can collect there.  So far, such genetic engineering has not been fruitful (pun intended).  But I wouldn't count this method out just yet.  Our future wheat may be creaseless.

My research into Crease Dirt brought me to this overarching question:

How Whole is Whole Wheat?
Our food is subject to our technology.  And our appreciation of it is dependent upon our understanding of that technology.  But our understanding of the technology is hidden from us, by those who created and control the technology.  And so we have a disconnection from our food.

Here's what I mean: we buy a processed food, e.g. "bread".  But we do not feel connected to it.  So we determine that we will make our own bread.  So we buy another processed food to make it, i.e. "flour".  Still feeling disconnected, we determine we will make our own flour.  So we buy another food to make it, i.e. "wheat berries" -- but we learn that this too is quite processed, it has been subjected to a lengthy cleaning.  Still disconnected, we then determine that we will grow our own wheat.  But when we do, we discover that the kernel is not cleaned well enough to use in our home-mills: we must learn how to clean that kernel ourselves to make it millable.  And we must learn how to store the kernel until we require it.  And we must harvest that kernel and separate it from the chaff and straw.  And we must sow that seed originally in a field, and nurture its growth.  And we must select the seed that we will grow.  Etc.  At each link in the chain, we have to ensure that it is safe.

All of these decisions that are currently made for us, have been made for us by those who have built the technology of wheat growth and storage and export and milling -- at what stage does our determination to make our own food find its limit?  At what point do we allow that others have made the right decision for us?

Today I focused on something called "crease dirt".  Each kernel of wheat, when it is harvested, contains a fold or crease, that starts at the navel end of the berry, where sits the germ.  As it grows, minerals and spores and eggs and other parts of insects and soil collect like lint in a belly button.  Millers have long complained of this "crease dirt," as it tends to affect the whiteness and purity of their finest flour.  New methods of cleaning have evolved with our new methods of agriculture, transportation, storage, and milling.

I did see a letter in a 1947 British medical journal, where a doctor complained that the refinement of flour had reached the stage where children were not getting enough minerals: now, with the widespread adoption of roller mills, we are not getting enough dirt!  In other words, in the opinion of this lone doctor, in the past we have depended upon that crease dirt for some of our nourishment.  However, if we now dump chemicals on our fields in the form of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, fertilizers, etc., all of these things also collect in our crease.  It is no longer just dirt that is there.  

And despite the fungicides, spores remain.  Without some sort of cleaning, the amount of these toxins could be dangerous to our health.  So current milling technology elects to remove as much of this dirt as possible.  A certain amount of germ, and outer bran or alleurone layers are also removed in this cleansing, however.  Which leads me to ask: how whole is our whole wheat now?

I made reference to this article above, but it bears repeating: Jessica Andersson wrote "Whole Grain Wheat -- effects of peeling and pearling on chemical composition, taste and colour," and this short thesis seems to be one of the few studies I've found that discuss how much bran should be taken off in the cleaning process, and what the effects of scrubbing are on the nutrition.  Obviously, what we need is a balance between removing the bran with its dirt but keeping enough of its good effects for human nutrition and health; and I would add that we also need a balance between organic and conventional methods of growing wheat: if we insist on growing grain organically, it makes sense that we need unconventional methods of cleaning it to ensure that it is safe.

Results of today's Baking
I cracked into the second bread first.  Hamelman advises that you wait 24 hours or more before slicing the Vollkornbrot.

Crumb of the 90% Soft Wheat loaf

I found the crust of this bread to be a bit thick, rather like a crusty artisan bread that you might find in a baker's shop.  Reminded me of Italian loaves.  It didn't have a wonderful flavour, though.  I was disappointed in that.  And I found it staled rather quickly.  Still, it will get me through the weekend.

My Vollkornbrot's crumb

The Vollkornbrot has an interesting bitterness to it that I call flavour.  This bread isn't for everyone.  I like it just fine with cheese.  It is actually quite nutty.  Of course, it would have been better if I had baked it in a pan, but that's okay, I get the same amount of bread.  I think that some carmelized onions would go well in this bread too.

Notes to Myself
  • There were some beeswing grain coverings in the bag with this soft wheat.  I also run across the odd bit in my hard wheat too.  For example, this rather small grain had a beeswing covering on it:

    You can see how this beeswing-covered grain snuck through the cleaning process.
    It is a very small grain -- not much bigger than a scoured grain, even with its covering intact.

    Once the beeswing covering is removed, the grain inside is small indeed.

  • For the info above on cleaning wheat of which I was mostly ignorant, I am largely dependent upon one source: France, W. (1966). The Student's Technology of Breadmaking and Flour Confectionery, Routledge Kegan & Paul, 1983. 464 p.
    Most of this info can be found by searching in google books, but I also found an online copy of the entire first edition here, at KrishiKosh --
    "an institutional repository under National Agricultural Research System," out of New Delhi, India which claims to be "the repository of knowledge in agriculture and allied sciences, having collection of old and valuable books, records and various documents spread all over the country in different libraries of Research Institutions and state Agricultural Universities."
     This looks like quite a valuable online resource.)
  • I do not know, when I buy grain, how much cleaning it has gone through.  The grains I use look rather polished, so I assume they have all been cleaned and scrubbed; but I don't know if they have been conditioned.  They are labeled 'organic' but they might have encountered chemicals like chlorine in the tempering process.  I don't know if there is any way for me to find out, either.