A steak being rubbed with this dark, powdery substance is transformed. A brownie mix wouldn’t be complete without a dash of the dark stuff. No protein shake will ever be the same.
So says the only Finger Lakes producer of a groundbreaking product.
Although Corning, New York resident Hilary Niver-Johnson is not the first to make wine flour, she is one of only five companies doing it — and her Sustainable Viticulture Systems is the first to be doing so on the East Coast.
Niver-Johnson’s story begins after she graduated from SUNY ESF with a degree in environmental science. She started doing research that measured the energy in vineyards and wineries — and discovered the incredible amount of waste involved with winemaking.
She turned to grapeseed oil, but soon realized it only used, roughly 3 percent of the pomace, which are the solid remains of the grapes after they’re pressed for juice or oil. She decided to look into other ways to use the pomace.
Grapeseed flour and wine flour took care of the other 97 percent.
Niver-Johnson built her processing factory back in 2014 and has a processing capacity of 10 tons. Her commercial facility is located in Hector, NY where she has all of her equipment and solar de-hydration system.
“It was hard work starting this,” she says, noting that the flour-making process is laborious. “The seeds and the skins must be separated and then dried using solar thermal technologies. From there the seeds are cold-pressed, milled, and turned into flour.” This process of solar de-hydration is key to locking out the heat chemicals. In a phone call Niver-Johnson explained, “When you add heat you create hexane, and this aromatic compound can get into products and affect the nutritional value.” The hexane is a harmful heat chemical that can immediately kill a batch of wine flour.
Unlike traditional white flour, wine flour is high in antioxidants and fiber, providing added nutrition to any recipe. There are two antioxidants found in the flour, firstly polyphenols, which are abundant micronutrients in our diet that play a role in the prevention of degenerative diseases, like cancer and cardiovascular diseases. And bioflavonoids, which are plant metabolites, responsible for the coloring in fruits and vegetables. They are also known to defend your skin against, stress and aging. These micronutrients have lead researchers to look deeper into the health benefits of the wine flour.
Agricultural Research Service chemist, Wallace Yokoyama and his colleagues teamed up with WholeVine Products, a northern California maker of wine flour, to conduct the first study showing the effects of flour milled from whole grape seeds and there ability to reduce blood cholesterol levels.
This September an article in the United States Department of Agriculture Magazine released the findings of Yokoyama’s preliminary study that was in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2014, showing how laboratory hamsters that were normally fed high-fat diets reduced their blood cholesterol levels, hepatic steatosis better known as “fatty liver,” and weight, when given flour-milled from Chardonnay wine grape seeds.
Further more the research is starting to look into the kinds and amount of bacteria in the animals’ gut. The USDA article states, “The gut “microbiome,” as it is known, is of interest to scientists worldwide because of the beneficial role that some gut bacteria may play in controlling obesity or reducing risk of type 2 diabetes, for instance.”
In addition to these findings with the recent spike in gluten-intolerant people and the health movement in general it makes gluten-free wine flour that much more attractive — “everything from steak rubs, thickening soup, adding to pasta,” Niver-Johnson said.
She cautioned that wine flour is meant to supplement recipes, not serve as a wholesale substitute for any ingredient, including regular flour.
“If you’re baking, you add a couple of tablespoons per cup of flour,” Niver-Johnson advised.
Wine flour is sold in different varieties, Niver-Johnson said. She has riesling and Cabernet Ssauvignon right now, and will be launching six more in the coming months. And as a result of the wine flour process there is zero organic waste.
In order to sustain her 3-year-old business, Niver-Johnson has relied on private donors and bank funding. However, she is encouraged by recent experiences: Niver-Johnson attended Seneca Lake Wine and Food 2015 in Watkins Glen May 30-31 and sold all of her baked goods and all of the wine flour she brought.
She suggests beginning with something sweet and simple like Pinot Noir Donut Cookies, the recipe is posted on the FLX Wine Flour website along with other savory dishes like Mediterranean Cabernet Pizza or Chardonnay Crusted Chicken. Niver-Johnson will be touring the Finger Lakes this fall and will be celebrating her newest invention, leaving a trail of wine flour behind.