Unless you’ve spent the last century hiding in an abandoned flour mill, you’ll know the word “bread” has long been synonymous with the pre-sliced loaves freakishly uniform in shape and loaded with hidden sugars. And even when it’s baked locally, bread is typically still made with the same industrially produced, potentially rotten flour that’s used for the truly empty-calorie stuff. Because apparently there are multiple ways flour can go bad.
Inspired by the auto industry’s concept cars, The Future Market creates concept products designed to show how our kitchens and grocery store shelves might look and operate in the coming decades. In the case of the Mini Mill, the company is pushing more than just a slickly designed wheat grinder. The concept is an entire system created to change the way we think about, buy, and consume flour. It may even save bread’s plummeting reputation in the process.
The machine is designed to fit on a kitchen countertop and blend in with its surroundings. In other words, it’s decidedly un-futuristic. That’s intentional. “This is the essence of what future market does,” Lee told me over the phone. “These are average products that are ‘boring’ in the future.” In other words, these life-changing (kitchen-changing?) concepts might seem novel now, but will eventually become as commonplace as a toaster.
The machine accepts a wide variety of wheat berry pods, which would be sold in vacuum-sealed bags and are good for up to one year. Just pour the berries into the mill, push a button, and you’ve got fresh flour in 60 seconds. Each packet makes approximately two cups of flour.
The wheat berries are meant to be sold with the grinder, much the same way K-cups and Keurig machines are a kind of one-stop shop for coffee. So theoretically, anyone anywhere could head into their local Target and find a rack of wheat berries for sale next to a shelf of Mini Mills.
Access to the wheat berries is crucial to making fresh flour. Historically, they’re pretty difficult to find, according to Lee. Wider availability thanks to the Mini Mills pods would not only make it easier for the average consumer in the suburbs to find the berries, it could also potentially allow different regions to carry more local flavors.
Mini Mill may not actually exist yet, but that doesn’t mean it can’t make an impact, especially on how we think about traditional flour. The bricks of powdered stuff you see on grocery store shelves were probably milled at least a year ago, and might even carry pathogens like Salmonella. The internet can’t stop debating whether the stuff’s good or bad for you. And there’s an entire litany of health problems associated with store-bought flour.
But as Lee points out, humans have eaten some version of bread since about 10,000 BC—they just weren’t eating the mass-produced, heavily industrialized version sold in supermarkets today.
And that’s where a product like Mini Mill, priced affordably and easy to use, could help. After all, if consumers have access to farm-fresh eggs and restaurants are picking lettuce from on-premises vertical farms, why couldn’t we also have access to the kind of flour that people used to bake with before the industrial revolution?
“This idea [of] fresh on demand is very real for many ingredients that we buy in the supermarket,” says Lee. “Flour is that glaring missing thing. Maybe one of the reasons bad things happen to our bodies is not because of gluten, it’s because of we’re eating dead, rotten flour.”
He points to the coffee industry as an example to emulate. Specialty coffee first started turning heads in the 1960s as an alternative to the vacuum-packed, store-bought bags common in most households. Today, home grinders are absolutely ubiquitous.
“First, we have to get people on board with this idea that fresh is better,” says Lee. “I may not get people to start milling their own flour, but I want them to understand there’s a difference between fresh and not-fresh flour. I think that’s the first step in trying to create something like the Mini Mill.”
But if the Mini Mill doesn’t actually exist on store shelves (yet), how can consumers experience truly fresh flour? Lee pointed to a few places where you can purchase fresh-ground flour: Farmer Ground Flour serves various retailers in New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Four Star Farms serves Massachusetts. And Bluebird Grain Farms has an e-commerce store where you can buy bags of flour starting at 5 lbs. True, it’s not quite the same as having a mill of your own. But the more people who turn to fresh flour, the greater the chances of something like the Mini Mill eventually making it into your kitchen.