Thursday, February 19, 2015

Beyond the humble grain

I listened to a fantastic podcast yesterday. It's an episode of BBC Radio 4's Food Programme, and they generally do really interesting programmes, I highly recommend it. They don't shy away from controversial topics but they also do some interesting delves into culinary history and look at current trends.
This episode was from a few weeks ago, and can be listened to online or downloaded anywhere in the world (yay for Auntie! - link). It's partly prompted by a new documentary called "The Grain Divide" which is due out 'soon' (not clear when).
The radio programme travelled around the world (including under the Arctic permafrost) and interviewed farmers, bakers, scientists, historians and others about a growing movement to reintroduce older strains of wheat to our diet, and create new ones. Basically, over time as we've selected for a grain that gives good yields and a fine white flour, we've lost flavour and nutrition along the way.
Everyone who's baked bread will know that commercially-baked loaves ain't got a think on home-made - using stoneground whole-grain flour and a slow rise makes enormous different to flavour. We know a lot of the nutrient is in the bran and other parts of the grain that don't make it into commercial white flours. 
The slow fermentation of traditional baking helps break down gluten and other parts of the flour to make nutrients more available for us to absorb in digestion, and there's a theory that the accelerated Chorleywood Bread Process has contributed to a rise in gluten intolerance.
Several people are trying to grow and use some older strains to bring us closer to the bread that would have been eaten two hundred or more years ago. There are other advantages to older strains - they are better adapted to the landscapes they evolved on, less susceptible to adverse weather, disease and local pests.
My next challenge will naturally be to find a source of heritage wheat locally. (For readers in the UK, there's a guide to local artisanal mills at The Sourdough School).

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