How Is flour Made? A Guide to Modern Flour Production

/ / / How Is flour Made? A Guide to Modern Flour Production
How is flour made in modern mills for bread and cakes

“How does flour get made?” For people who love to bake bread, or just enjoy eating flour-based food it’s a question you may want to ask! Flour is a key ingredient in many recipes and it’s fascinating to learn how this staple food item has been created. So if you are curious why almost all flour packets have an image of wheat on? Or, wondered about the stages that go into making flour, this article will answer them!

So before we get into the “nitty gritty” into the question of how is flour made, let’s cover what flour is made from:

Flour is a finely ground powder that comes from grains or plants that are rich in starch. The majority of the flour that we consume is wheat flour. After it is grown and harvested it undergoes long processes of cleaning, sifting, and conditioning. Once that is completed the actual milling process begins.

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This process used to be made with a stone press (stoneground flour), but is now usually completed with rollers. The different components of the wheat are separated and later recombined to achieve different blends of flour.

We’ll cover these stages in more detail later on, but first, how is wheat grown?

How wheat is grown for making flour

Wheat is believed to be one of the best staple foods today. As it can be used for varieties of meals like pasta, noodles, cereal, bread, cookies, and the likes. Compared to other cereal crops, growing wheat is easier. Here’s how it goes from farm to our tables: 

A good location is selected to grow the wheat

The most important part of wheat farming is choosing a place that is appropriate for a good harvest. These are places that have fertile and loam texture soil. Its structure is strong and can hold a moderate capacity of water. 

The soil is prepared

Before the time to plant comes, the soil needs to be prepared first. Some farmers are using the conventional way of using a machine to plow the soil. But most farmers today are switching to a method called “no-till.” This way of farming maintains a better structure of the soil by not plowing the fields. 

The seeds are selected and sown

Planting wheat varies depending on the weather conditions of the region. Some start during winter while others do it during fall. After the soil becomes ready, a machine called a grain drill is used for planting the seeds.

Germination and growing the wheat

In typical weather (7C average) wheat takes 5 days to germinate. There are stages of how the wheat grows. It starts as a green with grass-like features. And as it dries, it grows taller and shifts its color to a golden brown.

Wheat growing from seed to mature plant

Harvesting and Storing

The harvesting time of wheat depends on its type. It takes 7-9 months for most types of wheat to grow to maturity. Some are harvested during the summer, while others are during fall. Wheat is ready for harvest when it’s dry and shows no green colour.

Wheat should be harvested before it becomes dead ripe. The moisture content of 25-30% is the target range before harvesting it. Targeting the right time will assure quality and will maximize production.

Combine harvesters are used for harvesting wheat. It combines reaping, threshing, and winnowing. The wheat grain is put into the back of the combine. It is then put into a grain cart, and then into a semi-truck where it is transported to be stored in a grain elevator.

A breakdown of what a wheat seed is made from

What is in wheat grain?

Wheat grain is a seed that can grow into a new wheat plant. This is also the part of the wheat that is being processed into flour. Generally, wheat grains are oval-shaped. But there are some kinds of wheat that are spherical, narrow, and flattened shapes. Grains are usually between 5 to 9mm in length and weigh around 30 to 50 mg.

Wheat grain

A crease on one side is visible. This is where it was originally connected to the wheat flower. Most grains are red in color, but there are also some that are white. Wheat grains are divided into three main parts: 

Bran

Consists of layers that serve as the outer coating or shell of the grain. It contains important antioxidants, B vitamins, and fiber.

Endosperm

The main part of the grain represents about 80% of the kernel weight. This provides essential energy to the young plant so it can send roots down for water and nutrients. This is rich in carbohydrates, proteins, and some vitamins and minerals. 

Germ

The wheatgerm serves only 2% of the grain but is the nutrient powerhouse of the grain. It contains a lot of vitamin E, healthy fats, minerals, B vitamins, and antioxidants. This is removed during milling because it has a tendency to become rancid quickly during storage. This is still found in several products although finding wheat germ products are hard to find.

How wheat grain is cleaned

Before milling, wheat goes through a thorough cleaning process to remove impurities. The process of cleaning wheat plays a huge role with regards to quality. It impacts the ash characteristics and the color of the final flour. 

Powerful magnets are being used to extract unwanted metal objects. Sifters and reels sort shapes, sizes, and weights to be taken away for specific cleaning.

The traditional way of cleaning wheat is through scouring. This process involved washing the wheat to remove dirt, sand, and stones. 

After cleaning, the wheat is put inside a conditioning bin for 24 hours to achieve the right moisture content. This method allows the brand to soften. It also enhances the release of the endosperm during milling.

What is gristing in flour?

After the cleaning and conditioning process, the wheat is then blended before milling. This process is called gristing. It combines different types and amounts of wheat to achieve a certain quality of flour. The proportions and types of wheat depend on the purpose of the flour and the needs of the mills customers. 

How wheat is crushed to make flour

Although it’s referred to as crushing, flour mills crack rather than crush. Flour has been around since prehistoric times. The earliest method for producing flour was grinding grain between stones. This method is similar to how you might use mortar and pestle in your kitchen. 

The next method that occurred was the millstone. It was a vertical, disk-shaped stone that rolled on grain that’s sitting on another stone. Millstones were operated by farmers and their animals. 

The most modern innovation is the roller mill. These operate by passing the grain between a series of rotating rollers. Then the crushed grain is sieved between each roller to separate the bran from the endosperm. 

Early rollers mills were backed by steam engines. While the modern ones are powered by electric motors. As usual, the latter is faster and produces a greater quantity and quality of the flour.

The sifting process

During the milling process, bran and germ are sifted out. While the coarse particles are going through the rolling and purifying process again. Separating the brand and germ improves the characteristics and color of the flour. This also prevents the oil from the germ affecting the qualities of the flour.

After getting the desired result, flour is then sifted again. Here the fineness of the flour is determined by using finer sieves.

How whole wheat flour is made

Whole wheat flour is the result of milling wheat other than durum. The natural kernel proportions of bran, endosperm, and sometimes germ are included during grinding.

Whole wheat flour is made from red wheat grain. It provides more fiber and other nutrients compared to white or all-purpose flour. But due to the oil content of bran and germ, it has a shorter shelf life.

The flour is then tested for consistency

Flour is a natural product which will have different characteristics between batches. This is especially common in large-scale factories milling wheat from several farmers. To make the flour as consistent as it can be between batches the flour is tested and additives are used.

How the Hagberg Falling Number Test works

For testing the enzyme activity of flour, the Hagberg Falling Number (HFN) is one of the commonly used. HFN measures the number of seconds it takes for a plunger to fall through a mix of wheat flour in water. This determines the activity of the grain’s alpha-amylase, a type of enzyme. This enzyme attacks the molecules of starch and breaks them into sugars. It will create the gas that’s going to make the structure and air pockets of good breads. 

If there’s a lot of enzyme activity, the starch has already been converted to sugar. The plunger will fall quickly and a low HFN will be recorded. While it’s the opposite if there’s only a little enzyme activity. The plunger will fall down slowly and will record a high HFN. 

A low amount of enzyme activity indicates a good protein for baking. While having a high enzyme activity will make a weak and sticky crumb mixture. The ideal time that bakers try to achieve is somewhere between 250 and 280 seconds.

To counteract any deficiencies, gluten powder and enzymes are added automatically by the mill at this stage.

Types of wheat ears

What minerals are added to flour

During the milling process of white flour, some nutrients are getting removed. There was a national nutrient deficiency in the Uk in 1998. At this point, governments instructed mills to make flour more healthy. As bread was the staple food of the country since this introduction these deficiencies have been reduced.

Before the flour is packaged, a process of flour enrichment adds back some of these nutrients. These are calcium, iron, niacin, and thiamin. 

The nutrients that are added are legally required in all white and brown flours. But this doesn’t apply to whole wheat flour because it already contains these nutrients.

Storage

Before being ready for usage, flour needs to absorb oxygen for about a month. But many mill businesses add ascorbic acid to the flour. This acts as an oxidant so storage can be skipped. 

Packaged and out for delivery!

There are several ways of packaging flour. The quantity and sizes are the main factors in how the packaging varies. For small quantities, heavy duty packaging isn’t really needed. But when it comes to larger quantities, the packaging should always be well-built. It will need to withstand the long process of delivery. The most important thing is there shouldn’t be a way for air or moisture to get through the packaging.

Frequently asked questions about how is flour made

How to make bread flour

Bread flour is a high protein type of flour with a 13 to 16.5 percent protein content. It has a higher protein content compared to any other type of flour. More protein means more gluten, and gluten makes the dough more elastic and rise.

To make bread, you can substitute your all-purpose flour with bread flour. You just have to do it yourself. You can substitute 1 cup of bread flour with 1 cup of all-purpose flour. But if you want to make it more similar to bread flour, you can add vital wheat gluten. This is a form of flour protein.

The rule of the thumb here is 1 cup of all-purpose flour is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of vital wheat gluten. Of course, bread flour will give the best result. But if you’re looking for alternatives, this can also work out. Vital wheat gluten is widely available in grocery stores and online websites

How much bread sold is white bread?

White bread has always been a staple to UK families for decades. That’s why 76% of the bread market belongs to white bread.

Is bread flour the same as all-purpose flour?

Some say that bread flour is all-purpose flour, just with added gluten. It’s common for gluten to be added at the mill to maintain a consistent product. Obtaining gluten is expensive, so bread flour is best derived from a higher protein wheat. 

Does flour expire?

Yes, flour does expire. Just like most packed food, there’s a printed expiration date or best-by date in flour packaging. This indicates the date of when the flour will stay fresh. But these labels are just for precautions. You can still consume it even though it’s past the indicated date. 

You can always determine if the flour is safe when you smell it. The fresh or good flour has a neutral odor. While flour that went bad has a bad smell, it can be stale, musty, or sour. If your flour smells rancid or shows some signs of mold, it’s best to throw it out.

How to store flour at home

As a consumer who just bought flour, you should transfer it to an airtight container. Moisture will ruin it so always keep it dry. Store it in a cool, dark place. A cool pantry will work well. Freezing your flour can maintain its quality and increase the shelf life longer. Just always make sure that your flour reaches room temperature first before you use it. This prevents the flour from clumping. 

How did they make flour in the olden days?

For centuries people used to grind their own wheat into pulp with water and then filter it through cloths or other devices to remove impurities like dirt or chaff. Then they would sift out any remaining kernels that were too big to cook them up as porridge!

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