As part of our journey to make as much of our food from scratch as possible, we have considered purchasing a grain mill so we could mill our own flour at home. Every time we gave it some consideration, it felt like a big hurdle that we could never quite get over. However, earlier this year we finally decided to pull the trigger. We purchased a mill, and have been transitioning to fresh milled flour for all our baking!
A few factors contributed to our decision to finally switch to fresh milled flour.
Five reasons to choose fresh milled flour
Five factors sum up why we decided to switch to fresh milled flour:
- Food security
- Protection from price inflation
Once we made the decision, we decided to go all in. I used up all commercial flours we had on hand except for our bread flour. For now, we continue to feed our sourdough starter with commercial bread flour (King Arthur is our brand of choice). One day we may convert our starter to fresh milled flour as well. But for now we opted to leave it as is. That also means that any bread we bake will have a small percentage of “refined” flour, which does keep the texture a little lighter. For now, this is fine with us.
The first factor that made us reconsider getting a mill so we could mill fresh flour was better food security. When flour became quite difficult to find for a period of time during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, that was quite unsettling. We were never “out of food” of course. But the uncertainty of what would be on the grocery shelves certainly led to thoughts of improving our self-sufficiency. The idea of purchasing wheat berries in bulk so that we would always have extra on hand was definitely appealing. Nothing like a real-life experience to demonstrate utility for something!
Protection from price inflation
The second factor that impacted our decision was the rapid rise in inflation rates this year (2022). If we are able to purchase certain foods in bulk, like grains, this will give us some future protection from the impact of rising prices.
These first two factors were enough for us to start doing more research. As we read we began to learn more about the nutritional benefits of fresh milled flour. Most of the nutrients are stripped out of flour that is commercially processed. That processing enables it to be shelf-stable for years. But in accomplishing stability most nutrients are stripped out, and then a few vitamins and minerals are added back in. And it makes sense! Grains have oils in them, and oils go rancid. So, you have to strip all that away for the flour you buy from the grocery store to be shelf stable. When you mill your own flour, you keep all those nutrients! Not to mention the flavor that comes along with fresh milled flour.
Flexibility is the last big factor we considered in switching to fresh milled flour. I love experimenting with different grains and flours, but they can get pricey fast! Keeping whatever whole grains I want to use on hand solves this problem. I can mill them for flour, cook them whole, sprout them, whatever I want. And this doesn’t stop with grains either. You can mill flour from beans, rice, and more. Any specialty flour that you would purchase you can now make yourself from whole dry food. The sky is really the limit! Not to mention every grain (and beyond) becomes a multi-purpose ingredient!
About wheat berries
Once you start looking around for wheat berries to purchase, you will discover that there are A LOT of varieties! Soft white wheat, hard white wheat, hard red spring wheat, hard red winter wheat, durum wheat, spelt, emmer, einkorn, and the list goes on. How to choose what to buy?!? Well, this is part of the fun! You can begin to experiment with different varieties. See how they impact the flavor and texture of your baking, and decide what you like best! I’ll share a few basic distinctions with you below, to get you started.
White wheat vs. red wheat
White wheat has a more mild flavor compared to red wheat. This makes white wheat a good option to use in baked goods. It will not add as much of a hearty whole wheat flavor to your goodies. Because of its mild flavor white wheat is also a good option to try if you are just switching to whole wheat flours, and are adjusting yourself (or your family) to that whole wheat flavor vs. the <tasteless> 🙂 all purpose flour from the grocery store.
In contrast to the mild flavor of the white wheat berries, red wheat berries have a more nutty flavor. Use these, and you will experience more of that hearty whole wheat flavor in your baked goods.
Spring wheat vs. winter wheat
This classification has to do with when the wheat is planted and harvested (no big surprise there!)
Winter wheat is planted in the fall, grows until the weather gets too cold, goes dormant over the winter, and then finishes growing in the summer of the following year. Because of it’s longer growth period winter wheat does tend to have a higher vitamin and mineral content when compared to spring wheat.
Spring wheat is planted in early spring and harvested later in the fall of the same year. It’s grown in areas where the winters are too cold for the wheat to survive through the winter. Spring varieties also typically have more protein content than winter varieties, making them an ideal choice for bread baking. (If you weren’t aware, commercial bread flour is defined by having a higher protein content, typically 12-14%. This helps yeasted breads rise.)
Hard wheat vs. soft wheat
Hard wheat has a lower moisture content than soft wheat, and so is typically better for bread baking.
Soft wheat, with its higher moisture content, works well for baked goods like cookies, cakes, pastries, and quick breads.
What variety of wheat berries to choose
At the end of the day, this choice is entirely up to you! I highly recommend experimenting to see what you enjoy the most.
When we bought our first wheat berries in bulk, we decided on two “staple” varieties:
- Soft white wheat berries to use for all our baked goods recipes.
- Hard red spring wheat berries to use for our yeast based recipes (both commercial and natural yeast).
We also purchased some Einkorn berries to add into the mix. Einkorn is an ancient grain that is easier to digest. It has also not undergone as many genetic modifications over time. It is a much smaller grain, due to a simpler genetic makeup (only 14 chromosomes in einkorn berries vs. 42 in commercial wheat). Einkorn is also highly nutritious with a higher protein content than commercial wheat. It was actually first rediscovered in the Egyptian pyramids and was still able to be sprouted! If you want to learn more about it I highly recommend this post at Einkorn.com.
Einkorn is tricky to bake with if you use it all on it’s own, since it doesn’t have as strong of gluten formation. This is especially true in yeasted recipes where you depend on the gluten formation for the rise and structure of the final product. We have started experimenting with 100% einkorn in some of our recipes. This is an easier substitution when making simple baked goods that don’t require any gluten formation. Keep an eye out for more of these recipes on the site.
In practice, we usually mix two or all three of these wheat berry varieties together when we are baking. We keep the flour whole wheat, not sifting out any of the bran. For yeast breads, we often use equal parts of each grain. But, it’s fun to experiment with different combinations and see how you can impact your final flavors. For baked goods that are not yeast based we’ve been experimenting with either half white and half einkorn, or 100% einkorn berries.
I look forward to expanding my own repertoire of wheat berry varieties over time, but this has been a great starting point for us in our fresh milled flour journey!
How to mill wheat berries for fresh flour
There are different mills you can purchase to mill your own flour. Some are stand alone and some attach to a mixer such as the Cuisinart. After doing our research we decided that the Mockmill 200 stone mill would be a good fit for our lifestyle and intended use. You can read our full review of the Mockmill 200 here, but in short we love it and would make the same choice again!
In terms of using the mill to make fresh flour, it’s really quite simple. Most of the time it takes just a couple extra minutes at the beginning of prepping a recipe. Below are the basic steps we follow with our Mockmill 200:
- Calculate how much flour is needed by weight, see conversion chart below.
- Pull out two bowls – one for the wheat berries, one for the flour.
- Weigh out the amount of wheat berries to match the calculated flour weight.
- Turn on the Mockmill, and slide the lever to adjust fineness until you can hear the stones are just touching (the finest setting).
- Position the empty bowl under the spout.
- With the mill running, pour the berries into the top of the mill. Re-seat the lid to dampen the noise.
- Wait for the flour, turning the receiving bowl as needed so it doesn’t overflow.
- Mix up your recipe and bake!
And that’s all there is to it! So you see, with minimal extra prep, it is easy to switch to fresh flour instead of bland and nutrition-less commercial flours! 😉
Recipe conversions for fresh flour by weight
The most important trick I’ve found so far for using fresh milled flour in my recipes is to convert my recipes to weight instead of volume. If you don’t already bake by weight, this is a great time to start! 🙂 Below I share some basic volume -> weight conversions. This makes it pretty easy to figure out how much grain you need to weigh out and mill for your recipe.
I’ve been using all whole wheat flours in my recipes. In this case, the weight conversion is 1:1 (100g of wheat berries becomes 100g of whole wheat flour). If you opt to sift out some of the bran to get a whiter flour, you’ll have to adjust the weight of wheat berries you mill to come to the correct final weight for your recipe. But this should get you close, and you can add a little extra as needed to get you to that final recipe weight.
So for example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of all purpose flour, that is 120 grams of flour. Simply weigh out 120g of wheat berries, mill them, and use the resulting flour.
I have read different suggestions that the liquid content may need to be adjusted when switching to whole wheat flours, or when using einkorn in place of commercial wheat. In the recipes I have tried so far this has not proved necessary. I have had good success just following a 1:1 substitution (by weight) of berries:flour. However, I will continue to update as I test more recipes. I would also love to hear any additional feedback or advice from others . Please feel free to share in the comments!
Where to buy wheat berries
We don’t have any grain farms here in the Phoenix area where we can buy bulk grains direct. But we have found a few good sources for purchasing whole wheat berries online. The two that we’ve gotten grains from so far are Palouse Brand (available on Amazon, or direct from their farm) and Einkorn.com. We’ve been happy with the quality of the grains from both of these sources!
A few other sites we found, but have yet to try for ourselves are:
How to store wheat berries
There are a lot of great resources available online for long term storage of wheat berries and other dried foods. For the purposes of this post, I just share what we ended up doing for our own storage. I’ll let you do more thorough research on your own if you want to learn about other options. One site that I found particularly helpful was The Ready Squirrel. I’ve linked to a couple of his posts that I found useful below:
- Wheat storage
- Mylar bags for long-term food storage (including what amounts can fit in different size bags)
For our first purchase of bulk wheat berries, we got 65 pounds of in total of assorted varieties. We’ll refine and add to this as we go, but figured this would be a good start. We do plan to regularly use these berries, and will replenish as they start to get low. So, this is not emergency food storage in the purest sense of the term. But if we manage our stock well it will certainly function as a backup food supply should we need it.
To store, we opted for the following system:
- Mylar bags – 1 gallon
- Oxygen absorbers – 300cc
- Food safe 5 gallon buckets
We purchased our mylar bags and oxygen absorbers from USA Emergency Supply. They had a good thick quality of mylar bag which we liked, with some resealable options if desired. You can also purchase individual bags from them. This way you won’t end up with way more than you need. The oxygen absorbers were an easy add-on from the same site. They came in a couple different sized packages that worked well for us. There are also a lot of options for mylar food storage bags and oxygen absorbers for food storage on Amazon, if you’d like to browse those.
Our food storage process step-by-step
- Decide on the quantity of grains that you want per bag. This should be an amount that will work for shorter term day-to-day use. You want to be sure that once a package is opened you can use it up in a reasonable time (aim for < 4 months). We decided on five pounds per bag, as that is how much a typical bag of flour weighs.
- Portion out the grains into the mylar bags, leaving them unsealed at this step.
- Open the oxygen absorbers and transfer the exact number needed to a ziplock back. Re-seal the bag with any remaining oxygen absorbers for future use.
- Transfer the oxygen absorbers to one mylar bag at a time, seal that bag, then move to the next mylar bag. For our packaging, 1 gallon bags with 5 pounds of wheat berries got 2-300c absorbers each. For sealing, we actually have a small heat sealer that we used. You can also use an iron if you don’t have a heat sealer!
You will know that the oxygen absorbers are working, because they will actually create a vacuum inside the bag as they absorb any air. The result looks like a package that has been vacuum sealed.
For long term storage we divided the sealed mylar bags between the 5 gallon food safe buckets. 25 pounds of wheat (5 5-pound packages) fit perfectly into one 5 gallon bucket.
So there you have it! Hopefully this lengthy post helps you get started on your own journey to start milling fresh flour at home. Better food security, savings, flavor, and nutrition are yours for the taking!