March 20 is the inaugural World Flour Day, a concept that was initiated a few months ago by curators at the World Flour Museum in Wittenberg, Germany.
For those who haven’t heard of or visited this museum, it features hundreds of colorful and unique flour sacks from around the world and was the brainchild of Stern Wywiol Group founder and managing partner Volkmar Wywiol, who has an unbridled passion for the flour milling and baking industries.
Wywiol often refers to flour as “white gold,” and when you consider the nutritional impact flour has had on mankind for thousands of years as the primary ingredient in the world’s ultimate staple food — bread — it’s impossible to overstate its value.
Archeological evidence shows that flour production dates back to 6000 BC when wheat seeds were crushed between simple millstones. Today, of course, a highly technical process is utilized, featuring motor-power roller mills that grind wheat between steel rolls.
Flour was revolutionized from a nutritional standpoint in the mid-20th century when many countries began to enrich flour with iron, niacin, thiamine and riboflavin. Near the end of the century, folic acid was added. These vitamins and minerals are commonly added to prevent anemia from nutritional deficiencies and reduce the risk of infants with severe brain and spine birth defects known as neural tube defects.
Always an important job, milling and baking takes on even greater importance during times of crisis, which are often accompanied by economic hardship and uncertainty. The current COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as a potentially catastrophic event as it spreads throughout the world, infecting more than 230,000 people and killing nearly 10,000, with the potential to do far greater damage.
In attempt to slow the spread of the virus while scientists race to create a vaccine, the hardest hit areas are quarantining their citizens, either strongly recommending or mandating that they remain inside their homes except for urgent matters. Grocery stores are among the few businesses allowed to operate in these areas. With the global economy almost certain to sink into a recession and with unemployment rising, affordable staple products made from rice, corn and wheat — which account for more than half of global caloric intake — will become even more sought after as opposed to food items that are more expensive and have a shorter shelf life.
Even during a crisis, flour mills must keep grinding away to ensure a steady supply of nutritious, affordable food for mankind.
Perhaps it’s fitting that the first World Flour Day falls in the middle of a global crisis, when mankind finds itself being more grateful than ever for its most basic items, such as a bag of flour or a loaf of bread.
It’s a day to salute the proud men and women along the grain-based food supply chain — the grain farmers, flour millers, product shippers and bakers — whose dedication to their craft supply us with our daily bread.