Saturday, August 20, 2011

On the Origin of White Flour

Here at Nutrition by Tradition (NbT) we've talked about how eating white flour habitually can lead to degenerative, modern "diseases of civilization" like tooth decay, jaw maldevelopment, heart disease, dementia and cancer (1). It is, after all, one of those nasty Neolithic Agents of Disease, in the words of Dr. Kurt Harris over at Archevore. So how is it that white flour causes modern diseases? Well, the stuff depletes the body of vitamins and minerals by displacement; it doesn't contribute anything to us nutritionally. It also spikes our blood sugar levels (especially when eaten with sugar, as it often is), wreaking hormonal havoc on our bodies. We also claim that white flour, like refined sugar and industrial seed oils, didn't exist before the 1800s. But I've found evidence to suggest otherwise.

Just how old is white flour?

After a bit of research into the history of bread, I discovered that it was the Romans (around 2500 years ago) who "perfected" flour milling. (That is, if you consider it sophisticated to be able to remove nutrients almost completely from a whole food.) Anyway, the Romans created a complex grain mill, the rotary quern, that could effect 5 different grades of flour, using a high-quality textile - usually linen - to refine it maximally (2). Apparently, due to the high cost of linen and labor to process, only the wealthy could afford white flour . Interesting that we see the same situation with Asia's staple, rice. The whiter the rice, the higher the value, both in terms of class and money (3). In contrast to white bread, however, it seems that white rice is rather nourishing for most humans (4). It's more digestible than brown rice, easier to prepare and to chew. White rice is therefore an exception to the rule that all refined / highly-processed foods are bad for humans.

Whether you decide to use refined flour or wholemeal, one thing's for sure: you should soak, sprout, or ferment the grain / batter before cooking it. Applying one of these techniques makes the grain more digestible by partially- or fully-disabling anti-nutrients therein (5).

This changes our perspective a bit. White flour's much older than we previously thought!

1 comment:

  1. Porquê afirmaram que a farinha branca não existia antes de 1800, se povos pré-históricos já conheciam a farinha e faziam pão, e os romanos já fazim pão com fermento?