Atta is the ground product from whole wheat used extensively in preparing many food articles in India. By far the single largest use is in making Roti or Chapati or other products which are staple items in the diet of a majority of Indians. If multinational giants are in the Atta business, it is due to the extreme popularity of this milled product amongst the Indian consumers. It is another matter that entry of these large companies has pushed up the price to unimaginable levels during the past 2-3 years. Branded Atta to day costs more than double the price of the raw wheat and urban consumers have no alternate choice but to buy these products for their daily subsistence.
In western countries the concept of Atta was practically non-existent as most of the wheat products like pasta, bread, biscuits and many others are based on milled, refined flour containing no bran or germ, the most nutritious part of the grain. The sophisticated milling technology developed in the West based on automated roller flour milling concept has spawned large capacity plants with through put as high as 2000-3000 tons per day. The by-products like bran and germ go for compounded animal feeds. In contrast, Indian families had perfected manual process of grinding wheat grains into whole grain flour which preserved the characteristic aroma and taste of wheat. The historic "Atta Chakki" which once was an integral part of Indian family traditions, are disappearing fast from the landscape of the country for want of clientele which has switched over to branded Atta during the last one decade.
Atta Chakki or the stone mill or the plate mill as it is known amongst food technologists was originally based on revolving granite discs with a gap for feeding wheat grain and flours of any fineness can be obtained by adjusting the gap. Cast iron discs replaced the granite ones with more efficient grinding and through put capacities. Attempts by the organized flour mill industry to by-pass the Chakki ground Atta by mixing the bran fraction from the roller flour mill with refined white flour were doomed to failure and Atta Chakki survived. Adopting the strategy that "join the adversary if you cannot beat hm" larger Chakkis were designed by the organized milling industry for use along with the standard pre-cleaning and post-grinding facilities of their flour mills to manufacture Atta similar to Chakki ground Atta. Traditional Chakki stood the test of time and it is unlikely that any alternative will ever be found for this ubiquitous contraption of yesteryear.
Why is that Atta from Chakki rules supreme in India, able to beat back the onslaught of the modern technological prowess as represented by the Roller Flour Mills of sleek and elegant design? There is scientific basis for this phenomenon. One of the basic factors that puts Chakki Atta above modern white flour is the temperature generated in plate mills which cause "desirable" changes in the starch granules in the grain contributing to better quality roti in terms of aroma and eating pleasure. Besides its nutritional superiority in terms of high dietary fiber, higher Vitamin E content and minerals, Chakki Atta has more appealing flavor and sweeter taste due to the roasting effect and carotenoid content in whole flour. Even to day many house holds in Northern parts of the country buy high quality raw wheat based on their experience from the market, wash it clean with water, dry under the sun and take to the nearest Chakki facility to grind into Atta of desired fineness. One of the problems associated with whole wheat flour is its limited shelf life due to presence of high lipase germ fraction causing rancidity but traditionally only limited quantity of wheat is milled, just sufficient for a few days without causing any spoilage.