The Scoop on Grains: How Did We Get Here?



Photo courtesy Mike & Carol Werner

Over the last two weeks, I’ve briefly shared my own journey when it comes to the way I choose to use and serve whole grains for my family. I explained how I learned about the health risks of store-bought flour, the superiority of fresh-ground flour, and the benefits of soaking whole grains before using them.

This week I want to discuss the history of whole grains. Next week we’ll dive into discussing the nutritional characteristics of whole grains in general. Then, we’ll zero in on specific types of grains and how they differ, beginning with wheat. My plan was to discuss both the history and nutritional information this week but there’s just too much information that I don’t want to leave out, so I’m breaking it into two posts!

An ancient grain mill in Capernaum


Grains of various types have been a staple in nearly every culture since ancient times. Whether it’s rice in the east, corn or millet in Africa, or oats in Europe, grains have been a mainstay in diets around the world for millennia. Historically, most world religions have had a goddess of grain. Ceres, from which our word cereal is derived, was the Roman goddess of agriculture. Ancient grains didn’t bear much resemblance to the highly processed, hastily prepared grain products most of us consume today however. A majority of our ancestors, not having access to fast-acting yeasts like we do today, soaked or fermented their grains before making them into various porridges, breads, cakes, and casseroles, and they knew nothing of the mechanically separated, refined grains that are so common now.

The wheat kernel, as well as other grains, was perfectly designed by God to store the nutrients contained within. Once the whole kernel is broken open, as it is when it’s milled, all the nutrients immediately begin to oxidize. Within 72 hours, 90% of the nutrients are virtually gone. This is why we refer to “daily bread”…it was necessary to make a new supply each day as it didn’t keep well for more than a day or two. Often, the grain was soaked before cooking. Sourdough breads are just one example of commonly used methods of soaking or fermenting grains before yeast was commercially available.


Early 1900s grain mill
(photo credit


Prior to the 1900s, flour was milled locally…either in the home or in local community mills…and baked daily. Only enough flour was milled at a time to meet that day’s needs. In the 1920s new technology allowed millers to separate the wheat components. Removing the germ, germ oil, and bran allowed the remaining “flour” to be stored indefinitely, and the “byproducts” (the most nutritious parts!) could be sold for even more profit as cattle feed (news flash: cattle were NOT designed to digest grain, they were designed to digest grass…but that’s another whole subject!). Similar processes developed for various other grains (“white” rice, pearled barley, etc.).

This advance in technology seemed to benefit nearly everyone: large roller mills could produce huge volumes of flour in a short amount of time to meet consumer demand. Not only was it more efficient but it resulted in more profit for the mill owners and cheap feed for cattle owners. The resulting flour lasted much longer in storage and in the final baked product, which was convenient for consumers.

Soon, however, cases of beriberi and pellagra, both caused by a vitamin B deficiency, began to drastically increase. The new industry’s “solution” was to “enrich” the grain products by adding back synthetic versions of 4 of the nearly 30 vitamins removed in the milling process. From there, the process has continued to snowball as technology has advanced, allowing us to create grain products that are “shelf stable” (i.e. don’t go bad because they are nutritionally devoid…there’s nothing in them left to go bad!), and quick and easy. This is what many consumers want: convenience.

So, has the convenience and increased productivity made possible with this technology been worth the cost? We’ve briefly looked at some of the detrimental results to our health caused by these methods. Next week we’ll look at the nutritional characteristics of whole grains and how the refining process affects them in more detail. In the meantime, don’t miss these related posts:

Sources for most of the information in this post are Sue Gregg’s Breakfasts and Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions.

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  1. Happy Valentine's Day! I'm visiting from the Hip Homeschool Hop. I may try your blender oat pancakes…they sound delicious.I teach U.S. Government and Economics via internet for middle and high school homeschoolers. I'd love to help if needed.http://www.FoundersAcademy.netFree mini-lessons at the web siteMy blog hop post:

  2. Great information!

  3. how is grains formed or grown ????

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