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Graham flour is a type of whole wheat flour named after the American Presbyterian minister Rev. Sylvester Graham (1794–1851), an early advocate for dietary reform. Graham despised the discarding of nutrients and bleaching with alum and chlorine involved in making white flour and white bread, and believed that using all of the grain (without adding chemicals) in the milling of flour and baking of bread, was a remedy for the poor health of his fellow Americans during changes in diet brought on by the Industrial Revolution.
Rather than simply grinding the whole grain wheat kernel (bran, germ, and endosperm), in roller-milled graham flour the components are ground separately. The endosperm is ground finely, initially creating a fresh unbleached yellowish-white flour. The bran and germ are ground coarsely. The two parts are then recombined, creating a coarse-textured flour that bakes and keeps well (has a good shelf life). Graham flour is used to make graham crackers and pie crusts, among other things.
An alternate story is told by Helen W. Atwater in her work titled Bread and the Principles of Bread Making. She claimed that Graham simply washed the entire grain, then ground it between large millstones. She contrasts that against the process used for "entire-wheat flour", where the grain was washed, then the three coarse outer layers of bran were removed, after which the grain was ground, supposedly keeping the aleurone layer, but discarding the rough cellulose of the outer bran layers.
According to a 2001 study conducted by Prabhasankar & Rao, stone milling created significantly greater heat of 90 °C (194 °F) than that of roller milling at 35 °C (95 °F). Roller mills incrementally crack the grains, separating the various layers, which must later be recombined, and such milling reportedly tends to result in somewhat larger baked loaf volumes.
A substitute for it would be a mix of unbleached white flour, wheat bran, and wheat germ in the ratios found in whole wheat, but according to an alleged ruling of the Department of Agriculture that reportedly occurred sometime prior to November 1919, such remixing or recombining of the grain-fraction streams from roller mills could not legally be called "Graham" flour. Wheat consists of approximately 83% endosperm, 14.5% bran, and 2.5% germ by mass. For sifted, unbleached white flour, wheat bran, and wheat germ having densities of 125, 50, and 80 grams/cup, respectively, one cup of graham flour is approximately equivalent to 84 g (~2⁄3 cup) white flour, 15 g (slightly less than 1⁄3 cup) wheat bran, and 2.5 g (1.5 teaspoons) wheat germ.
Plain whole wheat flour could also be used as a substitute in recipes, but the resulting baked goods' textures will differ from that of examples where graham flour was used. In 1913 it was reported that bread made from graham flour had a protein content of 12.1%.