Amadeo Grappi, a young artisan producer of organic stone ground flour and pasta at the Mulino Di Val D’Orcia in Tuscany, gave me a clear explanation for the rise in gluten intolerance and loss of nutritional value in wheat products. As he says in this video, the problems arise from two things: the use of modern wheat varieties and the way the wheat is ground into flour.
First, modern wheat varieties contain more gluten and gluten with different characteristics.
Why? Gluten is composed of two proteins:
– one that gives dough elasticity and causes it to rise higher faster and another and
– one that gives the dough strength to hold firm when cooked.
Almost all producers worldwide use modern varieties with MORE gluten and MORE of the first protein.
This means they can make MORE bread, pasta, cakes, etc. with LESS flour FASTER.
That increases profit margins.
BUT also wreaks havoc on the human intestinal system.
Amadeo’s flours has a “W” value (gluten level) of 50 while Manitoba, the most common American/Canadian variety typically has a “W” value of 400.
Modern varieties also lack the lipids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals of the traditional ones that Amadeo uses. They have been altered to grow faster and make more grain (again for higher profits). Many will not produce any grain unless the farmer treats them with commercial fertilizers. Most modern varieties grow from so-called “suicidal” seeds, meaning that they produce only for one year. This requires the farmer to buy new seeds annually.
Amadeo farms organically with varieties that are low in gluten, rich in nutritional and health value and that naturally propagate year and year, requiring no chemical treatments or fertilizers.
NB: All of this sounds remarkably like forcing vines to produce more grapes with “modern agriculture” and forcing fermentation with commercial yeasts, temperature controls and other methods. Production and profits go up, but often sulfite levels have to go up as well. In “natural” wine, there may be naturally occurring or a tiny amount of added sulfites (usually less than 30mg/liter) but levels of 150 mg/liter for red and 200 mg/liter for white are allowed and often found in other wine.
Secondarily, in the 60s, modern stainless steel mills replaced stone grinding mills that had been used for millennia. Instead of grinding the entire grain (the outside cover of bran and germ along with the gluten and starch inside), the modern mills, strip off the bran and germ (filled with minerals, flavor and nutritional value) before grinding.
A stone ground mill like Amadeo’s grinds the entire grain, then, sifts out the grades according to coarseness. The finest grain falls down into the sack furthest to the left, moving all the way to the bran and germ that falls down furthest to the right. Some of the minerals, extra flavor and nutritional value from the bran and germ still goes into the flour, giving it a darker color than highly refined, modern flour.
Amadeo’s flour comes from two kinds of wheat, a variety from the 1900s called Signatore Capelli for Grano Duro (Hard–with more of the firmness protein) and a rustic, Tuscan variety called Tenero Verna for Grano Tenero (Soft–more of the elasticity protein).
If he simply grinds the wheat, out comes whole wheat flour. But as the wheat is ground, it can be separated into three gradations of flour displayed in bowls in the photo below moving left to right: #1, #2, and Semola/Semolina (plus Bran/Germ at the far right). Each product is good for making certain kinds of things…Grano Tenero #1 for cakes, Grano Duro Semola or Whole Wheat for making pasta, etc.
In a study conducted at the University of Florence, Amadeo’s “soft” flour (from the Tenero Verna variety) had a .9% gluten content compared with 14% on average among commonly used modern varieties. The same study found that the antioxidants, flavonoids and minerals in this traditional variety actually lowered cholesterol levels within several months.
Amadeo mills the wheat that his father has grown organically (since 1992) in fields surrounding or within a few kilometers of the mill. The simple, stone building was once used by his grandfather to store tractors and other farm tools.
In this video, he talks about his family and how he and his father founded the Mulino di Val D’Orcia
and became pasta makers.
I happened in on the day that the big pasta machine was making wide pasta.
Some pasta is sold fresh, but most is air-dried on wooden racks, and then, hand packaged.
And sold right in the shop.
Visiting the Mulino Di Val D’Orcia inspired me to start making bread and homemade pasta, something I never imagined I would do. I learned that one secret to Italian bread making is to add pasta madre (literally “mother pasta”) as well as yeast. The pasta madre is similar to sourdough in that it’s actively fermenting dough, but it’s not sour. A friend gave me some that I now keep in the fridge and “feed” each week with water and flour when I take some out to make bread. Recipe coming in the next post.
If you’re interested in planning a trip to Tuscany and visiting the Mulino D’Orcia or other artisans in the area, contact Eleanor at email@example.com.