Baking bread during the pandemic? Time to try heritage flour

By Dory Cooper, Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Certificate student 

This blog is part of a series from the December Arizona Immersive program of the Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Graduate Certificate Program. Students virtually toured the state, meeting with farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, government staff and non-profit leaders. 

We’ve all marveled at beautiful heirloom tomatoes at farmer’s markets, tasted them on plates at farm-to-table restaurants, and may have even attempted to grow in them our own gardens –  but when was the last time you saw heirloom varieties of wheat or grain on display?

We don’t often think about where flour comes from, how it is grown, or what kind of potential it holds to unlock flavors, improve nutrition, and support our soils. 

Jeff Zimmerman, of Hayden Flour Mills, has been thinking about, and mastering, heritage wheat for nearly a decade. Hayden Flour Mills, located in Queen Creek, Arizona, specializes in growing and milling heritage and ancient grain varieties. Simply put on their website, “Hayden Flour Mills is devoted to stone milling heritage and ancient grains because we think that they’re delicious and that they’re better for you and the planet.”

Traditional all-purpose flours have a strong hold on the flour industry and are the primary flour used by home and professional bakers. They are often highly processed, bleached, and supplemented with basic nutrients that have been stripped away during the milling process. 

By using these flours, you are not only missing out on flavors and nutrition, but you aren’t doing the planet any favors either. Growing commodity wheat often utilizes chemical management and intervention, requires a lot of water, and can be extremely hard on the soil. 

Alternatively, Zimmerman describes the varieties grown by Hayden Mills as “better able to adapt to changing climate conditions, requires less water, and has a deep root structure that brings in more nutrients and flavors from the soil.” 

Just as the freshest quality produce is incredibly important to the overall flavor, chefs are beginning to look towards fresh and high-quality flour as well. Hayden Mills grows a hard red spring wheat, a prized bread wheat because of its protein content. To avoid over processing, they also utilize a classic stone milling process to let the unique flavor of each grain shine through.

They are able to provide this flour for local Tempe bakers and a variety of wholesale clients that prefer the flavor and performance of the grain in bread baking.

If you started to hone in on your bread making craft during the pandemic, it is time for you to try incorporating heritage flour! After some practice, you will get a better constructed bread with an especially delicious flavor. Once you get a taste of these delicious grains, there may be no going back to your old ways…

Hayden Mills has an online store to purchase a variety of heritage grains and flours nationwide – you may even be surprised to find a heritage flour mill or farmer near you!