Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Sally Ousley
Gazette Reporter 

Unifine flour mills to be seen in central, eastern Washington

 


Steve Fulton is getting closer to seeing the Unifine flour mill producing tons of flour in central and eastern Washington.

In 1953, Leonard Fulton, Steve Fulton’s uncle, built the mill and operated it near Fairfield for 20 years until he retired. Steve Fulton said the mill produced 200,000 pounds of flour a year.

After more than 50 years, Fulton brought the invention to Washington State University industrial design students who re-engineered the machine in 2013.

Fulton, who lives in western Washington, said centralized roller mills, unlike the Unifine mill, are designed to produce white flour.

In the process, the grain is first hydrated so the softened bran and germ elements stay together and are efficiently peeled off the white endosperm. To produce whole grain flour, restoring all the bran and germ elements, or to produce whole wheat flour, with at least 50 percent of those elements restored, the bran and germ is further processed and reintroduced to the endosperm it was needlessly separated from.

The Unifine, one pass impact milling system, intended for flour production at the point of grain production, or as Fulton likes to say, “re-localization,” mills flour in a totally different way.

First, the grain is kept dry and then dropped into the channel between the rotor going about 200 mph and the serrated stators, where it is instantly pulverized.

Fulton said thousands of dollars of lab tests in recent months of a variety of flours produced by various milling systems have revealed a “happy problem.” The Unifine Mill cannot produce “white flour.”

“What tests have confirmed is happening is that about two thirds of the dry bran and germ outer layer of the kernel is shattered into micro particles that blend with the endosperm,” Fulton explained.

Production of the first mill that included the modifications the WSU team developed was completed in Dufur, Ore., in March 2014.

With the enhancements the students engineered into the new version of the milling machine, Fulton said he believes the mill could produce up to 2,000 pounds of flour per hour.

Instead of processing the grain a dozen times as standard flour mills do, the Unifine flour milling system processes the grain once, preserving the whole grain nutrients.

The mill can process not only wheat, but all kinds of grains, including rice.

In addition to being more cost effective, WSU scientific studies have confirmed that this holistic, dry, one-pass system yields nutritious ultra-fine whole grain flour with a superior shelf life and loaf volume for both bread and pastry products such as cakes and cookies. The only difference is that the flour is a tawny color and has what some call a “nutty” flavor that naturally results from whole wheat flour.

Fulton said that while artisan bakers working with whole grain flour prefer to leave all the goodness in, there are a variety of baked goods that require “fluff” for the consumer which started the whole white flour movement.

There are two elements of the flour product that cause density or interior structure problems. One is that the larger, typically bran, particles that remain in the flour simply puncture the bubbles in the rising dough. The other issue is simply that higher concentrations of the heavier bran and germ elements challenge that “fluff” outcome, Fulton said.

“What excites these bakers is that this fine ‘whole wheat’ flour also carries along with it the fabulous sensory experience that is provided by the bran and germ elements,” Fulton said. “Without it, it’s like making wine without the skin on it.”

Fulton said discussions are in their final stages for a large modular Unifine milling system to be installed in central Washington. Plans are for this system to produce millions of pounds of organic flour with it being operational by later this year. Fulton said he is in discussions with local business people to install a smaller Unifine milling system in eastern Washington. He said he would prefer to have this first mill, producing non-organic flour located close to the Pullman campus where the milling system was developed.

At this time, three top artisan bakers in the Seattle area are working with Fulton’s sifted whole wheat flour in an attempt to bake everything that currently is made with white flour.

“They have two of the sifted flours. One is moderately sifted to bring the particle size distribution down and the bakers have loved the outcome of that flour,” Fulton said.

“The other flour has a particle size composition that is very comparable to white flour,” Fulton said. “The bakers are particularly excited about that whole wheat flour as it is hoped with recipe modifications the baked output will be acceptable. The bakers are particularly pleased with the consistency of the Unifine flour as that is a critical issue with commercial bakers.”

“Currently their usage of white flour represents about 80 percent of their flour volume and that’s typical of commercial bakeries these days, certainly a much lower percentage than in recent years with the demand for whole grain and whole wheat flours rapidly increasing,” Fulton said.

 

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