Wheat flour has existed as a domesticated crop for around 10,000 years. In the earliest communities, people ground wheat between two rocks to create a meal that they could use to make kind of cake. The Ancient Egyptians ground their wheat with saddle stones and used papyrus sieves to refine their flour. They mixed their flour with yeast to create leavened loaves in a variety of shapes. The skill of Egyptian bakers is detailed in various ancient murals found in tombs along the Nile. The Romans would perfect the rotary mill to convert wheat into flour. It is likely that they were the first to use water to power wheat mills. The Romans would also take wheat throughout their empire.
In the 16th century, the concept of rollers for grinding wheat was mentioned in an Italian engineering handbook. By the following century, the first mill using rollers was constructed. Rollers reached the US in the latter half of the 19th century. Rollers eliminated the cost of grindstone maintenance and produced better flour.
Wheat was ground using more or less the same ancient methods up until the 19th century when milling became mechanized. It was at this time that the New Process came along. The New Process involved cracking the wheat rather than crushing it. It allowed the wheat to be gradually separated into its two components: bran and flour. It extracted more flour and reduced the number of workers needed to tend machines. In the late 19th century, a gradual process for refining wheat came along. The process was used to remove middlings, which were particles like bran and germ that gave the flour of the time a coarse texture and a yellowish color.
It was possible to bleach flour during the 19th century and even earlier. The flour of the time was bleached by storing it for several months which caused it to be bleached by its own natural enzymes. Bleaching was expensive, which means that bleached flour was available only to the wealthy. Only within the last century has bleached flour become available to everyone else.
Today, wheat flour is usually made with different kinds of wheat. Manufacturers blend them to get flours with certain desired characteristics.
Wheat flour flavor profile
There are many different types of flour made from wheat including whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and durum flour. The flavor profile varies between them with the most common one — all-purpose flour — having a mild nutty taste that varies slightly depending on whether it is bleached or unbleached. Whole wheat flour has a strong, nutty flavor and a fibrous texture.
Wheat flour health benefits
Wheat is an extremely nutritious food and wheat flour that uses the whole grain is the healthiest of all. Depending on how refined they are, wheat flours contain different amounts of the same nutrients. Those nutrients include:
- Vitamins: Wheat flour contains a range of B vitamins including folate riboflavin and niacin.
- Protein: Wheat flour has high levels of protein, most of which is gluten.
- Lignans: Lignans are a category of antioxidant found in wheat and which have significant health benefits.
Because of its nutrients, wheat flour in your diet can help with the treatment or prevention of:
- Alzheimer’s disease: Studies have found that the selenium in wheat flour is beneficial for improving memory in Alzheimer’s patients.
- Cancer: There is a strong connection between high consumption of whole grains and a reduced risk of colon cancer.
Whole wheat flour is typically used in combination with white flour since it does not develop its gluten as easily as a white flour. When used as a part of a blend, it brings its nutty flavor and exceptional nutritional value.