Of the many traditional tools needed to prepare food, few have changed as much over time as the grain mill. What once stood lofty and tall—and by necessity close to a community waterway or similar natural power source—can now sit on your kitchen counter! To achieve that magical conversion from grain to flour, a long trek with a bag of wheat has been replaced by a short walk and the flip of a switch.
Our household has been using whole grains, traditionally prepared, for almost twenty years, thanks to the wisdom shared by the Weston A. Price Foundation. And one of our earliest large purchases as a family was a grain mill (also sometimes referred to as a flour mill). Over the years, we have tried an array of grain mill options—some powered by hand, some electric and some with other interesting options! So, let’s explore the major grain mill options currently on the market to help you make a better decision if you decide to go with the grain.
AN UP-FRONT INVESTMENT WITH LONG-TERM BENEFITS
Home Grain Milling
I won’t recount in-depth all the reasons why you should consider owning a grain mill, but a brief review is always worthwhile.
First, a grain mill lets you create truly fresh, nourishing flour.1 Grains, once broken down into flour, begin to degrade. Light and oxygen cause oils to oxidize (and turn rancid) and other nutrients to break down. Significant amounts of nutrients—up to 90 percent—can be lost within just a few days of milling.2
Second is the issue of storage. Flour is not the storage form of grains—whole grains are! Whereas flour is hard to store without loss of quality, whole grains are relatively easy to store for many years.
Third is the matter of cost. Whole grains are substantially cheaper than flours. You can often save 30 to 60 percent off the price of flour if you purchase whole grains in bulk (usually twenty-five-pound or fifty-pound bags).3
What is the biggest drawback to whole grains? They need to be milled.
A HANDMILL’S TALE
There are three major types of mills on the market. The first are mill attachments that work with other kitchen equipment you may already have on hand. Other types of mills are either stand-alone or multiuse units.
The price of grain mills runs the gamut. If you already own an existing piece of compatible kitchen equipment, such as a mixer, you can spend as little as one hundred to two hundred dollars for an attachment-style mill. Stand-alone models range from smaller models generally costing under six hundred dollars, to larger models that can easily cost in the four digits but—if you care for them properly—will still be making flour for your great-grandkids.
ATTACHMENT MILL OPTIONS
Before discussing attachment options, it is important to note a few things. First, most attachments we have tried will usually take two passes to create a truly fine-quality flour (though this can also be the case with a number of stand-alone mills as well). Second, if your machine has relatively low power, milling can cause significant strain to the motor and other components. This can easily result in reducing the life of the machine or its motor. So, if you plan to go with an attachment, make sure whatever you are attaching to is up to the task.
If you own a KitchenAid, there are a half-dozen or possibly more milling attachments now available. But not all KitchenAids are equally powerful. In our experience, unless you have a heavy-duty KitchenAid model or only need to mill occasionally, it is probably best to consider a stand-alone unit.
Other common kitchen machines that can take milling attachments include the full-size Bosch mixer, the Family Grain Mill attachment (which fits most mixers or a stand-alone hand base) and Mockmill’s grain mill attachment.
If you have a high-quality blender, another option is the “Blender Batter” method popularized (and possibly invented) by Sue Gregg, in which whole grains and other ingredients are processed and soaked in a blender.4,5 While this won’t work for breads, it is an excellent option for properly preparing muffins, pancakes, waffles and a wide variety of other whole-grain creations. We used this approach early in our marriage when we started learning about traditional foods and their proper preparation; the money saved eventually allowed us to purchase our first grain mill.
COUNTERTOP GRAIN MILLS
Home grain milling machine
Twenty years ago, when we first started working with whole grains and the equipment to prepare them, everything was plastic, white plastic. Since then, one of the major changes in the grain mill market is that manufacturers are now making many products with more natural materials. The Mockmill stone mill (engineered and manufactured in Germany) and the KoMo mill (handmade in Austria of beechwood or walnut) are especially noteworthy for their use of natural materials that make their mills far more aesthetically enjoyable to have sitting on your counter.
When it comes to countertop grain mills, the main divide is size (and thus also cost). Generally, small electric countertop models run three hundred to six hundred dollars. Larger models can run five hundred dollars and up. Larger models are usually faster and have larger hoppers for feeding into the mill, but otherwise they don’t differ much from their smaller counterparts.
Some of the smaller setups are single-purpose—meaning that you can use them for milling grains, but not much else. And while their overall speed ranges, hopper sizes and fineness of the flour produced do differ some from brand to brand, generally, these differences are not significant. In other words, in most categories, these mills will be fairly similar. Moreover, some of the variations described in product reviews may have to do with different qualities or types of grains. Small reported variations from mill to mill could also be related to the need for the owner to adjust the mill more carefully.
There is one area, however, where all grain mills are not created equal—noise! One of our earlier mills (the K-Tec, now known as the Blendtec) was so loud that standing behind a jet engine during take-off would have been more bearable. The KoMo mills, in contrast, are noted for their especially quiet performance. If you are in an apartment or otherwise need to limit noise levels, make sure that whatever brand you buy checks this box.
A second major difference among countertop models has to do with what they can mill. The German-made Family Grain Mill will only handle traditional grains and does not perform well with harder fare such as corn or beans. The KoMo, on the other hand, will handle just about any grain, pulse or bean and will even do non-oily herbs and spices. So, depending on what you hope to do with your mill, make sure you review what the company says their mill can do.
A few models—especially the Family Grain Mill—also have the ability to swap attachments and perform a number of other tasks. This is one reason we went with the Family Grain Mill, which served us well for over a decade. We especially enjoyed the flaker/roller attachment for oats and other grains and seeds.
GRAIN MILLS TO LAST A LIFETIME
The key variable that sets the smaller countertop grain mills apart from larger ones is longevity. Other than needing to replace milling heads or other minor components occasionally, many if not all large grain mills are made to last at least a lifetime, if not many lifetimes!
While there are several more on the market, the three we have experience with are the Retsel “slow turning mill,” the GrainMaker and the Country Living Grain Mill, all American-made. For the latter two, the base models are not motorized; however, both not only have motor kits available but also have bicycle kits available to let you power them and get some peddle time in! If you are handy, you can also motorize them yourself—there are many guides online explaining how to do so.
It should be noted that these mills are quite heavy and take up a large amount of space. The Retsel also isn’t the prettiest, whereas the other two—if space allows—could sit out in the kitchen or another space instead of requiring set up and then stowage with each use.
WHICH GRAIN MILL IS BEST FOR YOU?
Best grain mill for home
Over the years, we have owned a Retsel, K-Tec/Blendtec, Family Grain Mill and Mockmill, and our current mill is a GrainMaker. We also have worked with a number of the other models. Our conclusion is that there is no “one best” grain mill. If your budget allows and you are looking for a mill that will last many decades, the GrainMaker or the Country Living Grain Mill are worth considering. If you are limited on space or budget, the Mockmill or another countertop mill called the NutriMill might fit your size and budget constraints.
It is also not uncommon to find good mills for sale used. There are always people who think they will get into working with whole grains and sourdough but end up not doing so or doing so only for a season. You can save a few hundred dollars by keeping an eye out for such bargains.
- A baker’s mission to make bread better with freshly-milled flour. CBS, May 30, 2017.
- Experimenting with whole grains—blender batter pancakes/waffles. Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Nov. 9, 2008. https://kellythekitchenkop.com/experimenting-with-whole-grains-blender/
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2022🖨️ Print post
I’ve been milling grain since 1980 on our Retsel. It’s heavy, big but not too loud as it grinds slower than other kinds of mills. I don’t think it will ever wear out! Not many people have heard of this brand and so I was surprised you mentioned it and had actually used one!