Hi, Marci here. You may have noticed my name pop up as the author of certain blog posts over the last couple of years.
I’m introducing myself because you’re about to hear my voice in an interview with an incredible Irish producer: Lisa Larkin of Durrow Mills.
Get a peek inside Durrow Mills
I spoke to Lisa pre-COVID, so you won’t hear it mentioned in our conversation. Hooray! A little escape from current news!
What I think you’ll find interesting is Lisa’s description of the sprouting process, why sprouted flour is healthier than normal flour, and her ideas for using it in sweet and savoury cooking and baking.
If the pandemic has brought about any positive change, it’s that many of us are taking refuge in the kitchen, and getting great satisfaction out of baking projects.
Find out how to use sprouted flour
Listen to the podcast, and consider this your invitation to start experimenting with sprouted flours.
I can tell you based on my own experimentation that they’re easy to work with, they smell and taste wonderful, and I never have that heavy, sometimes bloated feeling that I get when I eat baked goods made with normal flour.
If you’d rather read than listen, you’ll find the interview transcript below.
Lisa said she'd be happy to answer questions about sprouted flour; find her contact details here.
Enjoy and happy baking!
Try these lovely recipes with sprouted flour
Our chat with Lisa Larkin of Durrow Mills
Marci: Just to get us started, for someone who has never come across sprouted flour before, how do you describe it to them?
Lisa: So sprouting is a completely unique process compared to unsprouted normal flour. Normally flour is milled from grain harvested directly from the field, but with sprouted flour what we actually do is we add an extra three or four days processing into the flour.
We take the grain—so we only use organic grains because they work best for sprouting—and we take the grain and we soak the grain for a period of time to rehydrate it, and then we drain off that water, and we let the grain then start to germinate or grow.
And what we look for is that there's a shoot that starts to poke through the grain, so you can see a little shoot coming out of the grain. And that's when we know that the grain is activated and has started to grow.
And then what we do is, once it’s at the correct stage of germination, we then dry the grain very gently, at a very low temperature over a long period of time. And what this does is this halts the germination and it also brings the grain back to nearly the same moisture level as when we took the grain in.
Then we mill the grain into flour using our stone mill. Stone mills actually mill at very low temperatures, so that also preserves all the nutrients that are in the grain.
This process is a way of preparing your grains, and preparing grains is actually really, really important. It's actually something that was always done traditionally and years ago right before modern, I suppose, processing methods came in. Sourdough fermentation is another way of preparing your flour.
The reason for this is that grains contain components like phytates that are naturally occurring in grains to stop them from germinating until the conditions are right. When the grain germinates, these phytates start to break down and the grain effectively changes, its properties change. So it becomes—now, this is this is in literature and the papers that I’ve looked at, we haven't verified this ourselves—it becomes easier to digest because phytates are quite hard on the system. And (sprouting) also allows more nutrients available for the body as well. A lot of people really see the benefits and feel the benefits of eating sprouted grains and seeds and pulses and nuts.
Marci: So it really is a return to a traditional way of preparing grains.
Lisa: Yeah, it’s just going back— a lot of people now say that they have mild digestive issues after eating bread or it just doesn't really agree with them. But I suppose a lot of it is down to just we need this we need this step in bread making, be it sprouting or long fermentation process in the bread making to actually to help the flour to become more digestible and easier to absorb. This is just going back to traditional ways of producing our flour.
Marci: And you said organic grains are better for sprouting. Why is that?
Lisa: Well, it was just interesting when I started working with the sprouting, I actually just started doing it for myself and my family. And initially I tried and non-organic grains. And I just found them very difficult to work with because the grains that I was using weren't sprouting uniformly. Some weren’t sprouting at all. Some were sprouting at different times.
And you need the grain to sprout at the same time across the board, because it's a very tricky process in that if you let the grains grow too much, then it doesn't really work as a flour. So you need the grains to sprout all at the same time at the same rate.
We found with conventional grains that this just didn't happen. So we moved to organic.
Marci: And you've said, according to people giving you feedback on the literature out there, there's definitely evidence that sprouted grains digest differently than conventional flour. What are some other differences?
Lisa: Well, the taste is slightly sweeter from the sprouting process. So some of the starches and simple sugars are changed. So that just makes (the flour) a little bit sweeter.
Also the gluten content is supposed to lower slightly as well with the sprouting. So when you bake with it, you just use it the same as normal in your ordinary recipes. But it can sometimes be just a little bit denser than ordinary flour. And this is just because the gluten content can be a little bit lower.
Because we stone mill, all of our flours are whole grain flours. So all the bran is still left in the flour. And this can also make it just a little bit heavier than a white processed flour.
And we don't bleach our flours either, they’re fully natural. So they would have a cream appearance when you use them.
Marci: Right. And I have a few boxes of the flours here. And to look at it, it just looks like a normal whole grain flour. It doesn't look like something completely different. So there's nothing to be intimidated by.
Lisa: No, no. It’s actually surprisingly light when you think about it, because really, it is the whole grain. A lot of people are surprised how light it is, they think it should be a really heavy, coarse brown flour. But it's actually not. It's very versatile.
And particularly there is our finer miled (flour)– I use it for everything I make like white sauces, pancakes, cakes, everything. It's very easy to use. You just use it in your recipes and work away.
Marci: And what made you interested in the first place to start—even before you started the business—what made you interested in sprouting your own grains?
Lisa: Well, I suppose I always had an interest in nutrition and particularly for my family. We just had a few issues in our family surrounding digestion. So I was always looking at various things that were said to be easier on the system, nutritious and healthy.
I came across this flour in the states and I thought it sounded really interesting. I tried to buy it in Europe and I couldn't get it anywhere. This was back in 2015. I have a science background myself, and I said, ‘oh, sure, I might give this a go.’ I suppose the rest is history.
Lisa: I just really got into it. I just thought it was such a fantastic process and really loved making it. I started doing it then for friends and family.
I was also working. I had a long commute to work, and I was thinking about maybe trying to do something locally. I live in quite a rural area and there wasn't really much opportunity to carry on the career that I was in at the time.
I decided then to take the plunge and start up Durrow Mills. It’s really just gone from there, thankfully. We’re expanding now all the time. We've got these three new products launching.
Marci: Yeah, talk a little bit about those.
Lisa: Yeah. So we have two products at the moment: the organic sprouted fine wheat and then we've organic sprouted coarse wheat. We've expanded it now to bring in an organic sprouted buckwheat, sprouted rye, and also a new sprouted baker’s mix which is actually a blend of sprouted and unsprouted flours. They're all organic, but they give a little bit of a lighter blend for some people that were requesting it.
We sell a lot of these flours already into bakeries. So we just decided that we would make them available now on the retail side as well.
It's been a long time coming because our original products are in pouches and we decided that we wanted to move away from the pouches and move to fully recyclable packaging. It was quite a challenge to actually do that. It wasn't as easy as we had initially thought, but we're quite happy now with what we've arrived at.
Marci: That's great. I made the chocolate brownies with the sprouted rye flour over the weekend and they were really good.
Lisa: Brilliant! Yeah, they're quite a favourite recipe with a lot of people.
Marci: The salt and the chocolate and the rye just all go together so well.
Lisa: Yeah, it works out quite well. And I suppose I wanted to show that rye isn't just a bread flour that you can actually use rye in different ways. So I think that's why I kind of went with that recipe on the box.
On the new packaging we have these cut-out recipe cards, so I hope that will also help people. A lot of people are asking me for recipes, even though I just say use (the flour) in whatever recipes you use yourself. But I think people like getting new recipes anyway. So we might try as we print different boxes, maybe change around the recipes a bit.
Marci: Oh yeah, that would be nice.
Lisa: We also have a website—I'm going to try and get a few more recipes changed onto that as well and update them frequently to give people new ideas.
Marci: Yeah, that would be a great resource. Speaking of recipes, what would you suggest—maybe to someone who is a bit intimidated by baking in general if they were just starting out to use your flours—what recipe would you suggest they start with?
Lisa: Well, I always think you can't go wrong...I make pancakes all the time. They're just so easy. You just pretty much throw the flour, egg, bit of salt, and milk into a bowl and whisk it up and just pour them in the pan. So you can't really go wrong with that.
Another one is cookies as well. Cookies are quite easy to make. There's an oat cookie recipe on our website, which is really nice.
And actually, our baker’s mix now is a great flour for pizza. Everyone thinks pizza is so hard to make, and it's actually super easy. There's a nice little recipe on the baker’s mix box for homemade pizza, which taste so much better than the frozen pizzas.
Marci: Oh yeah. And for someone that's more advanced and more experienced as a baker, what would you challenge them to try?
Lisa: Well, I suppose it’s really what you favour, you know, is it sweet sweet or savoury? There's the brown bread. The coarse wheat makes a great brown bread. I think we have that on our website.
What else do I like to make? I've actually tried making an tortillas and they’ve worked out quite nicely with the flour—just to wrap up or eat with a curry or something like that, you can dip them in.
I think it's just probably a mindset. You just need to get yourself a recipe and just try it out a few times and the more you do it, it gets easier and easier. Because I would never have said I was a baker when I started, but you just have to do a bit of trial and error.
Marci: A lot of our Organico audience are people with children. And have you, with kids of your own,have you met any resistance from them in transitioning from normal flour to organic sprouted grain flour?
Lisa: You know what? I was surprised when I first started using it that they didn't really notice as much as I thought. I made fairy buns and things like that for them, and I thought that they would really notice, but they actually didn't.
We make pancakes every morning—that would generally be our breakfast—and they're very happy. They didn't really notice the transition from going from the white flour to the, I use the fine-milled flour.
I just recently started doing the buckwheat pancakes for them. And I wasn't sure whether they would like them, but yeah—it's kind of funny.
I think maybe parents—this is from myself, from my own experience—I worry too much when I'm trying to get healthy food for my kids that they're going to reject it. And, you know, sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised that they actually are a lot more accepting than I think. Yeah, they're quite happy with it.
We're lucky because we have a small sourdough bakery here as well. And we make sourdough out of our flours for the local area. So (the kids) are kind of spoiled because we have fresh sourdough all the time.
Marci: It's amazing to grow up with their own organic stone milled sprouted flour and fresh bread.
Lisa: (laughs) Typically as children though they totally don't appreciate it.
Marci: They’ll be reminiscing about it when they’re older.
I mean, even like cookies are always a massive hit as well, or granola bars or things like that where you can add in variations, maybe some cranberries and things like that, that are a little better for them than the usual kind of processed bars.
Marci: So it really is an easy swap from normal flour to using a more nutritional flour. And not only that, but one that would most likely go unnoticed.
Lisa: Yeah. No, it's quite easy. And I would start with the few things that are probably sweet just to introduce them.
I suppose I was worried because the color is just slightly darker or a bit creamier than the standard white flour. But no, (the kids) didn't really notice that much.
Pancakes as well are great because they're quite tasty.
Marci: And then you can top them—you can customise them as well to make them your own.
I just had a few more questions about the process of making the sprouted flour. So you mentioned, and it says on your package, ‘raw dried’? What does that mean?
Lisa: So basically ‘raw dried’ means anything that is dried under 40 degrees Celsius. We always keep our drying under that temperature.
So it's really important to keep all the temperatures low on the flour while it's being made. It also preserves the nutrients and everything in the flour.
Because the temperatures are so low, it takes quite a long time to dry the flour, so the process is quite laborious. It takes around four days from when we start to soak the grain, to growing it, to drying it.
And then we generally mill our grains fresh to order. We store our sprouted grains and then once the orders come in, we'll mill them so that they're as fresh as possible.
Marci: You mentioned the stone milling, which is an old technique that's not as common today. Is that right?
Lisa: Yeah, so normally big mills now use roller mills. These are stainless steel and the flour is passed through these roller mills continuously until they've separated out all the portions of the flour.
But with stone mill, you just pass it through once, and the whole grain goes through and comes out the flour. So you're not actually separating out the portions of the grain. And I suppose you're getting the benefit of everything from the grain in the flour.
Marci: That's brilliant. Well, thank you. That’s loads of information.
Lisa: You’re welcome. Lovely chatting to you. And, you know, if anyone has any questions or anything, feel free to contact me through our website which has all my contact details. I’m very happy to answer any questions. There’s our Facebook or Twitter page or Instagram as well.
Marci: That's great. Like I said, I've tried out the rye flour now and I've tried out the sprouted wheat flours. So I'm really looking forward to trying out the pizza. I'm definitely going to give that a go and the buckwheat flour for the pancakes.
Lisa: Great, let me know how you get on.
Marci: Thanks, Lisa.