I tend to keep my distance from flash-in-the-pan food trends. Many are over before I can even think about trying to incorporate them into my food life. But when I saw that Peter Reinhart was talking enthusiastically about using sprouted flours to make bread, I paid attention. Peter is one of the most trusted bakers in the country. I admire and respect him. It was pretty apparent to me that if he was talking about the benefits of sprouted flours, I wanted to take a look for myself.
What is sprouted flour? It’s flour made from grain that has sprouted — versus being made from milled whole grain kernels/seeds. The fresh sprouts are then dried and milled into flour. The flour can be baked into breads, crackers, sweet breads, etc. You’ll also see recipes for baked good that are made with fresh sprouted grains (not sprouted flour). In these recipes, fresh sprouts are mashed up and combined with other ingredients to make baked goods. However, the focus of my testing will be on baked goods made with sprouted flours, not fresh sprouted grain. Fresh sprouted grains are a time-consuming and more complicated grow-it, dry-it, and mill-it-yourself enterprise. But you can buy sprouted flours online, store them in the refrigerator or freezer and use them whenever you want (retailers listed below). And as you know, I am a life-is-too-short kind of baker.
The big question for me is this: can I use sprouted gluten-free flours to make the bread recipes from my own cookbooks? And if I can, will they be as good or better than when I make them with the regular whole grain gluten-free flours (millet and sorghum) that I normally use? (See Guide to Flour Mixes here on this blog for more information about my flour mixes).
What are the benefits of sprouted flours?
Advocates claim that foods made from sprouted grains are easier for our bodies to digest and contain more bio-available nutrients. I “geeked” out: I looked for research articles that focused on the nutritional advantages of sprouted grains and flours made with sprouted grains. I found more than enough to satisfy me that the advocates are correct. In fact, one detailed and well-documented treatise on the subject entitled Effect of Germination on Cereal and Legume Nutrient Changes and Food or Feed Value: A Comprehensive Review by P.L. Finney, concluded with this statement:
“In summary, based (1) on nearly 100 years of chemical studies, (2) on about 70 years of corroborative rat and other animal feeding studies, (3) on further corroboration by a few well documented human feeding studies, and (4) on hundreds and in some cases thousands of years of experience by millions of people, it is concluded that carefully controlled, optimal germination of edible cereals and legumes is capable of significantly alleviating today’s food problems and avoiding tomorrow’s food needs.”1
When a (millet, sorghum, wheat, oat, etc.) grain seed sprouts, it becomes a plant. When we eat bread made from sprouted flour, we’re able to digest it as though it were a plant (rather than a grain) with the enzymes in our bodies that break down plants (rather than enzymes in our bodies that break down grain).
According to the Whole Grain Council, the enzyme activity in the growing plant wipes out growth inhibitors used to keep a grain seed a seed (the seed kind of hibernates until it finds the right conditions to grow in) and transforms the long-term-storage starch of the endosperm into simpler molecules that are easily digested by the growing plant embryo. “Just as the baby plant finds these enzyme-activated simple molecules easier to digest, so too may some people”.
In addition to neutralizing enzyme inhibitors, the sprouting process increases the bioavailability of nutrients (vitamins and minerals), and reduces anti-nutrients. My search confirmed this. BUT — The caveat here is that research is needed to confirm the improved bioavailability of nutrients in baked goods made with sprouted flours. As of this writing, I have yet to find a single study that does this -and it wasn’t for lack of trying. (If you find one, please let me know.)
Taste and Ease of Use Benefits
For several years, baking industry professionals and the Whole Grains Council have touted the benefits of (typically wheat-based) sprouted flours, including reduced proof time, a natural increase in dough volume resulting in larger breads, a sweeter taste, and longer shelf life.
According to Peter Reinhart, sprouted flours provide a better baking experience than regular milled flours in terms of taste and ease of use. In his book, Bread Revolution (Ten Speed Press 2014), Reinhart discussed how he was able to use sprouted flours to create flavorful, well-textured artisan breads without performing many of the rigorous steps typically required: no pre-ferment or “long, extended fermentation”, and no extra added sugar and fat. Sprouting reduced the bitterness and enhanced the taste of each grain. Although much of his book focused on wheat-based recipes, it also contained a small number of recipes for gluten-free baked goods crafted with a variety of sprouted gluten-free flours. It’s just that— these weren’t my recipes and they didn’t use my flours — so I was curious: would any of the aforementioned benefits apply to breads made with my recipes with the sprouted flour version of the whole grain flours I use? I decided to find out.
I’ll be presenting several sprouted flour tests using recipes from my cookbooks over the next several weeks: a submarine sandwich bread (from Gluten-Free Baking Classics), a pizza crust (from Gluten-Free Baking Classics), and a Dutch oven “no knead” artisan bread (from Gluten-Free Baking Classics – The Heirloom Collection). The submarine sandwich bread is first.
Submarine Sandwich Bread – Sprouted Flour Test
I used the same easy-to-make the bread recipe that I used in the psyllium husk bread-baking test on this blog in April 2014. And I used it for a similar reason to the one I used then: I needed a bread recipe so simple and basic that the nuances of the effect of the sprouted flours would be obvious to me.
My submarine sandwich bread is such an easy recipe that I use it in “introduction” classes to gluten-free baking. The bread contains only 1 1/2 cups of my bread flour mix, 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum, active dry yeast, water, and a tiny bit of salt, sugar, and olive oil. No eggs. No milk. No other funky gluten-free add-ins – other than the xanthan gum. The recipe reads like a wheat sub bread recipe, except for the flour and the xanthan gum, and it makes a good tasting, golden brown loaf with a nice airy crumb structure. It has a nice slow rise (although the rise isn’t as long as the one in the upcoming Dutch Oven “No knead” test).
And once again, for this test, I shaped the bread a little longer and thinner than a regular submarine sandwich bread and baked it in a 2 1/2-inch wide French bread pan.
I tested four variations:
Version 1 Whole Grain Flour – 1 1/2 cups total, 3/4 whole grain
3/4 cup whole grain flour: 1/2 cup millet flour, 1/4 cup sorghum flour
3/4 starch: 1/4 cup corn starch, 1/4 cup potato starch, 1/4 cup tapioca starch
This is my regular submarine sandwich bread recipe.
Version 2 Sprouted Flour Test – 1 1/2 cups total, 3/4 cup sprouted flour
3/4 cup sprouted flour: 1/2 cup sprouted millet flour, 1/4 cup sprouted sorghum flour
3/4 starch: 1/4 cup corn starch, 1/4 cup potato starch, 1/4 cup tapioca starch
This is my regular submarine sandwich bread recipe made with my Bread Flour Mix – BUT the flour mix is made with sprouted flours instead of whole grain flour using the exact same proportions.
Version 3 Sprouted Flour Test – 1 1/2 cups total, 1 cup sprouted flour
1 cup sprouted flour: 1/2 cup sprouted millet flour, 1/2 cup sprouted sorghum flour
1/2 cup starch: 1/4 cup potato starch and 1/4 cup tapioca starch
In this version I decided to increase the amount of sprouted flour to one cup and decrease the starch to 1/2 cup. I added 1/4 cup of sorghum for a total of 1/2 cup sorghum and removed the corn starch altogether.
Version 4 Sprouted Flour Test – 1 1/2 cups total all sprouted flour
1 1/2 cups sprouted flour: 3/4 cup sprouted millet flour, 3/4 cup sprouted sorghum flour
I tested this with and without the extra 1 tablespoon of water. It needs the extra +1 tablespoon water (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water total)
A bread made with 100% regular whole grain millet and sorghum flour would be dense and compact with very little chew. I wanted to see what my bread would be like if I used 100% sprouted flour and no starch.
The Test Results
I baked each of the four versions two times (eight loaves) and got the same results each time. I sprayed the breads with baking spray, the way I normally do, so that they’d brown nicely (I didn’t do this when I did the psyllium husk test, and so those breads, if you were to compare the pictures, look lighter and less brown). I used Red Star Yeast and Bob’s Red Mill xanthan gum. I used sprouted millet and sorghum flours that I purchased from To Your Health Sprouted Flour Company (see link below).
All four versions rose in about the same amount of time and they all rose to about the same size.
All four versions baked up very similarly. The color and texture of the breads made with sprouted flours (Version 2, 3, and 4) was slightly browner. The outer crust of Version 4 (100% sprouted flour) was slightly crispier. The difference in length you see in the picture here – about 1 inch- is due more to the way I shaped the loaves (sorry!). However, you will notice in the picture below that Version 1 and 2 appear slightly “less puffed”, or a little smaller overall -not including the length. Version 3 and 4 have just come out of the oven. Version 1 and 2 have been out of the oven for about 1 1/2 hours. Version 3 and 4, by the time they were cool enough to slice an hour later, pulled back a bit (deflated) more than Version 1 and 2, which you will see in the next picture.
Here you can really see that Version 3 and Version 4 (the versions with more sprouted flour and less starch) pulled back a bit after they were baked. The difference in height that you see isn’t due to the (relatively small) 1-inch difference in length (i.e. they weren’t simply longer and less high to start). The Version 3 and 4 loaves from the first round had also flattened out slightly, and those loaves were exactly the same length and height when they started. The fact that they pulled back a bit (flattened) surprised me. I’d been hoping the increase in volume that the professional wheat bakers had seen with sprouted wheat flour would apply here. I was also thinking that the versions that had a higher percentage of starch would pull back more, because the starches tends to shrink a bit more than the whole grain after they are baked.
Version 1 and 2 are similar in size. Version 1 had a slightly finer crumb and a slightly golden hue (it had the original whole grain golden hued millet in it). Version 2 looked a bit more rustic and had some slightly larger and more irregular air pockets. Both versions were indistinguishable in taste, equally chewy, and the crusts were similar in texture (despite the slightly darker crust of Version 2).
Version 2 and 3 were similar in color. Even though Version 3 was much denser, the mouth feel was only slightly firmer on the tongue. There wasn’t a real noticeable difference in taste.
Version 4 (100% sprouted grain) is where more significant differences appeared. Like Version 3, Version 4 was denser than Versions 1 and 2. But it was chewier and had a slightly crisper crust than the other versions. It also had a very slightly darker color, although it wasn’t golden hued. And it tasted a little different: the flavor was slightly sweeter and richer tasting. Even though the grain flavor was still as pronounced as in the other versions, it was pronounced in a different way. It was hearty and delicious and we couldn’t stop eating it.
Shelf life on the counter: I tested all four versions for shelf life by leaving them well wrapped in plastic on the counter. As you’d expect when you wrap bread, the crusts all became softer. I was hoping that Version 4 would last longer than the others, and it was, in fact, still soft inside after 24 hours- but the texture had degraded and it was no longer chewy. The other versions (all with starch) were firmer, and even less soft. I wonder if Version 4 would have degraded less if the recipe had contained eggs and more fat like a sandwich bread (the submarine sandwich bread only has 1 teaspoon of olive oil in it).
Freezer shelf life: 2-3 weeks for best flavor. The portion of the loaves that were immediately frozen for several weeks and then reheated in a preheated 350ºF – after being sprinkled with a touch of water and wrapped in foil – were excellent in terms taste and texture.
So what do I think?
Although I still want to do more testing to confirm my conclusions, this submarine sandwich bread test showed me the following:
I can successfully substitute sprouted gluten-free flour equivalents for the whole grain flours in my bread recipes in a cup for cup ratio.
The greater the percentage of sprouted gluten-free flour in the recipe, the denser the bread – just like it is with regular whole grain gluten-free flours.
Sprouted gluten-free flours do not, on their own, produce bread as tender, light and airy as when they are combined with the three starches (potato, tapioca, and corn) in my recipes. In other words, the starches make it possible to craft a tender, lighter, more airy textured gluten-free bread with both sprouted flours — and regular whole grains. But bread made from 100% sprouted gluten-free flour is hearty and delicious nonetheless. I really do think it is possible to use 100% sprouted gluten-free flour (and no starch) to make excellent, albeit heftier, artisan breads.
Only the bread made with 100% sprouted gluten-free sprouted flour stood out as having a slightly “enhanced” flavor and chew, and a slightly crisper crust. The flavor, chew and crusts of the other breads, made with a combination of both sprouted flour and starch, weren’t that different from the bread made with the regular whole grain gluten-free flours and starch.
The shelf life of the breads made with sprouted gluten-free flour was not markedly changed from what it is when the breads are made with whole grain gluten-free flour and starch.
Breads made with sprouted gluten-free flour need xanthan gum for structure and to help support the rise. (But I want to test psyllium husk in a gluten-free sprouted bread and will report back a later date.)
Sprouted Flour Storage Recommendation: Store flour in airtight container for18 months in refrigerator or 24 months in freezer.
Companies that sell Sprouted Flour
To Your Health Sprouted Flour Company sells a variety of sprouted gluten-free flours
Shiloh Farms sells a variety of sprouted gluten-free flours
Lindley Mills sells Organic Super Sprout ™ Sprouted 5 Ancient Grains (buckwheat, sorghum, millet, amaranth, and quinoa) for wholesale only
King Arthur sells Organic Super Sprout ™ Sprouted 5 Ancient Grains from Lindley Mills in 20 pound bags listed under Flours for Professionals
P.L. Finney, Effect of Germination on Cereal and Legume Nutrient Changes and Food or Feed Value: A Comprehensive Review, Chapter Twelve, Recent Advances In Phytochemistry, Volume 17, Mobilization of Reserves in Germination, Plenum Press New York and London 1982
Some interesting reading
Some Industry Sources