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flour power

Posted by Simon Bryant

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The recent, almost epidemic, amount of dietary gluten related intolerances and allergies may have at first led to a blanket avoidance of wheat products for many, but a secondary effect has been to raise awareness that all flour is not created equally.

I’m not touching the coeliac issue with a big stick beyond dropping an interesting snippet of information gleaned from testing a frozen 1950’s batch of blood samples from American air force recruits that concludes coeliac condition was 4 times less common 50 years ago than it is today. Interesting because the general consensus had been that the recent statistical rise in gluten related issues was attributed to improvements in detection methods and general awareness of the condition.

It does beg the question, if the type, processing of, and growing conditions of our wheat has some bearing on what has “gone wrong” with our ability to cope with the grain that pretty much helped build whole civilizations.

In our lucky state we have a great bunch of people doing so much more than just producing that white stuff that sits in the pantry. A rich diversity of crops, some unique approaches to farming and a strong tradition of artisan methods is alive and well. The flow on effect of this is a resurgence of real bread, the stuff that has all manner of live cultures lovingly nurtured and fermented by bakers and chefs every day, growing teeny bubbles to rise every night in dark, warm corners. It’s the stuff with big bold crusts and complex smells creeping out of ovens that drive even the “GF” army crazy. Not to mention the numerous rollers around town squeezing out silky sheets of house-made pasta prepared with an array of local flours every day.

Pangkarra in the Clare Valley have received some well-deserved accolades lately producing a flour that is stone milled; traceable (produced from durum wheat grown on their property); wholegrain, which means it has the germ, endosperm and bran, (in English means there’s lots of essential vitamins and minerals present in the grains natural state). Their crops are organically fertilized and the flour has an amazing taste and robust texture to boot.

Four Leaf Milling is another great local story, organic, stone milled, some interesting grains like my personal favorite the Egyptian Gold which is a tall growing ancient variety of wheat thought to be the predecessor to modern durum wheat. Gavin Dunn of Four Leaf Milling came across a handful of these grains some 30 years ago. The seed is thought to have originated (unbelievably) from an Egyptian tomb and the resulting high protein flour (that has become a staple in my kitchen) has propertiesy’s very similar to spelt flour, meaning it is tolerated by the “wheat sensitive;” better than the normal run of the mill (literally) white stuff.

Anyone that has ever had the privilege of an audience with local flour guru Mark Laucke, will know that this guy is one part artisan-perfectionist from a lineage of over 100 years of millers and one part absolutely mad-bonkers-scientist. There is nothing that Mark doesn’t know about flour and after a few minutes of Mark explaining, “…ash, protein, gluten, elasticity…” my head is usually spinning. The Laucke’s motto is aptly to preserve the integrity of the grain, the farming environment (or soil), and the goodness of the product.

Mark has a unique enquiring mind that has led him along an interesting path of enquiry and development that might just be the biggest thing since sliced bread! A correlation between poor health in sheep on the sulphur rich soils (due to its volcanic geology) in New Zealand; and the element selenium has produced some revelations. Sulphur (incidentally also used as a component in many fertilizers), by chemical interaction naturally replaces and binds selenium in the soil,  effectively robbing it from the soilplants that would normally incorporate it. The link between increasing selenium levels in livestock and the subsequent increases in fertility and health of livestock was established. While selenium is Nnow recognised as a powerful anti-oxidant and quite literally a “mop “ for the free radicals that all oxygen breathing organisms produce, human selenium RDI levels are still up for debate although the effects on immune systems , brain function and maintaining DNA health are now widely scientifically accepted.

The Laucke approach goes one step further back than just fortifying the flour. Crudely speaking; elemental and simple selenium compounds are found in and extracted from rocks,  rocks high in sodium selenate are ground up and are used to fortify the soil in at selected farms where the wheat is grown. The micro-organisms in the soil take up the selenium and convert it in to higher levels of natural biological forms of selenium, and in turn so do plants. The resultant crops produce a “bBio-F forte selenium flour” where the element is present at targeted high levels in the wheat in all athe natural forms that the body naturally recognizes rather than just adding  selenium into as a supplement to the flour during processing.

It is a holistic and innovative approach that again shows that our states primary and secondary industries are doing so much more than just growing wheat and producing bags of generic white flour.

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