Grist and Toll: Where Have You Been All My Life?

grist and toll

About three months ago a friend sent me a great article referencing a gluten free recipe from the ever-delicious Tartine bakery in San Francisco.  Back then I was only baking with gluten free flours; my favorites tending to be almond, brown rice, teff, millet, and sorghum flour, to name a handful.  But after I began my fascination with fermented sourdoughs and my belly went along for the ride (as long as I use my sourdough starter and let any dough rise for several hours, days often in order to lessen the gluten content), I came to discover a little but mighty place called Grist & Toll in Pasadena. They are an urban artisan grain mill, grinding and selling locally grown, mostly organic flour, with the help of their    2500 lb. Austrian mill. I’ve seen it for myself and it is quite a spectacle.  But what is that much more impressive is the flour itself. It is so soft, fine, and flavorful.  I didn’t really understand the depth of truth there is in the differences in flour.  It’s like they have their own heritage; after all, they do come from thriving, living grains.  And they have several different types — here, let me tell you about a few of my favorites…

Sonora, is a soft, white wheat and was perhaps the most popular flour in most of America until the 1950’s, when the advent of hybridization left it in the lurch. It grows taller than most wheat varieties, and thus, is less tackled by weeds and more difficult for pesticides to be sprayed upon…and thus, the reason for its near extinction.  But now, it is being brought back and is better than ever.  There are many organic farmers in Northern California who are helping Sonora make a comeback.  And I am a huge fan! I have made breads, muffins, cookies, and crackers with this soft wheat flour, and they have all left me (and other eaters) speechless! It has a nutty, full quality that leaves you questioning what the heck you have been eating all these years and makes you thank your lucky stars you can have access to this stuff.  Sounds dramatic, but it is oh, so true!

Hard Red,  is a winter wheat that is both local to G & T, and organic. It is fantastic as a stand alone bread flour, and has a sweet taste, smelling like barrels of fresh “hay and warm spices,” as the co-owner of Grist & Toll, the lovely Nan Kohler describes it.  It has a delicate texture and creates bread with plenty of crumb, is full of texture and can be used for all types of baking. I just bought a couple of pounds of it myself this past week and will let you know the details on its behavior in posts to come.

Spelt, is quickly becoming my personal favorite; mainly because it is incredibly low in gluten, but also because it just tastes so incredibly nutritious and good.  And the grain itself has been around for thousands of years. It is a relative to emmer wheat and was popular in Europe for hundreds of years, before it made it way into the spotlight in the US at the end of the 19th century.  In addition to naturally having less gluten, It has a lower glycemic index than most other grains, is easy to grow, and has a higher vitamin and mineral content.  Sign me up!  I made pancakes the other day with G & T’s spelt flour and my own ground oat flour and I could barely believe how incredible they turned out.  You have to experience a freshly ground flour for yourself folks, if you haven’t already.  There is more life in it.  It’s true! You can taste the difference.  Give it a try and let me know if you can taste it too!

I plan on finding out more about the nutritional breakdown of these whole grains in the near future, so stayed tuned! And in the meantime, if you are anywhere near Pasadena, I strongly suggest taking a trip to Grist & Toll and seeing the mill live in the flesh.  It is quite the experience. And on the way out, you can purchase your very own flour, which was just milled nearly hours before your visit! Amazing!

Be sure to check out their website for more info and for upcoming special events:


The Bran, The Germ, The Endosperm

Say that ten times fast! These three properties of the whole grain are essential as a trio, and without the whole seed intact, many nutrients are lost and the bread becomes less healthy.  I know we have all heard of these terms, but many of us are wondering what they really are, and how they act separately and together as a unit.  So let’s break them down…


THE BRAN: The “Roughage” — makes up about 14% of the whole grain. It is the outer skin of the edible kernel. It contains large amounts of B vitamins, some protein, trace minerals, phytochemicals, and dietary fiber.  This fiber is insoluble, which makes it easier to digest, and helps to prevent constipation by speeding up the digestion process.

THE GERM: The “Nutrients” — makes up only about 2.5% of the kernel weight of the whole grain.  It is the sprouting section of the seed.  It is usually separated during the milling process because it contains the most fat, and therefore has a shorter shelf life.  It also contains a higher protein content, more B-vitamins, such as niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, and iron.  You can also purchase wheat germ separately if you want to add it into your normal flour.  Keep in mind that whole wheat flours already have it in tact, but many other flours do not.

THE ENDOSPERM: The “Energy” — makes up 83% of the whole grain. It is the main source for white flour. It contains the greatest amount of carbohydrates, protein, and iron.  It also contains some of the other B-vitamins as well.  It is a source of soluble fiber, and is therefore more difficult/takes longer to digest, but also makes you feel full faster and can help maintain blood sugar and weight.

Whole grain flour contains all three of these vital parts of the kernal.  In the milling process, usually the bran and germ are removed and only the endosperm remains, depriving our flours of essential vitamins, protein, fiber, and trace minerals.  I know companies add back some of these nutrients after they mill, but keep in mind that this method is artificial and you are not truly eating a “whole food,” or a “whole grain.” Eating foods as you see them in their most natural form is essential to life, vitality, and to your health.


So the next time you are on a hunt to purchase some flour, please take a moment to study the brand that you purchase.  Does it have the highest nutrition content for you and your family? Is it truly a whole grain flour? Don’t let the language on the bags fool you! Companies verbage on the front, sides, and back are not regulated by the FDA. But the nutrition panel is monitored.  Study it. Or you could pull a Foodbabe ( and pick up that phone and call the company yourself to get the most honest answer. She is so inspiring!

Let’s regain our power when it comes to our food. Educating ourselves is the first step! And then those cookies or pie or bread (mmmmm) you make from that flour will have that much more history to it; that much more knowledge, because you have empowered yourself to eat healthier! Go get ’em!