Factors to consider when buying a grain mill

Dear TEAM: I am interested in buying a grain mill. Can you do a column on these giving advice about them and what to look for when buying and possibly with a price range, etc. — Janise Tytlandsvik, email


Dear J.T.: As the use of ancient grains and organics becomes more popular, milling your own flour increases also. It is easier to find the grains than the flour but also flavour and nutrition are increased when the flour is freshly milled for baking. 


Considerations when choosing a mill include the power source, type of milling mechanism, convenience, heat produced through the process of milling, flour needed to mill and cost of the machine.


Manual mills are for the energetic person because grinding by hand is a workout. The speed of milling is slower so there is little chance of heat buildup, which could damage nutrient content.


If you have a lot of power outages, this may be a better choice. The manual mills attach to a countertop or solid surface like a pasta machine or meat grinder and have a handle to turn. Some can be converted to a pulley system and powered by a stationary bicycle.


Electric mills are simple to use with a press of a button. There are mills that can be powered either manually or with electricity.


A mechanism is required to crush, beat or grind the grain into meal and usually a range of textures from fine to coarse is most desirable. 


Most machines will have a recommended list of grains it will grind. Most do not recommend grinding oily or wet items such as nuts and flax.


There are two basic categories of mechanisms for the home mill: burr and impact.


The burr has two grinding plates, one fixed and the other rotated. Grain is fed into the gap between the grooved plates and the grain is sheared and crushed. Stone plates are also available and are a composite made from compressing natural or artificial stones in a bed of concrete. 


Metal burrs are made from hardened cast steel. The difference is that stone burrs crush the grain and metal burrs break and shear it. A burr machine will be heavier than an impact mill.


Impact mills use two flat stainless steel heads with concentric row of teeth that spin at high speeds. Grain drops into the teeth and is hammered rather than ground. This type usually makes a fine flour.


As milling time or speed increases, it raises the temperature of the flour. This in turn risks damaging the nutrients and gluten. 


If you do not plan to use the flour immediately, it is suggested that you let the flour cool to room temperature before packaging. If it is not allowed to cool, it may mould. Temperatures of 112 to 115 F (44 to 46 C) are the upper limit to reduce the risk of nutrient damage because gluten is damaged at temperatures above 122 F (50 C) and destroyed at 167 F (75 C).


I do not own a flour mill and have only two friends who do. One only mills wheat while the other mills a variety of grains.


The Nutrimill is an impact mill that can grind from fine to coarse. It grinds at 118 F (48 C) and will grind all grains and beans but not oily seeds and grains. It is 11 x 13 (28 cm x 33 cm) and has a removable hopper for easy storage in a cupboard. It is low dust, self-cleaning and has a 22-cup (5.2 L) capacity.


The amount of money you spend is directly related to how frequently you plan to use the mill. Prices range from $250 to $1,000 or more.


Soft grains like red fife grind much faster than hard grains like kamut and spelt. The harder grains will take longer to grind and cause concern for heat buildup. 


Larger quantities milled at one time will also raise concerns of heat buildup.


One important note is that you will have whole grain flour. Most grocery store flour is enriched with the bran and germ removed. These two parts are nutritious. 


The wheat germ oil will go rancid so it is better if wheat flour is milled just before use. If desired, the bran can be removed by sifting.


Making a choice requires defining your needs and doing the research. Think about how much flour you mill. If it is more than basic household amounts, you may need to look at a commercial model. 


Consider your storage space. Do you want to haul up a heavy machine from the basement every time you mill flour? Also consider your budget.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. She writes a blog at allourfingersinthepie.blogspot.ca. Contact: [email protected]

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