Monday, October 21, 2013

Attempting the Daunting: Switching to Sprouted Flour

This topic might be foreign to a lot of readers, but it's what I'm working on right now, so naturally there's a post about it.  :-)

Grains 101: Grains (and more generally, seeds) are the proud owners of something called phytic acid, or phytates.  Basically this is the plant's protection against being eaten before it is able to sprout, in nature.  We eat grains with intact phytates all the time, but just because we can get them down doesn't mean they're doing great things for our intestines.  One of the most basic things that phytic acid is known for is that it is a nutrient binder. It binds the nutrients in the seed itself until it sprouts, and if we eat the grain while the phytic acid is intact, it binds to nutrients in our system.  That basically means that not only are you not getting the nutrients that are in the grain, but likely binding up other nutrients you take in.  Not the greatest trade off.

There's a couple solutions to this.  One is generally referred to as "soaking".  The oldest form of this would be sourdough, where the grain literally ferments and breaks itself down before it is turned into baked bread (or whatever).  This process can and does happen after grinding.  Soaking can also mean making a batter (such as pancakes) with buttermilk instead of milk (or other acidic medium that suits the recipe: vinegar, lemon juice, real whey, and buttermilk are the most popular) and letting it sit overnight before using it.  The acidic medium will basically break down the phytic acid and release the nutrients, in the process both rendering it safe for consumption and upping the nutrients you can get from it.

The other way to deal with phytic acid is sprouting the grains before use.  As far as I can tell, this is really the less desirable of the two, because sprouting takes several days instead of just overnight.  The flip side is that once you go through the sprouting process (after which you dehydrate and grind the grain into flour) you now have flour that can be used instantly, and you can make foods that aren't really adaptable to soaking, such as roux sauces or flour gravies. Or cookies.

Also, check out the more detailed benefits of sprouting wheat-- I was excited to find this!

"German researchers sprouted wheat kernels for up to 168 hours (1 week), analyzing them at different stages to learn the effects of germination on different nutrient levels. While different times and temperatures produced different effects, overall the sprouting process decreased gluten proteins substantially, while increasing folate. Longer germination times led to a substantial increase of total dietary fiber, with soluble fiber tripling and insoluble fiber decreasing by 50%." (Emphasis mine.)
Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry
, June 13, 2007; 55(12):4678-83. Epub 2007 May 12.

The process isn't really all that difficult, but like most things a traditional kitchen does, it requires more thinking ahead than usual.  The upside is that you can do a bunch at once and then store it in the freezer for long periods of time to maintain nutrients.  I'm not sure how prevalent this knowledge is, but whole grain flours lose almost 100% of their nutrients within about 3 days of grinding. White flours have no nutrients to lose, since the living part is pulled out precisely for that reason: to prolong shelf life.  Even when I grind grain that isn't soaked, I store it in the freezer to maintain nutrients.  

I've decided to make the switch to sprouted flour for a few reasons.  One is that I'm always trying to up the quality of our food, and I tend to do one thing at a time.  I haven't really added any new skills to my traditional foods list for awhile now (summer is kinda crazy that way) so that's another reason.  And the reason I chose sprouting flour as the next skill to learn, is that I've been playing around with new recipes lately and a lot of them call for flour.  My primary defense against not using sprouted or soaked flour for quite some time has been just to minimize how much of it we eat, but lately it's creeping up again as I play around with new dishes.  So if we're going to eat it, I'd prefer it be something that our bodies can handle easily and won't affect us negatively.  I hear too many horror stories of people dealing with serious gluten allergies, and while I'm no expert, I can't help but think that some percentage of those allergies must be caused by just forcing too many improperly prepared gluten products through our system, ultimately ruining our ability to even partially process them.  I like bread products, but I'd rather minimize how many of them we eat than eat a ton of them and end up with gluten issues or kids with celiac to work around.  No thanks.

So here's the process.  I had to try this a couple times before succeeding, because for some reason every description of "how to sprout grains" is a really generic one.  I know this is because sprouting is supposed to be easy, but...well, trust me to prove that easy is not synonymous with success.

Anyway, this time around I succeeded.

The equipment you'll need is pretty basic-- organic wheat (I'm not sure non-organic will sprout depending on what's been done to it, but feel free to give it a shot), a mason jar of any size, and a screen to fit under the ring.  I made my screen out of cross stitch fabric, but you could make it out of actual wire mesh, or buy one specifically made for the purpose.  A piece of cheesecloth would work fine but you'd need to be a little more patient in getting the water out.

Fill the jar about 1/3 full with grain, and cover with water.  Let sit about 12 hours.  I do this overnight.

In the morning, strain out the water, fill it up again, rinse the seeds, and drain again.  Let the jar sit at an angle to drain and facilitate air flow.

Now the part where you have to pay attention-- the seeds can dry out if they sit too long without water, so you need to rinse them every few hours.  I did mine ever three hours and they sprouted within a day.  You can do it much less often if your schedule requires it, but the generic consensus seems to be that it needs done at least twice a day.  At night just do it last thing before you go to bed and first thing when you get up-- they seem to do fine.  Just know that going longer between rinses will cause the seeds to take longer to sprout.  I think.  That's how it happened my first time around, and they sprouted in one day for me this time, which was a shock.

This is what sprouted looks like-- just little white things starting to come out of the ends.  Apparently this is best for grains that you want to grind, because letting them go further apparently ends up making flour that behaves differently.  If you are using a grain that you want to eat in sprouted form, like on a sandwich, you can let them go longer.  (This method is recommended for all seeds, including nuts, but NOT for alfalfa, which should not be consumed in sprouted form.)

After they sprouted, I laid out the grain on a tray of my dehydrator and set it to 145.  The time setting says 20 hours, but that was a random number.  They ended up only taking 4 hours, but I think I set the heat too high. The books that touch on the topic just say "dehydrate" and as I was writing this post I looked up some blog posts on the issue and they vary in degree recommendation, but all of them were lower than 145.  I'll try around 120 next time.

If you don't have a dehydrator, just set your oven as low as it will go and dry the grain on cookie sheets.  As long as you don't actually cook the grain, it shouldn't make much of a difference, because any flour use I can think of will end up being baked later anyway.

After they dried, I ran them through the grain mill and they ground up perfectly!  There are actually a few ways to deal with sprouted grains:

1) After they sprout, put a real lid on the jar and store in the fridge for a couple weeks.
2) Dehydrate and store in an airtight container in the cupboard until ready for use.
3) Grind and use immediately or store in fridge (for weeks) or freezer (for months).

Personally I think I'll be sprouting up a good supply of wheat and grinding it.  We have some extra freezer space, and I much prefer to have it already ground and on hand if possible.

Also, I discovered that this process is way more intimidating in theory than in practice.  One day for sprouts is absolutely do-able and not even hard to plan for.  And now that I know how easy it is, it won't be a big deal to sprout up a big supply and not have to do it again for awhile.  I'm rather delighted with this end to the story, because now I can use flour without concern of what it's doing to our intestines, and it's a fraction of the price of buying sprouted flours, which run (at my stores) around $3 a pound.

I buy hard white wheat, which is a little easier to bake with than hard red.  I get it from Azure Standard in bulk amounts (usually 25 or 50 pounds) for very fair prices (around $.80/lb., I think) and store it in buckets.  (Azure Standard is a traveling co-op, somewhat similar to Bountiful Baskets if you're familiar with that but much bigger and more diverse.  They have amazing bulk prices on just about any organic or natural food you're interested in.  They deliver to local drops throughout a good portion of the country. Feel free to ask if you have questions-- I'm always talking them up.  :-))

Sprouted flour can be used more or less in a 1:1 ratio for normal flour, but not as a thickener If you're interested in trying sprouted flour before attempting it yourself, Amazon has it; you can look at options on our Amazon store here.

For more detailed information on the nutritional benefits of sprouting, please visit these posts, which go into much more detail and do a much better job explaining than I can:
Sprouting Wheat Berries
Sprouted Grain Benefits

Also read my sprouted wheat follow up here.

Read about more summaries on studies of the benefits of sprouted seeds of all kinds here.

Or take a look at the bible of traditional nutrition...many libraries stock it:
Nourishing Traditions


  1. Wow. Great post, love! A couple questions, though:
    - Why doesn't that way of sprouting work for alfalfa? I think I remember my mom sprouting it in a quart jar. Could be wrong, though.
    - Are you saying that sprouted grain flour works exactly the same as regular whole grain flour, as long as you don't let it grow?

    If this actually works, I will be thrilled. I've been missing baked stuff the past week or so.

    1. - It's not that you can't sprout alfalfa seeds, it's that you shouldn't.

      Nourishing Traditions says "we do not recommend [alfalfa seed] in sprouted form (or in any form)! Unfortunately it seems that all the praise heaped on the alfalfa sprout is ill advised. Tests have shown that alfalfa sprouts inhibit the immue system and can contribute to inflammatory arthritis and lupus. Alfalfa seeds contain an amino acid called canavanine that can be toxic to man and animals when taken in quantity."

      -I haven't used the flour yet but from what I've read you can treat it like typical whole wheat flour. I'll have to do a follow up when I find out how the flour behaves.

  2. I meant to mention that everything I've learned about dehydrating says that enzymes are killed at temperatures over 104 degrees. (Well, some articles say 118, but others 104, so I'm going with the lower of the two to be safe.)

    1. Me too...I just couldn't decide if it mattered because anything I make with flour will be baked/cooked afterwards.

  3. Kirstyn, you might find good resources under "malted barley." In order for barley to make malt grade, it has to have a very high "germ" rate, i.e how many seeds are viable. It also must germinate very quickly...two to three days, I believe. It also cannot be too high in protein. In the drying process, they actually roast the sprouted barley. It has a very nice flavor...unlike the beer that much of it gets used in!
    P.S. Any wheat or barley should sprout just fine. As far as I know, there are no hybrid varieties of either grain. (Hybrid meaning that the seed will not reproduce.)

    1. As far as what will sprout, I was actually thinking of bought, non-organic potatoes are often sprayed to prevent sprouting, whereas organic ones are not, so I wasn't sure if things like wheat might have the same situation.

  4. I am still trying to "find the time" to make some sprouted flour! However with you taking the guess work out of it for me, I may actually may get it done!