…or “what got us into this mess in the first place?”
First let me tell you a little forgotten history about how we came to have white flour bread in the USA.
When the first settlers started to spread out over the US continent, they usually settled by a river so they could set up a mill to grind their whole grains,usually wheat,oats,rye, and barley,with wheat as the staple. The common mill was made of two large stones that ground the grain between them. They were turned by a large wheel turned by the water power of the river running by. When ever settler came into a new area they alway settled by a river so they could set up a mill and use the water to grind the grain they grew. In those days they knew enough to not grind their grain into flour all at once to last the whole year, but took frequent trips to the mill so they could use up the flour in a week or so and then return for more fresh flour. The miller was a busy man!
On the Mississippi River up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was one of these mills along with others. This large important mill was run by the —- family. Then the railroads linked the country coast to coast and the —— mill got big ideas. If they could ship their flour on the railroad, they could ship it all over the continental U.S. and really make some big money. So they put the plan into action. Since wheat flour starts losing nutrients the minute it is ground due to oxidation of the kernel, their shipped flour was soon quite useless, and people started seeing ill effects in their health. The government got involved at that point and rightly so because people were buying worthless flour that had no nourishment. It was too old and rancid after being loaded onto the railcars and shipped for days and weeks.
The government said they had to stop. So the —– mill took another look at the mess and decided to try another angle; de-germ the wheat and remove all the parts that would go rancid, including the bran and everything but the starch (endosperm), and all the nutrition!. Then add in 4 synthetic vitamins to the flour that resulted. So instead of whole grain flour that contains 15+ vitamins and minerals that are essential to health,and lots of fiber (as much in one slice of ww bread as in 5 loaves of white bread), and the preserved knowledge of how to prepare whole grains,we got white four. I have started calling it cheat-white flour, because it is such an amazing rip off to the whole kernel flour. American people’s health has been going down ever since. Sometime I’ll tell you what has happened to the rest of our food.
With the majority of bakers using white flour, the tradtional way of soaking of the whole grain flour with starter to remove the phytates was quickly forgotten. A few generations later, there is no knowledge of it by the average person in America.
White flour became part of the culture in the USA.
Note: Way back in the 1600’s in France, King Luie the 6th? tried to get the people to change their leavening to beer vat yeast-to modernize he said. The people absolutely refused! They said No! don”t mess with our bread! That is one of the reasons they still make true sourdough bread in Europe to this day.
If one visits a European bakery, one will find both kinds generally. But if you ask for sourdough, they all know exactly what you mean. Generally the old timers will eat nothing but sourdough.