FLOUR and FLOUR MANUFACTURE. The term "flour" (Fr. fleur, flower, i.e. the best part) is usually applied to the triturated farinaceous constituents of the wheat berry (see Wheat); it is, however, also used of other cereals and even of leguminoids when ground into a fine powder, and of many other substances in a pulverulent state, though in these cases it is usual to speak of rye flour, bean flour, etc. The flour obtained from oats is generally termed oatmeal. In Great Britain wheaten flour was commonly known in the 16th and 17th centuries as meal, and up to the beginning of the 19th century, or perhaps later, the term mealing trade was not infrequently used of the milling trade.
The ancestor of the millstone was apparently a rounded stone about the size of a man's fist, with which grain or nuts were pounded and crushed into a rude meal. These stones are generally of hard sandstone and were evidently used against another stone, which by dint of continual hammering was broken into hollows. Sometimes the crusher was used on the surface of rocks. St Bridget's stone, on the shore of Lough Macnean, is supposed to have been a primitive Irish mill; there are many depressions in the face of the table-like rock, and it is probable that round this stone several women (for in early civilization the preparation of flour was peculiarly the duty of the women) would stand and grind, or rather pound, meal. Many such stones, known as Bullan stones, still exist in Ireland. Similar remains are found in the Orkneys and Shetlands, and it is on record that some of these stones have been used for flour-making within historic times. Richard Bennett in his History of Corn Milling remarks that the Seneca Indians to this day boil maize and crush it into a paste between loose stones. In the same way the Omahas pound this cereal in holes in the rocks, while the Oregon Indians parch and pound the capsules of the yellow lily, much after the fashion described by Herodotus in his account of the ancient Egyptians. In California the Indian squaws make a sort of paste by crushing acorns between a round stone or "muller," and a cuplike hollow in the surface of a rock. Crushing stones are of different shapes, ranging from the primitive ball-like implement to an elongated shape resembling the pestle of a mortar. Mullers of the latter type are not infrequent among prehistoric remains in America, while Dr Schliemann discovered several specimens of the globular form on the reputed site of the city of Troy, and also among the ruins of Mycenae. As a matter of fact stone mullers survived in highly civilized countries into modern days, if indeed they are now altogether extinct.
The saddle-stone is the connecting link between the primitive pounder, or muller, and the quern, which was itself the direct ancestor of the millstones still used to some extent in the manufacture of flour. The saddle-stone, the first true grinding implement, consisted of a stone with a more or less concave face on which the grain was spread, and in and along this hollow surface it was rubbed and ground into coarse meal. Saddle-stones have been discovered in the sand caves of Italy, among the lake dwellings of Switzerland, in the dolmens of France, in the pit dwellings of the British Isles, and among the remains of primitive folk all the world over. The Romans of the classical period seem to have distinguished the saddle-stone from the quern. We find allusions to the mola trusatilis, which may be translated "the thrusting mill"; this would fairly describe a backwards and forwards motion. The mola versatilis evidently referred to the revolving millstone or quern. In primitive parts of the world the saddle-stone is not yet extinct, as for instance in Mexico. It is known as the metata, and is used both for grinding maize and for making the maize cakes known as tortillas. The same implement is apparently still in use in some parts of South America, notably in Chile.
According to Richard Bennett, the quern, the first complete milling machine, originated in Italy and is in all probability not older than the 2nd century B.C. This is, however, a controverted point. Querns are still used in most primitive countries, nor is it certain that they have altogether disappeared from remoter districts of Scotland and Ireland. Whatever was their origin, they revolutionized flour milling. The rotary motion of millstones became the essential principle of the trituration of grain, and exists to-day in the rolls of the roller mill. The early quern appears to have differed from its descendants in that it was somewhat globular in shape, the lower stone being made conical, possibly with the idea that the ground flour should be provided with a downward flow to enable it to fall from the stones. This type did not, however, persist. Gradually the convexity disappeared and the surface of the two stones became flat or very nearly so. In the upper stone was a species of funnel, through which the grain passed as through a hopper, making its way thence, as the stone revolved, into the space between the running and the bed stone. The ground meal was discharged at the periphery. The runner, or upper stone, was provided with a wooden handle by which the stone was revolved. The typical Roman mill of the Augustan age may be seen at Pompeii. Here, in what is believed to have been a public pistrinum or mill, were found four pairs of millstones. The circular base of these mills is 5 ft. in diameter and 1 ft. high, and upon it was fastened the meta, a blunt cone about 2 ft. high, on which fitted the upper millstone or catillus, also conical. These mills were evidently rotated by slave labour, as there was no room for the perambulation of a horse or donkey, while the side-lugs in which the handle-bars were inserted are plainly visible. Slave labour was generally used up to the introduction of Christianity, but was finally abolished by the emperor Constantine, though even after his edict mills continued to be driven by criminals.
Use of power
The Romans are credited by some authorities with having first applied power to the driving of millstones, which they connected with water-wheels by a horizontal spindle through the intervention of bevel gearing. But long after millstones had been harnessed to water power slave labour was largely employed as a motive force. The watermill of the Romans was introduced at a relatively early period into Britain. Domesday Book shows that England was covered by mills of a kind at the time of the Norman conquest, and mentions some 500 mills in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk alone. No doubt the mola of Domesday Book consisted of one pair of stones connected by rude gearing with a water-wheel. Windmills are said to have been introduced by the Crusaders, who brought them from the East. Steam power is believed to have been first used in a British flour mill towards the close of the 18th century, when Boulton & Watt installed a steam engine in the Albion Flour Mills in London, erected under the care of John Rennie. Another great engineer, Sir William Fairbairn, in the early days of the 19th century, left the impress of his genius on the mill and all its accessories. He was followed by other clever engineers, and in the days immediately preceding the roller period many improvements were introduced as regards the balancing and driving of millstones. The introduction of the blast and exhaust to keep the stones cool was a great step in advance, while the substitution of silk gauze for woollen or linen bolting cloth, about the middle of the 19th century, marked another era in British milling. Millstones, as used just before the introduction of roller milling, were from 4 to 4 ft. in diameter by some 12 in. in thickness, and were usually made of a siliceous stone, known as buhr-stone, much of which came from the quarry of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, in France.
Nine-tenths, or perhaps ninety-nine hundredths, of all the flour consumed in Great Britain is made in roller mills, that is, mills in which the wheat is broken and floured by means of rollers, some grooved in varying degrees of fineness, some smooth, their work being preceded and supplemented by a wide range of other machinery. All roller mills worthy of the name are completely automatic, that is to say, from the time the raw material enters the mill warehouse till it is sacked, either in the shape of finished flour or of offals, it is touched by no human hand.
The history of roller milling extends back to the first half of the 19th century. Roller mills, that is to say, machines fitted with rolls set either horizontally, or vertically, or obliquely, for the grinding of corn, are said to have been used as far back as the 17th century, but if this be so it is certain that they were only used in a tentative manner. Towards the middle of the 19th century the firm of E.R. & F. Turner, of Ipswich, began to build roller mills for breaking wheat as a preliminary to the conversion of the resultant middlings on millstones. The rolls were made of chilled iron and were provided with serrated edges, which must have exercised a tearing action on the integuments of the berry. These mills were built to the design of a German engineer, of the name of G.A. Buchholz, and were exhibited at the London exhibition of 1862, but they never came into general use. It has also been stated that as early as 1823 a French engineer, named Collier, of Paris, patented a roller mill, while five years later a certain Malar took out another French patent, the specification of which speaks of grooves and differential speeds. But the direct ancestors of the roller mills of the present day were brought out some time in the third decade of the 19th century by a Swiss engineer named Sulzberger. His apparatus was rather cumbrous, and the chilled iron rolls with which it was fitted consumed a large amount of power relatively to the work effected. But the Pester Walz-Mühle, founded in 1839 by Count Szechenyi, a Hungarian nobleman, which took its name from the roller mills with which it was equipped by Sulzberger, was for many years a great success; some of its roller mills are said to have been kept at work for upwards of forty years, and one at least is preserved in the museum at Budapest.
It may be noted that Hungarian wheat is hard and flinty and well adapted for treatment by rolls. Moreover, gradual reduction, as now understood, was more or less practised in Hungary, even before the introduction of roller milling. Though millstones, and not rolls, were used, yet the wheat was not floured at one operation, as in typical low or flat grinding, but was reduced to flour in several successive operations. In the first break the stones would be placed just wide enough apart to "end" the wheat, and in each succeeding operation the stones were brought closer together. But Hungarian milling was not then automatic in the sense in which British millers understand the word. For a long time a great deal of hand labour was employed in the merchant mills of Budapest in carrying about products from one machine to another for further treatment. This practice may have been partly due to the cheap labour available, but it was also the deliberate policy of Hungarian millers to handle in this way the middlings and fine "dunst," because it was maintained that only thus could certain products be delivered to the machine by which they were to be treated in the perfection of condition. The results were good so far as the finished products were concerned, but in the light of modern automatic milling the system appears uneconomical. Not only did it postulate an inordinately large staff, but it further increased the labour bill by the demand it made on the number of sub-foremen who were occupied in classifying, largely by touch, the various products, and directing the labourers under them. Hungarian milling still differs widely from milling as practised in Great Britain in being a longer system. This is due to the more minute subdivision of products, a necessary consequence of the large number of grades of flour and offals made in Hungary, where there are many intermediate varieties of middlings and "dunst" for which no corresponding terms are available in an English miller's vocabulary.
It will be convenient here to explain the meaning of three terms constantly used by millers, namely, semolina, middlings and dunst. These three products of roller mills are practically identical in composition, but represent different stages in the process of reducing the endosperm of the wheat to flour. A wheat berry is covered by several layers of skin, while under these layers is the floury kernel or endosperm. This the break or grooved rolls tend to tear and break up. The largest of these more or less cubical particles are known as semolina, whilst the medium-sized are called middlings and the smallest sized termed dunst. The last is a German word, with several meanings, but is used in this particular sense by German and Austrian millers, from whom it was doubtless borrowed by the pioneers of roller milling in England. If we were to lay a sample of fairly granular flour beside a sample of small dunst the two would be easy to distinguish, but place a magnifying glass over the flour and it would look very like the dunst. If we were to repeat this experiment on dunst and fine middlings, the former would under the glass present a strong resemblance to the middlings. The same effect would be produced by the putting side by side of large middlings and small semolina. This is a broad description of semolina, middlings and dunst. Semolina and middlings are more apt to vary in appearance than dunst, because the latter is the product of the later stages of the milling process and represents small particles of the floury kernel tolerably free from such impurities as bran or fluff. The flour producing middlings must not be confounded with the variety of wheat offal which is also known to many English millers as middlings. This consists of husk or bran, more or less comminuted, and with a certain proportion of floury particles adherent. It is only fit for feeding beasts.
The spread of roller milling on the continent of Europe was undoubtedly accelerated by the invention of porcelain rolls, by Friedrich Wegmann, a Swiss miller, which were brought into general use in the seventh decade of the 19th century, and are still widely employed. They are admirably fitted for the reduction of semolina, middlings and dunst into flour; and for reducing pure middlings, that is, middlings containing no bran or wheat husk, there is perhaps nothing that quite equals them. They were introduced into Great Britain in 1877, or thereabouts, and were used for several years, but ultimately they almost disappeared from British mills. This was partly due to the fact that as made at that date they were rather difficult to work, as it was not easy to keep the rolls perfectly parallel. Another drawback was their inadaptability to over-heavy feeds, to which the British, and perhaps still more the American, miller is frequently obliged to resort. However, since the beginning of the 20th century some of the most advanced flour mills in England have again taken to using porcelain rolls for some part of their reduction process.
Roller milling in England
The birth of roller milling in Great Britain may be said to date from 1872, when Oscar Oexle, a German milling engineer, erected a set of roller mills in the Tradeston Mills, in Glasgow. This was long before the introduction of automatic roller mills. But the foundations of the millstone system were not seriously disturbed till 1877, when a party of leading British and Irish millers visited Vienna and Budapest with the object of studying roller milling in its native home. In 1878 J.H. Carter installed in the mill of J. Boland, of Dublin, what was probably the first complete automatic roller plant erected in the United Kingdom, and in 1881 a milling exhibition held at the Royal Agricultural Hall, London, showed the automatic roller system in complete operation. From that time the roller system made great progress. By 1885 many of the leading British millers had installed full roller plants, and in the succeeding ten years small roller plants were installed in many country mills. For a time there was a transition stage in which there was in operation a number of so-called "combined" plants, that is to say, mills in which the wheat was broken on millstones or disk mills, while the middlings were reduced by smooth rolls; but these gradually dropped out of being.
Well-found British flour mills at the present time are probably the best fitted in the world, and as a whole have nothing to fear from comparison with their American competitors. It is true that American millers were rather quicker to copy Hungarian milling methods so far as gradual reduction was concerned. But from about 1880 the British miller was quite awake to his position and was straining every nerve to provide himself with a plant capable of dealing with every kind of wheat. It has often been said that he commands the wheat of the whole world. This is true in a sense, but it is not true that he can always command the exact kind of wheat he requires at the price required to meet foreign competition. Therein he is at a disadvantage. But engineers have done their best to meet this weak point, and by their assistance he is able to compete under almost all conditions with the millers of the whole world.
Processes of Milling. - Fully to appreciate the various processes of modern milling, it must be remembered not only that the wheat as delivered at the mill is dusty and mixed with sand and even more objectionable refuse, but also that it contains many light grains and seeds of other plants. It is not therefore sufficient for the miller to be able to reduce the grain to flour on the most approved principles; he must also have at command the means of freeing it from foreign substances, and further of "conditioning" it, should it be damp or over dry and harsh. Again, his operations must be conducted with reference to the structure of the wheat grain. The wheat berry is a fruit, not a seed, the actual seed being the germ or embryo, a kidney-shaped body which is found at the base of the berry and is connected with the plumule or root. The germ is tough in texture and is in roller milling easily separated from the rest of the berry, being flattened instead of crushed by the rolls and thus readily sifted from the stock. The germ contains a good deal of fatty matter, which, if allowed to remain, would not increase the keeping qualities of the flour. Botanists distinguish five skins on the berry - epidermis, epicarp, endicarp, episperm and embryous membrane - but for practical purposes the number of integuments may be taken as three. The inner skin is often as thick as the outer and second skins together, which are largely composed of woody fibre; it contains the cerealin or aleurone cells, but although these are made up of a certain proportion of proteids, on account of the discolouring and diastasic action of the cerealin in flour they are best eliminated. The endosperm, or floury kernel, coming next to the inner skin, consists of starch granules which are caught as it were in the minute meshes of a net. This network is the gluten, and it may be noted that these meshes are not of equal consistency throughout the berry, but are usually finer and more dense near the husk than in the interior of the kernel. This glutinous portion is of great importance to the baker because on its quantity and quality depends the "strength" or rising power of the flour, and the aim of modern roller milling is to retain it as completely as possible, a matter of some difficulty owing to its close adherence to the husk, especially in the richest wheats. Another organ of the wheat berry which has a most important bearing on the work of the miller is the placenta, which is in effect a cord connecting the berry with its stalk or straw. The placenta serves to filter the food which the plant sucks up from the ground; it passes up the crease of the berry, and is enfolded in the middle skin, being protected on the outer side by the first and having the third or inner skin on its other side. A good deal of the matters filtered by the placenta are mineral in their nature, and such portions as are not digested remain in the crease. This is the matter which millers call "crease dirt." It is highly discolouring to flour, and must be carefully eliminated. The fuzzy end of the berry known as the beard also has a distinct function; its hairs are in reality tubes which serve to carry off superfluous moisture. They have, in common with the bran, no nutritive value. (See also Wheat.)
In the old "flat" or "low" milling the object was to grind as perfectly as possible, at one operation, the central substance of the grain, constituting the flour, and to separate it from the embryo and outer skins constituting the bran. In "high" milling, on the other hand, the grinding is effected in a series of operations, the aim being to get as much semolina and middlings as possible from the wheat, and to make as little flour as possible during the earlier or "breaking" part of the process. It is impossible altogether to avoid the production of flour at this stage, but properly set and worked break-rolls will make as little as 15% of "break-flour," which is of less value, being contaminated with crease dirt, and also because it is weak owing to the absence of the gluten cells which adhere more readily to the middlings. Whole wheaten flour, sometimes called Graham flour, consists of the entire grain ground up to a uniform mass.
Wheat cleaning has been well called the foundation of all good milling. In the screen house, as the wheat-cleaning department of the mill is termed, will be found an array of machinery almost equal in range and variety to that in the mill itself. The wheat, drawn by an elevator from the barge, or hoisted in sacks, is first treated by a machine known as a warehouse separator. This apparatus accomplishes its work by means of flat sieves, some of which will be of much coarser mesh than others, and of air currents, the adjustment of which is a more delicate task than might appear. The warehouse separator serves to free dirty wheat of such impurities as lumps of earth, stones, straws and sand, not to mention small seeds, also some maize, oats and barley. Great care has to be exercised in all operations of the screen house lest wheat should pass away with the screenings. Besides the warehouse separator, which is made in different types and sizes, grading and sorting cylinders, and what are known as cockle and barley cylinders, are much used in the screen house. These cylinders are provided with indents so shaped and of such size as to catch seeds which are smaller than wheat, and reject grains, as of barley or oats, which are longer than wheat. Sorting cylinders should be followed by machines known as scourers, the function of which is to free the wheat from adherent impurities. These machines are of different types, but all depend on percussive action. A vertical scourer consists of a number of steel or iron beaters attached to a vertical spindle which revolves inside a metallic woven or perforated casing, the whole being fitted with an effectual exhaust. Scourers with horizontal spindles are also in great favour. Not every wheat is suitable for scouring, but some wheats are so mingled with impurities that a severe action between the beaters and the perforated case is absolutely necessary. The most efficient scourer is that which frees the wheat from the greatest amount of impurity with a minimum of abrasion. The beaters should be adjustable to suit different kinds of wheat. Scourers are followed by brush machines which are similar to the last and are of three distinct types: solid, divided and cone brushes. In the solid variety the brush surface is continuous around the circumference of a revolving cylinder; in divided brushes there is often a set of beaters or bars covered with brush but leaving intermediate spaces; while the cone brush consists of beaters covered with fibre arranged like cones around a vertical spindle. The object of all these brushes, the cylinder containing them being fitted with an exhaust fan, is to polish the wheat and remove adhering impurities which the percussive action of the scourer may have failed to eliminate, also to remove the beard or fuzzy end and any loose portions of the outer husk. But the miller must be careful not to overdo the scouring action and unnecessarily abrade the berry, else he will have trouble with his flour, the triturated bran breaking under the rolls and producing powder which will discolour the break flour. To remove such metallic fragments as nails, pieces of wire, etc., magnets are used. These may either be of horseshoe shape, in which case they are usually set at the head of the wheat spouts, or they may consist of magnetized plates set at angles over which the wheat will slide. It is not a bad plan to place the magnets just before the first set of break-rolls, where they should ensure the arrest of steel and iron particles, which might otherwise get between the rolls and spoil the edges of their grooves, and also do damage to the sifting machines. Mention must also be made of the automatic scales which are used to check the milling value of the wheat. In principle these machines are all the same, though details of construction may vary. Each weigher is set for a given weight of grain. As soon as the receiving hopper has poured through a valve into the recipient or skip, which is hung at one end of a beam scale, a load of grain sufficient to overcome the weight hung at the other end of the beam, the inlet of grain is automatically cut off and the skip is discharged, automatically returning to take another charge. Each weighing is automatically recorded on a dial. In this way a record can be kept of the gross weight of the uncleaned wheat entering the warehouse and of the net weight of the cleaned wheat. The difference between the two weighings will, of course, represent the loss by cleaning. The percentage of flour obtained from a given wheat can be ascertained in the mill itself. In practice the second weigher is placed just before the first break.
Wet cleaning and conditioning
The cleansing of wheat by washing only became a fine art at the close of the 19th century, though it was practised in the north of England some twenty years earlier. Briefly it may be said that certain wheats are washed to free them from extraneous matters such as adherent earth and similar impurities which could not be removed by dry cleaning without undue abrasion. Such wheats are Indians, Persians and hard Russians, and these require not only washing but also conditioning, by which is meant mellowing, before going to the rolls. With another class of wheats, such as the softer Russians and Indians, spring Americans and Canadians, hard American winters, Californians and the harder River Plates, washing and conditioning by heat is also desirable, though care must be exercised not to let the moisture penetrate into the endosperm or floury portion of the kernel. In a third and distinct class fall soft wheats, such as many kinds of Plates, soft Russians and English wheat. It is generally admitted that while wheat of the first two divisions will benefit from the application of both moisture and heat, wheat of the third class must be washed with great circumspection. The object of washing machines is to agitate the wheat in water till the adherent foreign matters are washed off and any dirt balls broken up and drained off in the waste water. To this end some washers are fitted with Archimedean worm conveyors set either at an inclined angle or horizontally or vertically; or the washer may consist of a barrel revolving in a tank partly filled with water. Another function of washing machines is to separate stones of the same size which are found in several varieties of wheat. This separation is effected by utilizing a current of water as a balance strong enough to carry wheat but not strong enough to carry stones or bodies of greater specific gravity than wheat. This current may be led up an inclined worm or may flow horizontally over a revolving tray. The washer is followed by a whizzer, which is an apparatus intended to free the berry by purely mechanical means from superfluous moisture. The typical whizzer is a vertical column fed at the bottom and delivering at the top. The wet wheat ascends by centrifugal force in a spiral direction round the column to the top, and by the time it is discharged from the spout at the top it has thrown off from its outer skin almost all its moisture, the water escaping through the perforated cover of the machine. But there still remains a certain amount of water which has penetrated the integuments more or less deeply, and to condition the berry it is treated by a combination of hot and cold air. The wheat is passed between perforated metal plates and subjected to a draught first of hot and then of cold air. The perforated plates are usually built in the shape of a column, or leg as it is often called, and this is provided with two air chambers, an upper one serving as a reservoir for hot, and the lower for cold air. The air from both chambers is discharged by pressure through the descending layers of wheat, which should not be more than an inch thick; the air is drawn in by a steel-plate fan, which is often provided with a divided casing, one side being used for cold, and the other for hot air. Coupled with the hot air side is a heater consisting of a series of circulating steam-heated pipes. The temperature of the heated air can be regulated by the supply of steam to the heater. This process of washing and conditioning, one of the most important in a flour mill, is characteristically British; millers have to deal with wheats of the most varied nature, and one object of conditioning is to bring hard and harsh, soft and weak wheats as nearly as possible to a common standard of condition before being milled. Wheat is sometimes washed to toughen the bran, an end which can also be attained by damping it from a spraying pipe as it passes along an inclined worm. Another way of toughening bran is to pass wheat through a heated cylinder, while again another process known as steaming consists of injecting steam into wheat as it passes through a metal hopper. Here the object is to cleanse to some extent, and to warm and soften (by the condensation of moisture on the grain), but these processes are imperfect substitutes for a full washing and conditioning plant. Hard wheats will not be injured by a fairly long immersion in water, always provided the subsequent whizzing and drying are efficiently carried out. The second class of semi-hard wheats already mentioned must be run more quickly through the washer and freed from the water as rapidly as possible. Still more is this necessary with really soft wheats, such as soft River Plates and the softer English varieties. Here an immersion of only a few seconds is desirable, while the moisture left by the water must be immediately and energetically thrown off by the whizzer before the grain enters the drier. Treated thus, soft wheats may be improved by washing. It is claimed that hard wheats, like some varieties of Indians, are positively improved in flavour by conditioning, and this is probably true; certain it is that English country millers, in seasons when native wheat was scarce and dear, and Indian wheat was abundant and cheap, have found the latter, mellowed by conditioning, to be an excellent substitute.
Effect of damp
Wheats which have been exposed to the action of water during harvest do not necessarily yield unsound flour; the matter is a question of the amount of moisture absorbed. But it must be remembered that it is not so much the water itself which degrades the constituents of the wheat (starch and gluten) as the chemical changes which the dampness produces. Hence perhaps the best remedy which can be found for damp wheat is to dry it as soon as it has been harvested, either by kiln or steam drier at a heat not exceeding 120° F., until the moisture has been reduced to 10% of the whole grain. The flour made from wheat so treated may be weak, but will not usually be unsound. The practice of drying damp flour has also good results. Long before the roller milling period it was found that only flour which had been dried (in a kiln) could safely be taken on long sea voyages, especially when the vessel had to navigate warm latitudes. It may be noted that in the days of millstone milling it was far more difficult to produce good keeping flour. The wheat berry being broken up and triturated in one operation, the flour necessarily contained a large proportion of branny particles in which cerealin, an active diastasic constituent, was present in very sensible proportions. Again, the elimination of the germ by the roller process is favourable to the production of a sounder flour, because the germ contains a large amount of oleaginous matter and has a strong diastasic action on imperfectly matured starches. The tendency of flours containing germ to become rancid is well marked. During the South African War of 1899-1902 the British army supply department had a practical proof of the diastasic action of branny particles in flour. Soldiers' bread is not usually of white colour, and the military authorities not unnaturally believed that comparatively low-grade flour, if sound, was eminently suitable for use in the field bakeries. But in the climate of South Africa flour of this description soon developed considerable acidity. Ultimately the supply department gave up buying any but the driest patent flours, and it is understood that the most suitable flour proved to be certain patents milled in Minneapolis, U.S.A., from hard spring wheat. Not only did they contain a minimum of branny and fibrous matters, but they were also the driest that could be found.
After being cleaned the wheat berry is split and broken up into increasingly fine pieces by fluted rolls or "breaks." In the earlier years of roller milling it was usual to employ more breaks than is now the case. The first pair of break-rolls used to be called the splitting rolls, because their function was supposed to be to split the berry longitudinally down its crease, so as to give the miller an opportunity of removing the dirt between the two lobes of the berry by means of a brush machine. The dirt was in many cases no more than the placenta already described, which shrivelling up took, like all vegetable fibre, a dark tint. The neat split along the crease was not, however, achieved in more than 10% of the berries so treated. Where such rolls are still in use they are really serving as a sort of adjunct to the wheat-cleaning system. Four or five breaks are now thought sufficient, but three breaks are not recommended, except in very short systems for small country mills. Rolls are now used up to 60 in. in length, though in one of the most approved systems they never exceed 40 in.; they are made of chilled iron, and for the breaking of wheat are provided with grooving cut at a slight twist, the spiral averaging in. to the foot length, though for the last set of break-rolls, which clean up the bran, the spiral is sometimes increased to in. per foot. The grooves should have sharp edges because they do better work than when blunt, giving larger semolina and middlings, with bran adherent in big flakes; small middlings, that is, little pieces of the endosperm torn away by blunt grooves, and comminuted bran, make the production of good class flour almost impossible; cut bran, moreover, brings less money. The break-rolls should never work by pressure, but nip the material fed between them at a given point; to cut or shear, not to flatten and crush, is their function. Rolls may be set either horizontally or vertically; an oblique setting has also come into favour. The feed is of the utmost importance to the correct working of a roller mill. The material should be fed in an even stream, not too thick, and leaving no part of the roll uncovered. The two rolls of each pair are run at unequal speeds, 2 to 1 being the usual ratio on the three first breaks, while the last break is often speeded at 3 to 1 or 3 to 1; in one of the oblique mills the difference is obtained by making the diameter of one roll 13 and of the other 10 in. and running them at equal speed. For break-rolls up to 36 in. in length 9 in. is the usual diameter; for longer rolls 10 in. is the standard. To do good work rolls must run in perfect parallelism; otherwise some parts of the material will pass untouched, while others will be treated too severely.
The products of the break-rolls are treated by what are known as scalpers, which are simply machines for sorting out these products for further treatment. Scalpers may either be revolving reels or flat sieves. The sieve is the favourite form of scalper on account of its gentle action. Scalping requires a separating and sifting, not a scouring action. The break products are usually separated on a sieve covered with wire or perforated zinc plates. Generally speaking, two sieves are in one frame and are run at a slight incline. The throughs of the top sieve fall on the sieve below, while the rejections or overtails of the first sieve are fed to the next break. The "throughs," or what has passed this sieve, are graded by the next sieve, the tailings going to a purifier, while the throughs may be freed from what flour adheres to them by a centrifugal dressing machine and then treated by another purifier. A form of scalper which has come into general use on the continent of Europe, and to a lesser extent in Great Britain and America, is known as the plansifter. This machine, of Hungarian origin, is simply a collection of superimposed flat sieves in one box, and will scalp or sort out any kind of break stock very efficiently. A system of grading the tailings, that is, the rejections of the scalpers, introduced by James Harrison Carter (Carter-Zimmer patent), was known as pneumatic sorting. Its object was to supplement the work of the scalpers by classifying the tailings by means of air-currents. To this end each scalper was followed by a machine arranged somewhat like a gravity purifier; that is to say, a current of air drawn through the casing of the sorter allowed the heaviest and best material to drop down straight, while the lighter stuff was deposited in one or other of further compartments formed by obliquely placed adjustable cant boards. So searching was this grading, that from the first sorter of a four-break plant four separations would be obtained, the first going to the second break, the second joining the first separation from the second sorter and being fed to the third break, while the third went with the best separation of the third sorter to the fourth break, and the last separation from all the sorters went straight into the bran sack. The work of the break-rolls was greatly simplified and reduced by this sorting process, as each particle of broken wheat went exactly to that pair of break-rollers for which it was suitable, instead of all the material being run indiscriminately through all the break-rollers and thereby being cut up with the necessary result of increasing the production of small bran.
The object of the purifier, a machine on which milling engineers have lavished much thought and labour, is to get away from the semolina and middlings as much impure matter as possible, that those products may be pure, as millers say, for reduction to flour by the smooth rolls. The purifiers used in British mills take advantage of the fact that the more valuable portions of the wheat berry are heavier than the less valuable particles, such as bran and fibrous bodies, and a current of air is employed to weigh these fragments of the wheat berry as in a balance and to separate them while they pass over a silk-covered sieve. To this end the semolina or middlings are fed on a sieve vibrated by an eccentric and set at a slight downward angle. This sieve is installed in an air-tight longitudinal wooden chamber with glass windows on either side, through which the process of purifying can be watched. Upwards through this sieve a fan constantly draws a current of air, which, raising the stock upwards, allows the heavier and better material to remain below while the lighter particles are lifted off and fall on side platforms or channels, whence they are carried forward and delivered separately. The good material drops through the meshes of the silk, and is collected by a worm. It is usual to clothe the sieve in sections with several different meshes of silk so that stock of almost identical value, but differing size, may be treated with uniform accuracy. In good purifiers the strength of the current can be regulated at will in each section. The tailings of a purifier do not usually exceed 10 to 15% of the feed. The clothing of purifier sheets must be nicely graduated to the clothing of the preceding machines. Repurification and even tertiary purification may be necessary under certain conditions. In Hungary and other parts of Europe, gravity purifiers are much in use. Here the material is guided along an open sieve set at a slight angle, while an air-current is drawn up at an acute angle. Under the sieve may be arranged a series of inclined boards, the position of which can be varied as required. The heaviest and most valuable products resist the current and drop straight down, while lighter material is carried off to further divisions.
From the purifier all the stock except the tailings, which may require other treatment, should go to the smooth rollers to be made into flour, but here the rollerman will have to exercise great care and discretion. Many of the remarks already made in regard to break-rolls apply to smooth rolls, notably in respect of parallelism. But instead of a cutting action, the smooth rolls press the material fed to them into flour. This pressure, however, must be applied with great discrimination, large semolina with impurities attached requiring quite different treatment from that called for by small pure middlings. The pressure on the stock must be just sufficient and no more. Reduction rolls are usually run at a differential speed of about 2 to 3. The feed must be carefully graded, because to pass stock of varying size through a pair of smooth rolls would be fatal to good work. Scratch rolls very finely grooved are used for cracking impure semolina or for reducing the tailings of purifiers. The latter often hold fragments of bran, which are best detached by rolls grooved about 36 to the inch and run at a differential of 3 to 1. The reduction requires even more roll surface than the break system. To do first-class work a mill should have at least 35 to 40 in. on the breaks and 50 in. on the reduction for each sack of 280 lb of flour per hour. Many engineers consider 100 to 110 in. on the break, scratch and smooth rolls not too much.
The dressing out of the flour from the stock reduced on smooth rolls is generally effected by centrifugal machines, which consist of a slowly revolving cylinder provided with an internal shaft on which are keyed a number of iron beaters that run at a speed of about 200 revolutions a minute, and fling the feed against the silk clothing of the cylinder. What goes through the silk is collected by a worm conveyor at the bottom of the machine. Most centrifugals have so-called "cut-off" sheets, with internal divisions in the tail end; these are intended to separate some intermediate products, which, having been freed from floury particles, are treated on some other machine, such as a pair of rolls either direct or after a purifier. The centrifugal is undoubtedly an efficient flour separator, but the plansifters already mentioned are also good flour-dressers, especially in dry climates. A plansifter mill will have no centrifugals, except one or two at the tail end where the material gets more sticky and requires more severe treatment.
The yield of flour obtained in a British roller mill averages 70 to 73% of the wheat berry. The residue, with the exception of a very small proportion of waste, is offal, which is divided into various grades and sold. Profitable markets for British-made bran have been found in Scandinavia, and especially in Denmark. In millstone milling the yield of flour probably averaged 75 to 80%, but a certain proportion of this was little more than offal. The length of the flour yield taken by British millers varies in different parts of the kingdom, because demand varies. In one locality high-class patents may be at a premium; in another the call is for a straight grade, i.e. a flour containing as much of the farinaceous substance as can be won from the wheat berry. In one district there is a sale for rich offals, that is, offals with plenty of flour adhering; in another there may be no demand for such offals. Hence, though the general principles of roller milling as given above hold good all over the country, yet in practice the work of each mill is varied more or less to suit the peculiarities of the local trade.
Bleaching of flour
Early in the 19th century a French chemist, J.J.E. Poutet, discovered that nitrous acid and oxides of nitrogen act on some fluid and semi-fluid vegetable oils, removing their yellow tinge and converting a considerable portion of their substance into a white solid. The importance of this discovery, when the physical constitution of wheat is considered, is obvious, but it was years before any attempt was made to bleach flour. The first attempts at bleaching seem to have been made on the wheat itself rather than on the flour. In 1879 a process was patented for bleaching grain by means of chlorine gas, and about 1891 a suggestion was made for bleaching grain by means of electrolysed sea-water. In 1895 a scheme was put forward for treating grain with sulphurous acid, and about two years later it was proposed to subject both grain and flour to the influence of electric currents. In 1893 a patent was granted for the purification of flour by means of fresh air or oxygen, and three years later another inventor proposed to employ the Röntgen rays for the same purpose. In 1898 Emile Frichot took out a patent for using ozone and ozonized air for flour-bleaching. The patent (No. 1661 of 1901) taken out by J. & S. Andrews of Belfast recited that flour is known to improve greatly if kept for some time after grinding, and the purpose of the invention it covered was to bring about this improvement or conditioning not only immediately after grinding, but also to a greater extent than can be effected by keeping. The process consisted in subjecting the flour to the action of a suitable gaseous oxidizing medium; the inventors preferred air carrying a minute quantity of nitric acid or peroxide of nitrogen, but they did not confine themselves to those compounds, having found that chlorine, bromine and other substances capable of liberating oxygen were also more or less efficacious. They claimed that while exercising no deleterious action their treatment made the flour whiter, improved its baking qualities, and rendered it less liable to be attacked by mites or other organisms. Under the patent, No. 14006 of 1903, granted to J.N. Alsop of Kentucky the flour was treated with atmospheric air which had been subjected to the action of an arc or flaming discharge of electricity, with the purpose of purifying it and improving its nutritious properties. The Andrews and Alsop patents became the objects of extended litigation in the English courts, and it was held that the gaseous medium employed by Alsop was substantially the same as that employed by Andrews, though produced electrically instead of chemically, and therefore that the Alsop process was an infringement of the Andrews patent. Various other patents for more or less similar processes have also been taken out.
(G. F. Z.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)