Baking can be confusing nowadays — there are endless amounts of flours available in the grocery aisle, but they may all be one thing missing one thing: flavor.

On a rainy Tuesday morning, I sat down with David Norman, head baker at Austin's Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden, famous for their artisan breads, pastries, and pretzels. I stared at the beautiful cracked loaves, amazed at how different these pieces of art were from what we call "bread" in the grocery aisles. Originally, my purpose of this article was to decode the uses of different types of flours, but after leaving, I realized there was a lot more to choosing flour then picking between "gluten-free," "oat," or "all-purpose."

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Redefining food

In America, we have a lot of diet confusion. Even with the copious amounts of diets available in America, we still remain within the top 15 most obese countries in the world. We get caught up in trends, but the truth is, what's making us obese is not fat, gluten, or carbohydrates. What's making us fat is losing our simple ability to look at food for what it is: food. There is so much beauty to a crafted loaf of bread, a perfectly ripe peach, or a large bushel of kale. By targeting certain foods as "the enemy," we lose sight of where our food is coming from and what we are doing to make food cheap and easily available.

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The basics of flour

After talking to David, he told me, "We need to stop looking at flour as a commodity, but rather, an ingredient." David found his love for baking after studying abroad in Germany. He missed the taste of good quality bread so decided to bake loaves for himself. Basic bread is made from four simple ingredients: flour, yeast, water, and salt. The texture of bread comes from fermentation, when yeast activates with sugar to create carbon dioxide —this provides bread with its fluffiness. Different breads have different tastes and densities according to factors like the type of flour and time spent baking. 

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The most commonly used flour is all-purpose flour, which is made from wheat.  All-purpose flours need to be aged for 28 days before use. Many millers, rather then focusing on the taste or nutrients of the flour, are forced to focus on how much money they can make in a small amount of time. To speed up this aging process, we bleach flour with chemical agents such as chlorine and benzoyl peroxide, taking the natural flavors and nutrients out.

cake, tea, beer, chocolate
Photo courtesy of Central Milling

Go local

David gets his flour fro Central Milling, a flour company who believes in "Working with nature, preserving tomorrow, and providing for today." Rather than thinking about how much money they will make off their product, they focus on sustainability and flavor, two important aspects that usually get lost in the American industry. Buying bread from milling companies such as these can be a lot more expensive, but if consumers start to buy locally from milling companies who actually care about the quality of the products rather than making a profit, quality may not come at such a high price in the future.  In Austin, James Brown is starting Barton Spring Mills, a mill focused on bringing organic, fresh, stone-ground wheat to central Texas. David predicts that in ten years, if consumers and bread makers continue to switch over to local mills that hold flavor as one of their top priorities, good bread won't be as hard to find.
coffee, tea, espresso
Photo courtesy of Central Milling

Things to remember

Whether you're making cookies, pastries, or plain ol' bread, there's a lot more that goes into making the perfect product besides just choosing from packaged flour in the grocery aisle. David's two messages he wanted to leave consumers with were:

1. Think of flour as an ingredient rather then a commodity.

2. Stay away from the fad diets of the 20th century. Don't be afraid to eat bread (or gluten, fat or anything else) — just know where it's coming from.

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So it's up to you, my fellow bread lovers. We have the opportunity to make a difference in the quality of bread for our children. Stop by Easy Tiger, one of the best bread companies in Austin and eat up those delicious carbohydrates.