If you're a home cook and at all curious about whole grains, you've probably picked up a bag of one of Bob Red Mill's fresh, organic products at your local grocery. Today I had the pleasure of touring the Mill (yes, it's very red, just like the packaging!) with Bob Moore himself. Read on to discover more of the inspiring story behind this remarkable, family-minded, whole foods-loving entrepreneur.
Bob, his wife Charlee and their three sons, have been working in whole grains in some capacity for about 40 years. But it wasn't always that way. Bob's trajectory to become a health-food advocate and producer was long and winding. He and his wife worked in other fields very successfully: electrical engineering, running a gas station, starting a farm, amongst a few other professions (wow!), while raising their family on honest, wholesome meals.
In the early 60s, Charlee began reading literature praising the merits of unprocessed food. Soon she was baking, cooking and feeding her family all of this delicious, whole food. Bob chanced upon a book about tending a grain mill, and began to order parts to create his own. With the help of his young sons, he decided it was time to assemble the parts to their first mill outside of the garage and in its own location.
What started as a passion for home cooking and Bob's interest in the way mills work evolved into a multimillion dollar company with organic products reaching home cooks all over the world. Living in Saudi Arabia and want organic, stone ground flax seed, milled just days before? No problem. Making buckwheat blinis in Sweden? Bob's got buckwheat groats and flour ready for you, complete with a label in Swedish.
Bob's mill is currently located in Milwaukie, Oregon, just a few miles south of Portland. Bob works with farmers locally and nationally, who deliver truckloads of un-refined grain to the facility. From here, the assortment of grains get sorted, shaken out and prepared for milling or packaging. Every step of the process is done in-house, even the the majority of the machinery used is created within the facility. (The mills used for grinding are made in Denmark.)
Bob has been creating certified gluten-free products for about 10 years, providing intense tests and measures for safety as well as an entirely separate packing/milling facility for these products. Their most popular item, flax seed, is milled in this area because it is gluten free. We tasted a small spoonful, and never have I enjoyed plain flax before that moment. It was so light and nutty in flavor and texture, about as fresh as it could ever be!
What was incredible about visiting the space was the sheer volume and scale of the space and what goes on there. The buzz of activity (mechanical and human) and room after room, full of huge flour sacks, boxes ready for shipping and the hum of the grinding flour — it was a remarkable sight. I could sense honesty and integrity behind all of Bob's products, not to mention the wholesome flavor and fantastic health benefits.
A Few Questions for Bob Moore of Bob's Red Mill
What prompted you to start milling all of the diverse grains you process?
"And God said, 'See, I have given you (man) every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food'." Genesis 1:29
As a person with great respect for the Bible and the words I read in it, the above quote which appears on the very first page of the book, continues to impress me greatly as an important statement made by our creator directly to the created. It has lain in my heart and mind as an important goal that I have been comfortable with for most of my life. Nothing pleases me more than to hear the scientific community of our modern day culture corroborate this statement through their research and study. The statement, "...every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth..." indicates to me that we need to look about and consider exotic and far-off places. We certainly have done this in recent years with our products teff, quinoa, amaranth, and sorghum.
Did you grow up on good, wholesome food?
What's your most important food memory?
The first whole grain loaf of bread that came out of my wife Charlee's oven on our five acre farm back in the 60s was the most delicious loaf of bread I can ever remember smelling and eating. In fact, between the boys and I, we ate the whole thing before it ever reached room temperature. I think that was the major reason that won me over to a whole grain diet— that wonderful bread! Thanks, Charlee!
What's your current favorite dish to make with one of your products?
You just can't go wrong with a whole grain muffin. There is a wonderful recipe on the label of our flaxseed meal called "Bran Flax Muffin" that is full of nutritious ingredients like shredded apples, carrots, oat bran and nuts. It's a great and easy way to get started baking with whole grains.
For a beginning cook, what's one of your flours, seeds or grains you would recommend?
For a beginning cook, I would recommend starting simple with whole wheat pastry flour. This product can be used in place of conventional white flour for cookies, muffins and quick breads. Its whole grain goodness will make baked goods only slightly denser than when using white flour, and they will be much healthier. If the baker wants a lighter touch, I recommend using half whole wheat flour and half white flour.
What's on the horizon for your mill? Any unusual new foods being developed?
We're constantly looking for new ways to help people enjoy simple and authentic whole grain foods, so it's no wonder we have over 300 items in our array of natural, organic and gluten-free products. This year we're appealing to folks eager to get back to basics but short on time and culinary confidence by introducing four new super convenient granolas and three new fast-cooking Israeli couscous products. On the horizon, consumers can expect to see some innovative new gluten-free products that are healthy, natural and eliminate the historical taste-tradeoff in that category.
Do you have any favorite products from Bob's Red Mill? How do you use whole grains in your kitchen?
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)