The 10 Best Grain Mills
Making Sense of Mill Talk : Impact, Stone, and Steel Burrs
In order to choose the best grain mill, you need to consider how and why you'll want to use it. Some grain mills offer greater versatility of textures, for those who plan to use their mill to make both coarse and super fine flours, while others boast efficiency or durability.
To help you find the grain mill most suitable for whatever you aim to achieve, we've created a guide that provides perspective on how the designs and features available in different grain mill models correspond to your unique priorities.
Before we get into milling mechanisms, speed, and texture, you'll need to understand the broadest and most critical distinction between grain mill types: how they're powered. Grain mills can be either manual (hand-powered), electric, or convertible.
Manual grain mills have the rather obvious benefit of not requiring a power source, so they'll work in locations without power or during blackouts. For those who plan to mill when camping or doing other outdoor activities, a hand crank mill is a great option. Although manual mills require a great deal of elbow grease, some users prefer the workout and enjoy the labor involved. Additionally, manual mills tend to be cheaper than electric mills for those who aren't prepared to make a big investment.
Electric mills will process grains much more quickly, and require much less labor from the user. For people planning to use their grain mill frequently, or for those who will be grinding large amounts of grain, an electric mill will be worth the investment. One drawback to electric mills is the noise—they'll usually be quite loud when running, so may not be ideal for people who live in apartments with sensitive neighbors. Depending on the model, electric mills might be more difficult to clean because they generally can't be completely disassembled the way that most manual mills can.
Convertible mills are manual mills with an optional motor attachment. For users who aren't sure how often they'll end up using their mill, convertible mills allow one to initially buy a manual mill and add the motor attachment later if they find themselves using it frequently. If you do choose a convertible mill, make sure that it works well as both a manual and electric mill, because some tout their convertibility but don't perform well in one mode.
The milling mechanism describes what inside of the mill actually grinds the grains. The two primary types are impact mills and burr mills, and of the latter, there is a further distinction between stone and steel burrs.
Impact mills are also known as micronizers, and use technology that has been derived from pharmaceutical micronizers, which pulverize substances into very fine powders. With impact mills, no literal grinding takes place. Instead, grain enters a chamber where a circular metal plate with concentric rings of steel teeth faces another spindle that spins at around 28,000 rpm. It spins so quickly that the grain's impact with the teeth causes the kernels to break into increasingly smaller particles. All impact mills are electric, and while they can often produce flours of ranging textures, they'll probably all be on the finer side. Impact mills will only function with dry materials, as materials that are particularly oily or fibrous will clog the mill. Additionally, this milling mechanism lends itself to raucousness, so don't expect your impact mill to be quiet.
Burr mills grind grain between two plates, one which is stationary while the other rotates from the power source. There are two types of burr mills: stone burr and steel burr, and they operate slightly differently. Stone burrs tend to stay cool, ensuring that the flour's enzymes—one of the primary nutritious benefits of using your own grain mill—stay intact. Stone burrs work by crushing the grain, and while they can't handle oily or moist materials, some models can handle fibrous substances such as dried herbs. While they can be more expensive, stone burrs are usually considered more durable, and will produce very fine flours suitable for making pastries and breads. Stone burr mills are available as both electric and manual options. In contrast to stone burrs, steel burrs are less expensive and can process a wider range of materials, including things like oily nuts and roots. For this reason, steel burrs are suitable for users who prioritize versatility over consistency, as flour made with steel burrs will typically need to be sifted before use.
Health Benefits of Milling Flour at Home
Whole grains—such as wheat berries—consists of three parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm.
The outermost layer is known as the bran, and it contains fiber, antioxidants, minerals, phytonutrients, and B vitamins that together prevent several diseases and improve the health of the digestive system.
The germ is innermost part of the kernel, and is rich with both B and E vitamins, phytonutrients, healthy fats, and proteins.
Lastly, the endosperm is the starchy middle layer, predominantly containing carbs and some protein.
Unfortunately, commercially milled flour removes the bran and germ parts of the grain, instead using only the endosperm in the white all-purpose flour that you're probably buying at the store. This is because the oils produced by the bran and germ when the grain is milled quickly turn rancid, making it very difficult to commercially produce and sell a whole grain flour that possesses all of the health benefits.
Compared to refined grains, whole grains that include the bran and germ contain up to 80% more dietary fiber.
According to the Whole Grains Council, studies have shown that those eating at least three servings of whole grains daily have reduced their risk of stroke by 30-36%, reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes by 21-30%, reduced their risk of heart disease by 25-28%, and can better maintain their weight.
Additionally, whole grains have been associated with a reduction in the risk for both gastrointestinal cancers and hormone-related cancers.
Early Origins of the Grain Mill
The history of grain milling reaches back as early as 6,700 BCE, when, according to archaeological evidence, man first began grinding wheat grains into a meal using stone. Since this took place prior to the advent of baking, this wheat meal was probably used to make foods similar to porridge-type cereals.
At around 5500 BCE, man progressed into using millstones, or more specifically quern-stones to create flour.
The earliest form of quern-stones were saddle querns, which were elongated saddle-shaped stones (also referred to as bed-stones) that had been made concave through repetitive grinding motions with the handstone (also called a rubber-stone). Through back and forth parallel motions, the handstone would crush the grain against the saddle quern, eventually forming flour.
Any bread made at this time would have been flat, unlike the breads we eat today that rise due to the use of yeast. By 3,000 BCE, the Egyptians had learned how to use leaven (old dough) as starters to create risen loaves of bread. They also used bread ovens.
The next major milestone for milling came somewhere between the fifth and third centuries BCE with the invention of the rotary mill or rotary quern. Generally, a rotary quern was comprised by two circular stones that would be pressed together and turned by hand to grind grain. In comparison to the saddle quern's small handstone, the rotary quern's handstone was much larger, and thus heavier, creating the needed pressure to crush and grind grain kernels.
Often, the lower stone would be convex while the upper stone would be concave, allowing the two pieces to fit into each other. In more advanced rotary querns, the upper stone had a handle that would be used to turn it, as well as a central hole where grain could be poured into the quern.
Romans advanced the technology used in rotary mills in the third century BCE by using animals or human slaves and water as power sources. In addition to the hand-powered rotary mill already described, the Romans also made use of a cone-shaped mill, comprised by an upper stone shaped like an hourglass and a lower stone that was conical. It was typically this type of mill that was powered by human slaves and animals.
Eventually, the Romans also developed a mill powered by water. You can read more about Roman watermills, specifically the Barbegal watermills, here. These watermills involved millstones driven by gears, thus allowing greater rotational speeds than in the animal powered models.