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At Rincon del Rio, we’re blessed to be located in Nevada County, CA, which is not only stunningly beautiful on the outside, but also quite lovely on the inside, featuring some of the kindest-hearted people you’ll find anywhere. And we’re not too shabby on our insides either–landing in the top ten among California counties in terms of health factors and outcomes. (It may be something in the air, since our next-door neighbors Placer County and El Dorado County are also in the top ten.)

So, many of our fellow Gold-Country-men and women are already reasonably health-conscious, but there’s always room for improvement. And if you’re anything like me, each year past 50 has brought more curiosity about how to be healthier. (Better late than never, right?)

With that in mind, this week’s blog posts will focus on health–specifically, healthy eating. We’ll start with talking about: wheat.

‘Enriching’ vs ‘Fortifying’

What exactly is whole wheat? Everyone knows it is better to eat products made with ‘whole wheat’, but exactly what is that? ‘Enriched flour’ or ‘wheat flour’ makes white bread and pastries, while food made with whole wheat is brown. Is this just a color thing? No, it’s more than color: Enriching a food is not the same as fortifying a food. Fortifying is adding something ‘extra’ where enriching is just putting back what was taken out when ‘whole wheat flour’ waswhole wheat grain detail drawing turned into ‘enriched-white flour’.

What is happening here? You might find it pretty interesting to visit a grain of whole wheat on the inside.

Whole Wheat Breakdown

In processing flour, the bran (brown in color, high in fiber) along with the germ is removed leaving the endosperm (the tissue produced inside seeds). Although far from perfect, endosperm is a source of nutrition in the human diet. (Just an aside: endosperm is what forms the bulk of the edible portion of coconut ‘meat’ and coconut water; barley endosperm is the main source of beer production; it’s endosperm that makes corn go POP when the moisture trapped inside is heated.)

So now you know: white flour is made from the endosperm alone . . . no germ, no bran. Without the bran and germ, about 25% of a grain’s protein is lost, along with at least seventeen key nutrients. Processors add back some vitamins and minerals to ‘enrich’ the very product they stripped. It seems unefficient and weird at first glance. So why do they do it?

Why We Un-enrich Wheat

Well, like lots of things in our society (including older people), it mostly comes down to shelf life. Germ is rich in polyunsaturated fats (which have a tendency to oxidize and become rancid on storage) and so germ removal improves the storage qualities of flour. Whole wheat is also more difficult to work with. Bran and germ soak up water which can dry out a loaf and make it crumbly. Germ and bran also add weight to the dough, which can impede its capacity to rise, leading to loaves that can be as dense as my husband when I ask him to help with something.

All these things can be worked around with the right recipes. Further, commercial bread makers have responded to public demand for whole grain products and they are easier to buy today than ever. Be careful to shop for foods with a Whole Grain Stamp or read the ingredients carefully. You can’t just look for the words, ‘Whole Grain’ because there may be miniscule amounts just added to processed flour.

It’s worth the effort to find and eat ‘whole grain’, even though our grains are not what they were 75 years ago. More about that next time.