If it isn’t organic, skip the whole grain

When I was growing up, my mother had to bake her own bread because whole grain bread was not available. So I grew up with the sturdy conviction that any bread which was brown and grainy was more healthful than white bread. As I moved to organic food in recent years, I discovered that while whole grain bread contains more vitamins, minerals and fibre, the big downside is that whole grains also contain a lot more pesticides than white bread made from refined and bleached white flour. In fact, in France, non-organic wheat is not only sprayed up to nine times during the growing period, it is also treated with chemicals during storage. Pesticide residues tend to accumulate in the husk, which accounts for the fact that a wholewheat flour which is not organic has a heavier pesticide content than a white flour

So although I live in France, where the prospect of wonderful bread is alive on every street corner, purchasing grainy, organic breads on a daily basis actually represents more of a challenge.

For residents of rural areas, it actually makes more sense to bake your own bread – hence the big jump in sales of bread machines in recent years. Organic flours are available at the organic cooperatives and most big supermarket brands have rolled out their own versions over the past 18 months or so. Conservation times are shorter: conventional flour lasts nine months and organic flour six.

In Paris, my favourite supplier of organic whole-grain bread is Véronique Mauclerc, 11 rue Poncelet, 75017 (closed Monday). Her bread is outstanding from every point of view; there are over 60 varieties using every cereal imaginable; all are organic except for her baguette, the flour is stone-milled by George Trottin in the Sarthe.

Véronique Maclercs wood-fired oven, one of the four such ovens left in Paris

Véronique Maclerc's wood-fired oven, one of the four such ovens left in Paris

Otherwise, there are the often iffy and brick-like loaves for sale at my local biocoop, Moisan (a chain with bakeries all over Paris; their bread is often okay but it is rarely oven-fresh), Eric Kayser (over-marketed, over-salty and over-priced) and the grandaddy of all the above, the venerable Poilane.

For home bakers looking for high-quality organic flours, there’s another issue which continues to plague the chat forums and blogs in France: the fact that there isn’t enough supply of organic wheat to meet demand in France, so that much of what you purchase is actually sourced all over Eastern Europe. This raises the question of whether the organic agriculture norms are the same in all countries.

Furthermore, pro-GM flacks and lobbyists will sometimes lurk on these fora in the guise of “farmers” to push their narrative that organic food and feed is more heavily contaminated with mycotoxins than conventional and genetically modified foods, on grounds that organic production does not use chemical fungicides, and are hence more likely to be infected.

Mycotoxins are toxic metabolites produced by fungi. Mycotoxin poisoning has been known since the beginning of agriculture and has taken a large toll on humans and farm animals consuming contaminated crops. It is is a worldwide problem associated with maize, rice, tree nuts and peanuts along with fresh fruits and vegetables.

But the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that, “studies have not shown that consuming organic products leads to a greater risk of mycotoxin contamination.”


One response to “If it isn’t organic, skip the whole grain

  1. Thanks Denise for an excellent post with very useful information.

    As with many bakeries, if you try a few sorts of bread you can often find one or two that stand out. There are the multigraines and the petite épeautre breads at Biocoop (the latter also at Naturalia) that we like a lot.

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