Issue No. 115: Unpeeled—the story of whole grains and whole bananas

Here’s a general rule about good food that can help us all: the longer you keep food intact, the better the flavor will be.

It’s the reason to cut cheese to order from larger wheels instead of selling pre-cut, Cryovac-sealed blocks. It’s why better olive oils are pressed within twenty-four hours of when the olives are picked (because they can go rancid so quickly). It’s why grains like oatmeal and polenta taste best ground with their germ. In almost every case it’s more work and more expensive to do this way, but the payoff can be huge.

It may be on trend to talk about eating ‘naked’ foods, but if it’s flavor you’re after, keep your clothes on.

Freshness is vital

Would you rather have a cup of coffee made from freshly ground beans or one from beans ground months ago? There’s a corollary with flour—freshly ground is better. The natural oils present in freshly milled flours make baked goods more tender and fill them with more intense aromas. The flour we’ve been baking with for decades at Zingerman’s Bakehouse was milled and delivered weekly, which is pretty darn good. Now, for some of our baking, we mill our own flours on our own in-house stone mill. The wait time has gone from seven days to seven minutes.

Our new stone mill has allowed for another huge improvement in our baking: we can now work directly with local farmers to get heirloom grains straight from the grower. Our rye now comes from the Breslin family in Ottawa, IL. Our soft white winter wheat, used in pastries like our pecan blondies and oatmeal cookies, comes from Ferris Organic Farms in Eaton Rapids, MI. We’ve got a half dozen more local grains we’re baking with now, too, and we’re testing new ones all the time. In each case, we bring in the grain whole and grind it into flour ourselves, just moments before we bake with it.

Whole grains are chock full of nutrients

The flours we mill are truly whole grain. Most “whole grain” flour in the US is actually processed like white flour, then has some of the bran added back in. When we mill our own flour, we never separate out any part of it.

What you mill with matters, too. Granite stone mills (like the one we use) don’t heat up like large, industrial steel mills. Heat burns off the oils of the grain, taking most of the nutritious vitamins and minerals—not to mention most of the flavor. It also renders the flour nonperishable. That’s good for shelf life, but bad for flavor. Freshly stone-ground flour crushes the whole grain kernel, releasing all of the nutritious vitamins, minerals, and oils into the flour without cooking them off. The oils are rubbed into the white, starchy portion of the flour, resulting in a more flavorful and nutritious “white-ish” flour that tastes delicious.

We haven’t switched over to milling 100% of our own flour in house ourselves—yet. But month by month, we keep testing recipes for new breads and pastries, or to update classics we’ve made for years to make them even more flavorful. The result is ever bigger and better flavor, but don’t take my word for it. Try for yourself. You really can taste the difference.

Bananas—unpeeled

We no longer peel the bananas for our banana breads. We use the whole thing. I’ll stop there and let that sink in for a moment. It was shocking to me, too. Turns out banana peels are packed with nutrients like Vitamin B6, B12, magnesium, potassium and more. And they don’t hurt the flavor of the finished bread at all. To the contrary, the breads have even more banana flavor thanks to the peels! The less processing—and peeling is processing—the better!