These California Grain Geeks Want to Boost Your Immune System With True Whole Wheat

But that’s not necessarily what’s on your local supermarket shelf

Closeup of a round, dark brown loaf of bread on a wooden surface.
Closeup of a round, dark brown loaf of bread on a wooden surface.
A loaf from The Mill, made by Josey Baker in San Francisco. Photos: Kate Robertson
The exterior of Oliveto in Oakland, California.

‘Why not eat something that has four times the amount of zinc as the same product made with only white flour?’

Upper left to right: The exterior of Boichik Bagels in Berkeley, California, opening week; Emily Winston, owner of Boichik Bagels. Lower left: Fritz Durst of Fritz Durst Farming and Tule Farms in the Sacramento Valley during a late July wheat harvest; lower right, Paul Muller, left, of Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley, talking to Bob Klein of Community Grains.

To get the ‘whole wheat-looking’ flour on grocery shelves, some of the bran is added back in. But to call this ‘whole wheat’ is a joke.

That not all “whole wheat” is equal was made clear by a new study out of the University of California, San Francisco, which looked at whole wheat in select commercial brands, including King Arthur and Gold Medal, compared to standard all-purpose white flour. The difference, when it comes to our health, could be significant.

Dr. David Killilea standing in a laboratory, in front of a desk with shelves with Bob’s Red Mill flour and testing equipment.
Dr. David Killilea standing in a laboratory, in front of a desk with shelves with Bob’s Red Mill flour and testing equipment.
Dr. David Killilea, of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute.

‘Priority should be making the product as healthy as possible by keeping the original proportions, and having an honest product.’

Why is it OK that a bag of grocery store flour billed as whole wheat contains something other than whole wheat in almost half the bag in some cases? In the letter he wrote to the editorial staff of the Journal of Food Science last fall, Killilea reminded reviewers that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “states that flour just needs 51 percent whole grain to be called whole wheat. For wheat-based foods, it is even more unclear, with insiders suggesting some whole wheat products may often contain little whole grain. Currently, there are no independent tests to determine the whole grain level in a wheat product.”

A field of grains.
A field of grains.
Grain from Fritz Durst’s fields.
Upper left to right: The Mill, a collaborative bakery cafe in San Francisco by Josey Baker Bread and Four Barrel Coffee; right, Josey Baker inside The Mill; and lower center, sesame whole wheat on a shelf at The Mill.

These grains can be easier for home bakers to handle and let us cast off the idea that whole wheat bread is the heavy and dense loaf we associate with ‘70s-era hippie food.

Still, some bakers are trying to meet people where they are. The New York Times recently reported how a collective of 40 or so bakeries, connected to The Bread Lab, are having trouble selling whole wheat bread that doesn’t look like the squishy, pre-sliced, plastic-wrapped versions in the grocery store.

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