The whiter flour became, the greater the demand. To be fair, that’s been the history of wheat for thousand’s of years. But for all its efficiency, steel couldn’t match the old-school grindstone in two key respects. In fully removing the germ- that vital, living element of wheat — and the bran, the roller mill not only killed wheat but also sacrificed nearly all of its nutrition. While the bran and the germ represent less than 20 percent of a wheat kernel’s total weight, together they comprise 80 percent of its fiber and other nutrients. And studies show that the nutritional benefits of whole grains can be gained only when all the edible parts of the grain– bran, germ, and endosperm — are consumed together. But that’s exactly what was lost in the milling process.
There was another cost as well, just as devastating. Stone milled flour retained a golden hue from the crushed germ’s oil and was fragrant with bits of nutty bran. The roller mills might have finally achieved a truly white flour, but the dead, chalky powder, no longer tasted of wheat — or really anything at all. We didn’t just kill wheat. We killed the flavor.
from The Third Plate: Field notes on the future of food by Dan Barber
I did not know that until the 1880s and the roller mill, ground flour only had a shelf life of one week. Barber’s book certainly prompts us to consider the unaccounted and problematic system of food production hidden behind current “farm to table” intentions to honor ingredients. The aesthetic and technological evolution of wheat that Barber describes makes me think about our odd preference for dead, white, preserved flour at the cost of nutritional value and taste. Can we call white flour merely ornamental gastronomic pleasure, lacking in functional nutrition? Is white flour symbolic art while stone ground wheat functional design? Does how our produce look outweigh how our produce tastes? If so why? Do we equate a pretty apple with a nutritional, good-for-me apple? How much of my food suffers from competing tastes, visual and gastronomic, I wonder.