The Flour Revolution: A Delicious, Sustainable Future for Whole-Grain Bread

An upcoming documentary looks at the new state of wheat farming in the United States.
Nov 4, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

The latest idol of the farm-to-table restaurant world looks far more humble than the exotic curves of an heirloom tomato or an acorn-fattened heritage pork chop. It’s a kernel of wheat, but what may look simple on its surface—just a grain, just the flour it’s milled into—is far more complex and fascinating than its appearance belies. As chef Dan Barber says in the trailer for the upcoming documentary The Grain Divide, “Wheat is Western civilization. Wheat is who we are.”

Although it's perceived as a dietary villain in its modern form, wheat is historically, rightfully associated with the staff of life. But an entire system of farming surrounds its production—one that’s divorced this staple from its historic ability to pack nutrition and flavor. However, thanks to a collaborative spirit that’s developed between wheat breeders, farmers, chefs, and bakers, something of a grain revolution is brewing in the United States.

It’s about time. During the years when arugula, kale, grass-fed beef, quinoa, and other ingredients were being pushed by consumers and growers toward sustainability, all-purpose flour largely remained the same. “It’s appalling that we have neglected grain to the degree that we have,” says Cooks County pastry chef Roxana Jullapat.

There’s more at stake than flavor. Unlike modern commodity grain, the heirloom wheat and new varieties being bred for flavor tend to be hardier too—subsisting without irrigation, chemical fertilizers, and the other ecologically damaging inputs that industrial farms depend on. There isn’t just better bread on the other side of the grain divide—this new approach promises a more environmentally sustainable future too.