‘National’ flour for a national emergency – Mungoswells to the rescue

In a move reminiscent of the darkest days of World War 2, Mungoswells Mill has decided to concentrate on producing an ’85% extraction’ brown flour instead of separate white and wholemeal. Milling the one grade of flour will simplify and speed up production to address a big backlog of orders with a nutritious and tasty solution.

White flour from roller mills like the small Mungoswells operation in East Lothian normally contains only 72-75% of the original wheat grain, with the most nutritious bran and wheatgerm removed for animal feed or the extraction of vitamin E by the pharmaceutical industry. Wholemeal, as the name suggests, contains 100% of the wheat grain. ’85% flour’ is somewhere in between, with a substantial amount of fine bran and the crucial wheat germ oil in it compared to white flour. In the war, this was called ‘National Wheatmeal’.

From 1942 to 1953, white flour was banned because it was wasteful of precious supplies of grain. In 1939 Britain relied on North America for most of its bread grain. When U-boats sank increasing numbers of merchant ships, Britain nearly ran out of wheat. National flour was subsidised so that everyone could afford the new ‘National Loaf’ and with less of the wheat being discarded at the mill, there was enough to go round, just. For the architects of the wartime food plan, Scotsman John Boyd-Orr and Jack Drummond, this wasn’t just about quantity and equitable distribution. They knew that National Flour made more nutritious bread than refined white, and so it proved. It may not have been universally popular, but The National Loaf is generally considered to have contributed to an improvement in public health, precisely because it raised the baseline nutrient intake of the poorest in society.

The Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting flour supplies once again, not because grain ships are being sunk but because the modern ‘just-in-time’ food supply system can’t adapt quickly enough to our new need to make and eat more bread at home as we wait out our enforced isolation. This is surely a wake-up call, alerting us to the fragility of our food system. When arrangements – economic, environmental and human – are insufficiently resilient, it is the weakest and most vulnerable in society who suffer first and most. If all food producers, like Mungoswells, responded to the current emergency by supplying new demand with better quality, we might be on the road to a healthier and fairer food future.

Angus McDowall and Andrew Whitley surveying Rouge d’Ecosse wheat at Mungoswells 2015

As chair of Bread for Good Community Benefit Society which trades as Scotland The Bread, I applaud Mungoswells’ decision to major on 85% ‘brown’ flour. Mungoswells owner Angus McDowall is a good friend of Scotland The Bread, having been the first farmer to grow our historic wheat varieties up to commercial quantities five years ago. Scotland The Bread is researching and growing (now on the Balcaskie Estate in Fife) varieties of wheat and rye that are genetically diverse, more nutrient-dense than average and well adapted to the evolving Scottish climate. We mill our grains into 100% wholemeal flour. We do this because too many people in Scotland are stuck with a diet that makes them unwell. Better flour from locally-grown wheat, properly fermented without additives into Real Bread, was needed even before the present emergency. Mungoswells gets it – and so can we all.  Thank you, Angus.

Andrew Whitley
Co-founder, Scotland The Bread 
Co-founder, Real Bread Campaign
Author of Bread Matters and DO Sourdough: Slow bread for busy lives

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