Why Whole Grain Chips and Crackers? A Baker’s Dozen reasons

I wrote my book Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers because my friends and family said they didn’t know how to add more whole grains to their diet.  They imagined cooking with whole grains meant spending hours watching dough rise and periodically pounding the hell out of it.  I’ve been baking whole grain goodies with home-milled flour for ten years now. Crackers are one of the easiest things to make, so I wrote this book to get people started.

  1. Whole grains are delicious.   In addition to wheat flour, there’s amaranth, barley, buckwheat, brown rice, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, spelt, teff, triticale, and wild rice flours you can mill at home, buy online and find at many grocery stores.
  1. The variety of ingredients, flavors, and toppings is endless.  You can use any kind of flour — not just whole grains but corn, bean, and any of the other grains above, even oatmeal.  Add eggs, milk, and nuts for extra protein.  Use your favorite spices and sauces for additional flavor.
  1. Lose weight. You’ll feel full longer because whole grains have fiber and complex carbohydrates. White flour converts swiftly to sugar, making you hungry again soon.  You can make crackers without any fat at all.  My crackers have less than half the calories in best-selling cookbooks.
  1. Fast and easy!  You can get crackers into the oven in less than 5 minutesNo wasted time spent chilling and rolling out dough full of fat.  No more big mess to clean up.  This method doesn’t need rolling, has no fat, and clean-up is a snap.
  1. Many uses.   Crunchy garnish on stews, vegetables, and desserts, or croutons on salads.  Smear with peanut butter topped with bananas or jam for breakfast. Puree to make bread crumbs.  Take on picnics, camping, or backpacking trips. They’re around for healthy snacks, instant party appetizers when paired with cheese or dip, or a school lunch treat.  
  1. Save Money.  Home baked whole grain crackers are much cheaper than store bought, as low as twenty-five cents.
  1. Whole grains are healthy.  The March 2008 issue of Consumer Reports says that eating whole grains is the #1 action you can take to improve your health (besides quitting smoking).  Repeated studies over decades have shown that whole grains can reduce your risk of stroke by up to 36%, heart disease by up to 28%, and Type 2 diabetes up to 30%.  Whole grains also reduce your risk of getting asthma, inflammatory disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and much more.
  1. Food made with white flour is unhealthy.  White flour has been stripped of nutrition.  This ought to be a crime!  The bran and germ parts of wheat kernels have been removed, which contain most of the fiber, essential healthy oils, vitamins, minerals, and a quarter of the protein.

What remains is the starchy endosperm which quickly converts to sugar, one of the main reasons why people are overweight.

This isn’t likely to change because grocery stores, restaurants, bakers, and the food industry like white flour since it can sit on shelves for years.  Millers love white flour even more, because they make twice as much selling the flour twice — white flour for human food and the good stuff — the bran and germ — for animal feed. Your pets may be eating better than you are!

Rats fed on white bread have died, so the missing nutrition is a big deal.  Bread used to be called the staff of life because you could live off of it.  Civilization only became possible because of grain, which could be stored for many years so people survived bad harvest years.  For most of civilized history, bread comprised 70% of people’s diets.                   

Because flour is milled into a starch, it no longer behaves or tastes like flour, so up to 30 chemicals are added.  These chemicals stabilize, soften, and extend the already long shelf life of white flour.  Bakers often add a lot of sugar and salt to hide the chemical taste of white flour, and fat as well, to keep you coming back for their products.

David Kessler, in “The End of Overeating”, interviewed a food expert who told him that more than any other kind of food, bread and crackers have a lot more hidden salt, sugar, and fat than people realize.

  1. Bake with whole grains because you can’t be sure you’re buying a whole grain product, despite the label. 

Those expensive, artisan crackers at the fancy markets are almost all made from white flour.  Organic wheat flour is not whole wheat flour. It’s white flour.  If you see wheat listed without “whole”, then the brown color is fake – made from caramel food coloring or molasses.

Not one of the following is whole wheat:  organic wheat flour, enriched, unbleached, multi-grain, mixed grain, hearty grain, 9 grain, cracked wheat, stone ground, bran, wheat germ, bromated, sprouted wheat.

You can’t buy crackers like the ones in this book at any price!  And certainly not for 25 cents. The few whole grain artisan crackers that exist are over six dollars, because by the time you’ve paid wages, bought industrial equipment, rented kitchen space, packaged, marketed, and delivered the crackers to a store, they have to cost that much to make any profit.

I’m especially miffed at expensive bakery and artisan products, because they imply righteous local nutritious food. But it’s just a lot of money for Wonder bread that looks and tastes better.

Manufacturers get away with this because there aren’t any rules about labeling food whole grain.  The USDA and FDA don’t have the staff or budget to go after false claims.  Even expensive bread bakeries falsely advertise their products.

You have to be a food detective to figure out if a product has whole grains.   If the first ingredient is “whole wheat” or “whole meal” then it’s at least 51% whole grain, but as little as 1% if it’s the second ingredient on the list.   It used to be possible to tell if a product was really whole grain by the higher fiber content (3 grams or more per serving), but now manufacturers are adding wood pulp (cellulose or MCC on the ingredients list), psyllium, and bran to boost fiber and appear to be a healthy product.

Some manufacturers have paid the Whole Grains council to put their stamp on their products. There are 3 levels – but only the stamp that says 100% whole grain has no white flour in it.

Most of the real whole grain breads will be in the freezer at the grocery store, because the healthy oils in flour can go rancid sitting on the shelf, and bread stales quickly.

Great Harvest is the only bakery that makes mainly whole grain breads and posts their ingredients on the internet.

  1. Grains are almost a quarter of the USDA food plate (formerly the food pyramid). Whole grains, vegetables, and fruit are what you’re supposed to eat the most.  Grain is the most nutritionally dense food on earth.
  1. You can only eat so many calories a day— so make them count!
  1. Wheat and Gluten-free crackers.  Crackers can be made from non-gluten flours:  corn, garbanzo, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, brown rice, oats, quinoa, and soy.  If you have a flour mill you can make your own bean flour.
  1. Prepare your family for emergencies. Whole grain wheat flour is packaged so it won’t go rancid for about a year, and oatmeal lasts about two years.  Buy enough to last several weeks to make quick nutritious meals until electricity and other services are restored.

Better yet, buy the grains themselves and mill them at home with a Family Grain Mill, Nutrimill, or mill attachment to your standing mixer into whole grain flour or flakes (oatmeal).  Grains stored whole, as seeds, can last for 10 to 25 years if stored optimally.  The Family Grain Mill often comes with a free manual attachment – useful if there’s no electricity.

A grain mill will quickly pay for itself, and the health benefits of multi-grain fresh flour are priceless.  The fresher the flour, the better the nutrition and flavor.  If you grind more than you need for a recipe, store the remainder in the freezer or refrigerator.

Grains are still alive – this is like squeezing fresh orange juice, picking lettuce from your garden, getting in touch with your roots – grains made civilization possible and your ancestors back to hunter-gatherers, ate them.  If you buy from local farmers you can support the farm-to-plate, slow and local food philosophies to make agriculture more sustainable.

About Alice

I've milled and baked with whole grains for many years, because whole grains are delicious, and white flour is missing the nutrition that protects you from cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and many other diseases. Plus it's a good emergency food.
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