Whole grains are affordable, last longer in storage and can provide excellent flavor and quality, but you can't use these grains to their full potential without a home grain mill.
What is a Grain Mill?
Essentially, the concept remains unchanged from what Ancient Egyptians or even the American colonials used in their day: two rough surfaces (usually stones) grinding against one another to pulverize the wheat or other material into a powder that could be used for baking a truly massive variety of dishes. However, previous generations had to deal with weaknesses that we would find unacceptable, such as millstone grit in their breads that wore down their teeth. Modern grain mills take the essential concept of grinding surfaces and use modern materials and technology to eliminate the weaknesses our forebears dealt with.
Modern grain mills:
- Can be powered either by hand or by electricity
- Use a variety of materials ranging from composite stones to surgical and stainless steel burrs
- Grind a wide variety of materials into highly nutritious ingredients and foods
- Are typically quite durable and portable
Why Do I Need a Grain Mill?
There are a variety of reasons, depending on your focus and needs, to keep a grain mill handy in your kitchen.
Freshly Ground Flour Provides Better Nutrition
Modern flour is a horrid mockery of the flour eaten by even the poorest beggars in olden times. Most of the inner portions of the wheat berry (the parts necessary for the initial burst of nutrition the berry would need if it were being used as seed) are removed in order to keep the flour fresh for weeks on a store shelf, then “enriched” with artificial vitamins to make up the difference. Compare this nutritionally-deficient industrial stuff to good home-ground flour. Since you don't need to keep flour on a shelf in a bag for weeks, you can grind a cup here or there for each loaf or cake as you need it, letting you keep those nutritious portions of the wheat berry in with your flour. You use that nutrient-packed flour to make bread, cakes, and cookies while the rest of your wheat goes back into your pantry, basement or root cellar and keeps for a few more years.
You Can Be More Self-Sufficient (Now and During Emergencies)
There may come a point when those industrial mills no longer spin, no longer grind, no longer produce. There may come a time when our economic or political situation turns dark and it becomes a major undertaking to go to a store and buy food (presuming food is available, of course). In that case, having a grain mill that you can use yourself to grind flour and keep you and your family fed. Furthermore, there is a component that only comes into play after the first few weeks/months of the emergency: taste. It's not just that fresh-baked bread tastes good, it's that it's not “rice and beans and beans and rice and…” over and over again. Grind up some beans and add them to your rice or wheat bread for a rich flavor. Take some of those preserved fruits and veggies and add them to your breads for a nice change from the usual stuff. Morale is important too, and just being able to look forward to a “taste of home” in a warm loaf of nutritious and tasty bread will do wonders.
Have More Uses for the Materials You Grow Yourself
Of course rice and wheat and beans can be grown, but the focus here is on foods that you wouldn't immediately think of. Amaranth, quinoa, almonds, even peanuts can all be ground up in order to create different foods. These foods in particular are why I strongly recommend that you do not just keep the mill stuck in a corner waiting for doomsday. There are so many different thing you can bake, cook, and eat straight from the grinding if you take the time to learn and research them that will improve your meals now and keep your skills sharp for that potential emergency.
Which Home Grain Mill is the Best for Me?
That question only you can answer, since only you know the needs unique to your situation. However, here are the manual grain mills that I've tested personally and my recommendations.
The Victorio Brand (AKA Back To Basics)
The Victorio brand comes in two flavors, the Basic and the Deluxe. The Basic I would say is best suited to be a backup mill, though in a pinch it could be the main mill for a single person. It's bigger brother the Deluxe can be a main mill for a couple, though again I'd rather use it as a backup.
- They grind easily, and the grind gives you good quality bread flour and can also be backed off to grind up grittier stuff if you like cereals and such.
- They both clamp to a sturdy surface using a table clamp on the bottom of the mill for stability.
- They cannot grind whole corn kernels (you'd need to chop them up somehow) and cannot handle hard popcorn at all. I'd primarily use this for wheat or rice, since it cannot handle anything with oil or moisture content.
- If you plan on grinding sprouted wheat be sure to dry it out thoroughly first, or the residue will eventually clog the Victorio mills.
- They come with 2 year manufacturer's warranties, and are excellent buys for the money. However, a family will need a more durable mill since these mills only recommended for occasional small-quantity grinding.
The WonderMill Junior Deluxe
Everyone has favorites in lists like these, and this one is mine: the WonderMill Junior Deluxe is an excellent mix of durability, versatility, and portability.
- The double-clamp it uses for stability is very gentle on my table provided I don't over-crank it
- Fully assembled it weighs about 10 pounds owing to its lightweight aircraft-aluminum body.
- The food-grade coating keeps the aluminum from contacting the food, and since there's nothing that can rust in the grinding mechanism it's easy to clean off flour dust and the like just by running the whole mill under a faucet.
- The best part of the WonderMill Junior Deluxe is the grinding burrs.
The Deluxe comes standard with two sets of burrs: one stone for dry grains like wheat and rice, and the other a stainless steel set meant for oily grains, coffee beans and best of all my beloved fresh peanut butter. It's the only mill that can boast excellent grinding of such a wide range of ingredients, from hard popcorn to oily and gooey peanut butter, just by switching the burrs around for the proper grind. It grinds finely, giving you high-quality bread flour or very smooth peanut butter, and can be backed off to grind coarse if you want cornmeal and other grittier foods. It boasts a limited lifetime warranty which covers everything but the wearable stone burrs and the brass bushings. I'd recommend this mill for anyone, as it covers most needs and will last a long time.
The Country Living Grain Mill
The Country Living Grain Mill is a famous mill, and for good reason: it's one of the largest and most durable mills I've ever used. Weighing in at 20 pounds and covered by a limited lifetime warranty, it is best described as solid. It has been made in the U.S.A. for decades, and for grinding dry grains there is no better mill. It's burrs are the largest I've seen, made of stainless steel and specially designed to get you one of the finest grinds possible on a grain mill. It doesn't include a clamp (though one is optionally available) because most people prefer to bolt it directly to their grinding surface to take advantage of its finely machined grinding mechanism for motorizing with the included pulley. I've seen Country Livings attached to motors or to exercise bikes: the smooth action of the mill makes it excellent for motorizing however you think best. It's only weakness is the oily seeds, as it is rather hit-or-miss with them. Some of the less oily seeds it seems to handle alright, but something like coffee or peanut butter will gum it right up. Overall I'd recommend it strongly for motorization and/or for anyone who wants to grind dry grains.
You may also enjoy:
- 12 Homemade Bread Recipes – Never Buy Bread Again
- Troubleshooting Tips to Help Bake the Perfect Loaf of Bread
- Best Ever Corn Bread Recipe
Also, I DO NOT RECOMMEND BUYING FROM THE COMPANY “ONLY GRAINS MILLS”. While they originally sponsored this post, two readers have now run into problems when ordering from them.