Margot McMillen of Terra Bella Farm in Auxvasse, MO, has launched the Missouri Grain Project (MGP), whose first product is locally grown and freshly milled wheat flour. It went on sale recently at the Root Cellar in downtown Columbia, so I armed myself with a few bags and started testing the product to see how it compares with store brands. To give a fair comparison, I purchased a bag of King Arther (KA) %100 Organic Whole Wheat Flour, which is a pretty high-end brand (our staple flour up to this point).
Keep in mind, this is whole-wheat flour. That means that the entire wheat grain has been milled and kept in the flour, unlike white flour, which is far more heavily processed to remove most of the actual wheat. White flour will keep longer, because all the spoilable parts like germ have been removed, but those parts also contain most of the nutrition and flavor. Whole wheat flour won’t have as long a shelf life, but will have a richer flavor and better nutritional content. This is what people have eaten for most of human history, until some industrialist figured out how to destroy flour to make it last longer and bleached it white to convince people it was better.
In any case, our very first comparison was shelf date. MGP’s flour is clearly labeled with the harvest date (July 08) and the milling date (October 08). This is fresh stuff. Compare that to the KA, which had an expiration date of late November 08 printed in the bag. With no milling or harvest date, who knows how old it was. But that’s what you get at a grocery store.
To really focus on the flavor and texture of the flour, Joanna made some very basic wheat flour tortillas and submitted me to a blind taste test. Frankly, the difference was pretty obvious. The MGP tortillas had a noticeably richer, stronger wheat taste, and had a better texture. The KA tortillas, while perfectly serviceable, were definitely drier, staler-tasting, and just plain not as good. You haven’t understood the power of fresh wheat until you’ve tried this side-by-side.
I also used it in a few other applications, such as pie crusts, where it again performed well. It made a wonderfully rich-flavored crust for an apple pie, in which the wheat flavor really balanced the sweeter apples. Joanna notes that it takes liquid different from the KA flour, so be a little cautious if you’re used to the behavior of other flours.
Now to address the elephant in the room: price. MGP flour is expensive, at around $2.50 for the bag you see above. That’s going to be above some folks’ budgets, but here’s something to consider. Food is just like any other product in a free market: you get what you pay for. Too often we Americans turn strangely socialist when it comes to food, expecting to have the right to some artificially low price that doesn’t actually reflect the quality, production methods, or overall impact that the food has. This flour SHOULD cost more; it’s better. And because it’s locally sourced and has fewer miles and middlemen associated with it, far more of that cost is going toward a fair earning for those who actually produced it. Fair trade applies to American farmers, too, not just Columbian ones.
So pop on down to the Root Cellar, grab a bag, and try it for yourself. Just about anyone can afford $2.50 every now and then, even if it’s only for special occasions. And if you want to save money, consider buying MGP’s whole wheatberries instead, and grinding them yourself. Like most grains (and corn), the unmilled grain will last for a very long time, only starting to decay once it’s milled. That’s why we store our corn whole, and only mill it as-needed. Buying the wheatberries will save you money, and they’re quite versatile in their own right.