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.
Graham flour is a coarsely ground type of wheat flour that is unbleached, and less processed than whole-wheat flour. Its production starts by finely grinding the kernel or endosperm of winter wheat. The other parts of the wheat, germ, and bran are also ground and added back to the endosperm grind, resulting in brown colored flour that is slightly sweet. It isn’t always possible to find graham flour, but in the US, health food and natural foods stores often carry it.
This type of flour is named after Sylvester Graham, one of the pioneers of the health food movement. He invented the flour in 1829 and used it in many recipes featured at his chain of "health" hotels. In addition to advocating for the use of less refined wheat flour, Graham founded the American Vegetarian Society in 1850, though he had less than welcome receptions from large food manufacturers and butchers of the time.
He discovered, as many dietitians can attest to now, that it is usually healthier to eat whole grains than it is to eat overly processed food that contains a lot of chemicals. As a Presbyterian minister, his motives for advocating for healthier food choices may seem a little strange to the modern mind. He felt that bad food choices and the consumption of alcohol led to people being unable to curb their licentious behavior. To Graham, processed white flour equaled greater lust, and he urged his followers and friends to abstain from drink and to modify sexual behavior through diet and self control.
Today, most graham crackers on the grocery shelf may not actually be made with graham flour. A few brands do still use the flour, but most tend to derive their sweet taste from ingredients like high fructose corn syrup. Sylvester Graham would probably shudder at the modern version of his healthy cracker/cookie. People who like a more authentic graham cracker should try health food stores, as these may feature fewer sweeteners and preservatives.
In cooking, graham flour can usually be used in place of whole-wheat flour
. It will produce a slightly darker bread as a result, but it can be quite tasty and sweet. Bakers can also consider graham muffins or quick breads as a quick and healthy snack. This flour does pair nicely with honey, as lovers of graham crackers know, so cooks might consider honey for sweetener in recipes where you use the flour.
Cooks should refrigerate the flour, or only buy it in small amounts. It has a higher oil content than whole-wheat flour and may go rancid if left out for too long. If the flour tastes bitter, it’s best to start with a fresh package.