REAL™ Wheat—Second in the “Real 7”of Sourdough

REAL™ Wheat—Second in the “Real 7”of Sourdough

Real wheat is Part II of a seven-part sourdough bread class at Abigail’s Oven taught by Martha Levie.

  1. REAL™Yeast
  2. REAL™ Wheat (this post)
  3. REAL™ Nutrition
  4. REAL™Water
  5. REAL™ Salt 
  6. REAL™ Flavor
  7. REAL™World Tradition

This course centers on the seven real things you need to make wholesome, nutritious bread at home. You can read about making real yeast with a sourdough starter in Part 1 here.

In this post we are talking about flour from real wheat. You may ask, “Isn’t all wheat real?” 

In colonial times, people started realizing that gluten was the substance that holds bread together. You can’t find it in beans, it is not in oats, but this protein is abundant in bread.

From that point, bakers said, “If a little gluten is good, a lot of gluten is great.” Farmers and scientists started hybridizing grains to have higher and higher gluten content. The first problem with most flour today is that it has been changed significantly through hybridization. 

The second problem actually came in the aftermath of World War II, when much of  Europe was in ashes. People were starving. In the USA, meanwhile, we had come up with a lot of new farming technology. 

So as a country, we said, “You know what? America can feed the world, but to do that, we need to make farming more lucrative. People who farm have to be able to make good money. 

“Forget the family farms that have a few hundred acres where you grow a whole bunch of things,” they said. “We’re just going to focus on massive industrial farms that grow tons of one thing—corn, soy, or wheat. We’re going to ramp up our grain production because we’ve got to feed the world to end starvation.”

These were pretty good motives. The problem is, they started hybridizing grain at a more intense rate. Note, this wasn’t genetic modification yet. I’m just talking about the natural process of hybridizing where you take one strain and combine it with another strain to produce a new variety. 

The new strain had 95% of the characteristics of its parent grain, but 5% was unique to the new wheat. And that 5% is not a huge deal, until the hybridization process was repeated more than 20,000 times

These new strains of grain where not tested on animals or studied to make sure they were edible. Researchers just assumed that they were making food better. 

These grains were hybridized to be drought resistant, pest resistance, pesticide resistance, and to have more kernels on the stalk. While this increased yield, the grain heads started falling over under their own weight. The stalks could not support them. 

Older strains of wheat are about three feet tall, like in songs whose lyrics include waving fields of grain. If you’ve seen today’s fields of wheat, the stalks are only 18 inches tall. They’ve been hybridized to be shorter to support the more massive heads. This new kind of grain was dubbed “dwarf wheat.” 

When you are shopping, look for non-dwarf wheat. Modern dwarf varieties (which are 95% of the world’s supply and the kind we have shipped to starving countries) now have a new type of gluten. This gluten degrades into several morphine-like substances, named gluten exorphins. These were not found in the older strains. 

Gluten exorphins cross the blood-brain barrier and give you a little addictive buzz. They are also not digestible, so you get a feeling of bloating in your gut and a fuzzy “grain brain” feeling in your head. This gluten, of course, is not as strong as morphine or cocaine, but it’s similar in how it affects our minds. And that is why wheat is in almost all packaged foods. It’s cheap, and it’s addictive

Researchers find we’re eating 440 more calories a day with this modern wheat than we did in the past. You have probably felt its power when you are grocery shopping and are drawn to the pastry section. 

That’s me: “Oh, I think I want a croissant or something.” And then I can’t stop. You can’t eat one bagel; you have to have two or eat a cookie, or something like that.

It is a big problem because many more people are having digestive issues from refined, white flour than in the past. More autoimmune diseases have sprouted up from this too.

Doctors respond by saying, “Well, don’t eat wheat, it is toxic. Don’t eat it.” 

But that can’t be true! People have survived on this grain for thousands of years. 

The modern pioneers that came west and settled this area didn’t say, “Oh no, no, I can’t eat wheat. It doesn’t agree with me.” If they didn’t have wheat, they would have starved. It was their staff of life

But knowing the history of wheat, you can see why people are starting to say that they can’t tolerate it. Number one, we’re not fermenting our grain with real yeast. And number two, we’re not using real wheat. We are using dwarf varieties that have been changed and manipulated. And that’s not even getting into genetic modification, which is a whole other animal. 

Abigail’s Oven only uses old-strain wheat that does not have the morphine-like protein strand in it. Now don’t panic if you have a basement full of it like so many other folks in Utah who store wheat.

Yes, it is most likely dwarf wheat, so you might say, “I can’t just replace that, what am I going to do?” The answer is simple, you’re going to ferment it with a sourdough start.

Fermenting modern wheat will still give you great benefits that you won’t get by using it by itself. So don’t despair. Do your best and pray over the rest. Ferment your grain to take care of some of the side effects of dwarf wheat and work to replace your old wheat with good wheat as you are able.

We are actually making strides in understanding the difference between ancient and modern wheat because of a discovery in the early 1990s. German tourists discovered a man in the Ötztal Alps, (hence his nickname “Ötzi“), on the Austrian-Italian border encapsulated in ice at 10,500 feet (3,210 meters). He was preserved well enough for research. 

They found this frozen mummy was thousands of years old. They studied everything about the fibers in his clothes and eventually dissected him. In his gut, they found a meal that included grain and concluded it was an ancient wheat strain.

This ancient strain was not like our modern grain. It was a different shape, and it only had 14 chromosomes compared to the 42 modern wheat has. It had different gluten content, a different flavor, and a different look.

 They named this grain einkorn, a German word for “single grain,” and it is the most ancient wheat known to man. Researchers have been able to study einkorn and compare it to our modern, over-hybridized wheat.

The difference was amazing, but if you make bread with einkorn, you will notice you’re not going to get quite the rise you would normally. That is because the gluten content is different. 

Einkorn is very delicious, and it’s very, very good for you. Lots of people with limited gluten tolerance, even if they don’t ferment einkorn, can eat this grain because it’s not as altered as our modern wheat. 

So if you want real, healthy bread, you’ll need to get real wheat to start.

(Next Monday, look for part three in this series: The Real 7 of Sourdough Bread—Real Nutrition.)

Have a good day,

Martha Levie


Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.