Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Great Grain Mill Dilemma

A few years ago, after I had committed to buying one, I researched what type of grain mill to get. Manual or electric? Used or new? The options seemed endless, and as with anything, there were upsides and downsides to each mill. I finally ended up with an electric Nutrimill, but that was after I tried my hand at a manual Family Grain Mill I bought used on Ebay. Anyway, let me try to break this down simply:

Manual Grain Mills
Pros: can mill cracked grains/cereals, some come with optional attachments (such as an oatmeal flaker), great if the power is out, you can often buy a motor attachment, parts can be easily replaced, mobile and can be clamped onto a counter
Cons: flour is slightly courser than what an electric mill produces, which makes it more difficult to produce satisfactory pastry flour, even on finest setting; takes more time and muscle to mill
Most popular brands: Country Living Grain Mill (can be attached to an exercise bike!), Family Grain Mill

Electric Grain Mills
Pros: finer flour, mills in very little time
Cons: not so good in a power outage, cannot mill cracked grain even on coarsest setting, takes up more counter space (electric mills are a bit bigger than a food processor), difficult to repair
Most popular brands: Nutrimill, Wondermill

Cost considerations are negligible, because if you consider buying a motor attachment for, say, the Family Grain Mill, you're right up there with an electric mill. And the Country Living Grain Mill is very pricey, though it supposedly can withstand a nuclear blast (well, it it said to last a lifetime, at least). When I had my Family Grain Mill, I enjoyed the simplicity of it but for the quantity of baking I do, it really wasn't practical without a motor attachment or a teenager to enlist to help me mill grains. I also wanted more finely milled flour because I enjoy baking pies and other sweets that require a finer flour. So I sold it and bought the Nutrimill, brand new, since a used one on Ebay cost just as much when I considered shipping.

Ideally, I'd like to buy an inexpensive manual mill to have on hand in a pinch, even if it's not a top-of-the-line brand like the Country Living Mill. When you make a decision on which mill to buy, consider what kind of baking you do. Are you into cracked grain breads and cereals? How often do you bake? What do you bake most frequently? Does your area suffer frequent power outages? Were you paranoid during Y2K?

As an aside, consider that when you mill your own grains, your actual output of flour is 1.5X the amount of grains you put into the hopper (the cup where you place grains before they're ground). E.g., 2 cups of grain will yield 3 cups of flour. Pretty cool, huh?

Pleasant Hill Grains is only one online vendor for grain mills. Do some research to find the best price. However, they have good descriptions of several of the mills I mentioned. Click here to read more.

P.S. I should also mention that if you have a Vitamix or other industrial blender, these can often handle grinding small quantities of wheat berries, and apparently there's a grain mill attachment for Kitchen Aid mixers. I've never tried to make flour in my blender, but check your user's manual to see if it may work for you if you're saving up for a mill.

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