Pause.

Aside

grains hot cereal

I just ate a fantastic grain breakfast. How did I do it? Yesterday afternoon, I went to my pantry and selected four grains. How did I choose them? Well, I wanted something with big grains and crunchy, and something small and flavorful too. I chose kamut, einkorn (farro), and millet. I poured them into a pan (no measuring!) and added water to cover by about an inch. A little salt. I simmered until the grains were done, adding more water once or twice. Then I added a little old fashioned oatmeal, to sort of bind them all together. Cooked a few minutes, added sultans, covered, and took off the heat. Left there until morning.

Morning comes. I warm up my mixture. Delicious!! This needs no sugar at all, just a little milk (and the sultans!). Yum. I thinks my mixture is a lot better than the 7-grain cereal  blend that I have purchased for years. The flavors stand out and the grains are pleasantly chewy.

Cereal for breakfast is especially good after months of eggs. We spent months successfully losing weight on a low-carb diet, but I for one missed my grains. Now I am using these whole grains that I studied, knowing they are full of nutrients, fiber, and even protein. The ones I chose have a relatively low glycemic index. No blood sugar spikes like eating sugary muffins.

I don’t even have to look up recipes to use my favorite grains. Besides the morning cereal, a week ago I added teff flour to muffins just based on my own knowledge. They were delicious.

I have learned that I like grains that are in one piece, like wheat berries. I know that whole grains can be “whole”, as in, in one piece, or lightly processed, like bulgur and cracked freekeh, which are treated just enough to change the texture but not too much to remove all of the fiber and attached nutrients. Grains can be processed into flour and still be considered “whole grain”. I know that a product called grain might be a grass, like wheat, or a seed, like millet. I have learned enough to use my own knowledge to choose and cook grains, but I have some great references on hand, my own charts, my own weblinks, and Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way by Lorna Sass.

But I am “pausing” on my grain posts. Time to get on to my pressure cooker and other interests.


Quick summary (mainly for me!):

I still have spelt, oats, quinoa, chia, and rye to cover. Also, I realized in Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way that oats and corn and hominy and more are considered whole grains too. I’ll try to get to all of them eventually. So far, I have covered:

 

Grains: Millet

“Which grain was first farmed nearly 10,000 years ago? Which grain was revered as one of five sacred crops in ancient China? Which grain is mentioned in the Old Testament, the writings of Herodotus, and the journals of Marco Polo? The answer is millet!”

Thus reads the package of Bob’s Red Mill whole grain hulled millet that I hold in my hands. The millet is small and round and sort of yellow-tan in color. I want to learn more about this ancient grain!

Millet is the generic name for a group of small-seeded grasses. The most prominent types of millet are finger, pearl, foxtail, proso, and little millet. One less popular type called great millet is actually sorghum bicolor. White and black fonios are related to millet, as I learned while writing my post on fonio. Millet grows well in hot and dry climates and has a short growing season. According to Wikipedia, 97% of the world’s millet is produced in developing countries in Asia and Africa. Millet is “whole” because it includes the bran, germ, and endosperm. It is also gluten free.

The Experience Life website states “Like quinoa and amaranth, millet is actually a seed, but it’s classified as a grain in cookbooks because that’s the way it’s most often prepared.”

Millet was a “Grain of the Month” on the Oldways Whole Grain Council website. It’s thought that before rice, millet was the staple grain in Asia. Today, in India, millet is used to make the flat bread roti, a staple flat bread. In Africa, millet is generally cooked as a porridge. And, it is used to make beer.

I continue to prowl the web for information on millet, and stumble on this book: Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way, by Lorna Sass. Wow! Lorna Sass covers all of the grains I have covered in this blog. I decide I must have this book – so I order it. And I have so much to say about it, that I will have to make my comments a separate blog post. (I bought the Kindle version, so I can immediately read what Lorna Sass knows about millet.)

I learn from Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way that In the US, proso is the most common millet. And what is it used for here? Birdseed! Health food stores began selling millet for people, and then gluten-free diets increased its popularity. Now millet is pretty easy to find in many types of markets, as well as online.

Bob’s Red Mill has a good blog entry that is a comparison of four grains: millet, quinoa, barley, and amaranth. I also like an entry The World’s Healthiest Foods: “Although millet is most often associated as the main ingredient in bird seed, it is not just ‘for the birds.’ Creamy like mashed potatoes or fluffy like rice, millet is a delicious grain that can accompany many types of food. As with most grains, millet is available in markets throughout the year.” An Encyclopedia Britannica article has wonderful photos and also illustrations that show how grains are milled.

I did find one caution about consumption of large amounts of millet. Some types of millet contain goitrogens. What are these? They are substances that suppress thyroid activity and can lead to goiters, or enlargement of the thyroid gland. (Reference: The Healthy Home Economist.) Why It Matters What Type of Millet You Eat is a fun to read article by Chris Masterjohn, PhD. He explains that proso millet is okay – and from what he found out from Bob’s Red Mill and what I found out from Lorna Sass, proso millet is the type of millet we are most likely to obtain in the United States.

Bob’s Red Mill millet, probably proso millet:

milletMillet compared to medium grain brown rice:

millet compared to brown rice

Nutrition

1/4 cup of dry millet (55 grams) has 210 calories, 3 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, 8% iron, 12% niacin, 8% vitamin B6, 8% folate, 8% riboflavin, 14% thiamin, 40% manganese, 14% phosphorus, 4% zinc, and 15% magnesium.

The glycemic index values for millet range from 45 to 71, depending on the type of millet and how much the grain is processed.

The World’s Healthiest Foods discusses other health benefits of millet.

Cooking

water time simmering
1 cup millet 2 cups 20 minutes

The above instructions are from the Bob’s Red Mill package. Lorna Sass, in her book “Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way”, recommends three ways to cook millet:

Fluffy: Toast 1 cup millet for 4-6 minutes in a dry pan over medium heat, until it begins popping and emits a toasty aroma. Off heat, carefully add 2 ¼ cups boiling water, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 tablespoon butter. Cover and simmer 13-18 minutes until most of the water is absorbed, then let stand 10 minutes. Fluff up before serving. Use like you would rice.

Sticky: Don’t toast the millet. Put 1 cup millet in a pan with 2 ¾ cups water and 1/4 teaspoon salt, simmer for 13-18 minutes, then let stand 10 minutes. Sticky millet can be molded in croquettes and patties or pressed into a pan.

Creamy: Start with millet “grits”, or make your own by grinding 1 cup millet in a spice grinder, 1/2 cup at a time, into a coarse meal. Bring 5 cups water (with 1/4 teaspoon salt) to a boil, then gradually whisk in the ground millet. Cover, lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 to 30 minutes until grits are tender (the length of time depends in the size of the grits and the altitude). Creamy millet is good as a breakfast porridge, or it can be used like polenta.

I cooked millet according to Sass’s “fluffy” directions. I had it simmering gently: each time I peeked, it was obviously at a boil, but the lid wasn’t bumping like crazy. At my altitude of 5300 feet, it took 23 minutes for all the water to be absorbed. After a few minutes left standing off heat, it fluffed up nicely with a fork:

fluffy cooked milletI think it is beautiful! It tastes a tiny bit like corn, and not all the seeds cooked evenly, giving it just about the perfect amount of crunch. (“Crunch” is an important factor in my food tasting!)

Recipes

Millet can be used like rice, as a porridge, like mashed potatoes, and in many other dishes. It kind of depends on how you cook it. The “fluffy” way would work great under a spicy sauce or in a tabouleh style salad. The flavor is pleasant and not dominating. Actually, I think it would be great with some Mexican flavors, and served along with beans as a side for enchiladas and the like.

Here are examples of recipes from “Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way”.

  • Millet Pie with Spinach and Feta
  • Millet with Buttermilk and Chives
  • Millet with Gingered Beets and Orange

Oldways Whole Grain Council site

Food Network

Grains: Teff

Teff is a tiny grain from Africa. I learn from the Bob’s Red Mill package that it is the smallest grain in the world, and “It has long been an important food for Highland Ethiopians, who use it to make everything from bread to beer.” It is one of the ancient grains, it is a grass, and it is gluten free. Teff comes in black, brown, and ivory varieties. It is sold as the whole grain and as flour.

Oldways Grain Council has become one of my favorite grains websites, so I direct my browser there. The information (and quote) in this paragraph is gleaned from that site. Teff kernels are 1/150 the size of wheat kernels. The word “teff” comes from teffa, meaning “lost” in Amharic, an Ethiopian language. The scientific name for teff is Eragrostis tef. Why do I mention this? Because eragrostis is the genus “lovegrass”, and I like that name. Teff is easy to grow: a handful of seeds sows a large area, it grows in wet and dry conditions, and can be cultivated from sea level to 10,000 feet. Teff is nutritious, with a high protein and calcium content. “It’s been estimated that Ethiopians get about two-thirds of their dietary protein from teff. Many of Ethiopia’s famed long-distance runners attribute their energy and health to teff.”

Teff is championed in the US by Wayne Carlson, much as is kamut by Bob Quinn and fonio by Pierre Thiam. Carlson’s company website is The Teff Company. The company produces the teff under the brand name Maskal Teff. Carlson first became interested in teff while living in Ethiopia during the early 1970s. Here is a direct quote from the website: “He lived as a guest of the local farming community, and found the farmers eager to show their crops. Wayne became devoted to the local food, and soon discovered that while the farmers had a wide variety of crops, they preferred to grow and eat teff.” The Teff Company found Idaho to have an ideal climate for growing teff.

A 2016 New York Times article states that the Ethiopian government prohibits its farmers from exporting teff in order to keep teff affordable in Ethiopia. This comes from the lesson learned from quinoa, originally a staple in the diets of many South Americans but now unaffordable by many locals. (I discussed this briefly in my post on fonio.) The Ethiopian government would like to make black, brown, and ivory teff varieties protected brands, much like Ethiopian coffees. The NY Times article also states that teff is high in protein and iron, has more calcium and vitamin C than “almost any other grain”, and much of its fiber is a resistant starch that might improve blood sugar levels.

Teff kernels cook up like a porridge, according to the websites I visited. I might get more use out of this grain if I buy the flour and incorporate it into breads. But let’s see first if I even like the taste!

The whole teff I purchased from Bob’s red mill is brown. And, it is about the size of poppy seeds.

teff

Teff compared to medium grain brown rice.

teff and brown rice

Nutrition

1/4 cup of dry teff (50 grams) has 180 calories, 4 grams fiber, 7 grams protein, 10% daily calcium, 20 % iron, 10% vitamin B6, 6% thiamine, 10% zinc, and 25% magnesium. (Note that the NY Times article stated teff has a significant amount of vitamin C, but that claim is not supported by other nutrition sources.)

The glycemic index is reported as 74 (Teff: Nutrient Composition and Health Benefits by Kaleab Baye). (Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain.)

Teff is gluten-free, an important consideration for those on gluten free diets.

Teff is a whole grain.

Cooking

water time simmering time standing notes
1 cup teff 4 cups 20 minutes about 10 minutes let stand until all liquid is absorbed

The above cooking time is for brown teff. Check the package instructions if you find one of the other varieties of teff.

I cooked 1/4 cup of Bob’s Red Mill brown teff and it yielded 3/4 cup cooked. The kernels never get real soggy, and when cooked, sort of have the texture of poppy seeds.

I liked the taste! Slightly sweet, definitely not bitter, a bit earthy, and pleasing. The texture – like poppy seeds – is unusual, but not necessarily bad. I think I’d like to try keff mixed with oatmeal and other grains as a breakfast cereal.

Cooked teff:

cooked teff

Recipes

Teff is a natural for hot breakfast cereal, perhaps mixed with other grains for variety. I made the “Teff Porridge with Dates and Honey”, a recipe on the Bob’s Red Mill package, and it was delicious. For that recipe, the dry teff is toasted in the cooking pan and then the water is added. It’s simmered for 10 minutes, then the dates and honey and cloves (I used cinnamon) are stirred in and the mixture cooked until thick and yummy.

In Ethiopia, teff is used to make traditional injera bread. Injera bread is often used as a bowl for stews, kind of like a wrap or flatbread.

Links to recipes using teff are below. The first group are recipes for injera, and the next two groups are the Teff Company and Bob’s Red Mill sample recipes. Note that injera is made from teff flour. Indeed, at least of half of the recipes in all the links below call for teff flour.

Injera, or Ethiopian Flatbread (the linked sites might be explored for more general teff recipes)

The Teff Company

  • sweets and quick breads
  • stuffed peppers
  • African stews
  • mixed with roasted vegetables
  • lentil curry and vegetable stew
  • goat cheese and vegetable quiche
  • many more!

Bob’s Red Mill

  • Teff Stew with onions, garlic, spices, zucchini,yellow summer squash, and garbanzo beans (on the package)
  • Corn Quiche in Teff Crust
  • Injera bread
  • Ethiopian Lentil Stew
  • quick breads, cookies, puddings, cakes, waffles

teff package

Grains: Buckwheat

I used to think buckwheat was a type of wheat. But no. Wheat is a grass, and buckwheat is not a grass, instead, it is a pseudocereal related to sorrel and rhubarb. So why the heck does it have “wheat” in its name? Because it is “used like wheat”, or because its triangular seeds look like the seeds of the beech nut tree – “beech wheat” somehow became “buckwheat”. (Wikipedia).

Buckwheat is officially one of the ancient grains. It has been cultivated for thousands of years in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Tibet, and Europe. It was brought to America by Russian immigrants and is still used in traditional dishes.

I bought a package of “kasha” from Bob’s Red Mill. Kasha is (roasted) buckwheat kernels. Kasha lacks only the husk, and is therefore a whole grain. I have buckwheat flour in my pantry, for use in yeast breads, quick breads, and pancakes. Buckwheat is a gluten-free grain, and this has helped increase its popularity in Western countries.

I used to associate “kasha” with the cereals under the “Kashi” brand. For years, this was my “healthy dry cereal” for breakfast. Kashi does have some buckwheat in most of its cereals, but their website does not talk about kasha.

Buckwheat is a topic in some of my early health food books, bread books, a pasta book, and a nutrition book. While covering PastaMatic MX700, I took the time to look it up and first discovered that it is not really wheat. In my Handbook of the Nutritional Contents of Foods post, I learned that it has a nutrient profile similar to wheat, but it has a lower glycemic index. PastaMatic MX700 has a recipe for buckwheat noodles. Eat, Drink and Be Healthy, published in 1971, advises the reader to “look for milling companies in your area and ask them about wheat germ, whole-grain flour, buckwheat, peanut, rice, and other flours”. The Tassajara Bread Book, published in 1970, encourages the use of rye, corn, millet, barley, rice, oats and buckwheat flours in breads. Vegetariana has several recipes that include buckwheat. 1000 Vegetarian Recipes tells me that “it’s uncommon to find buckwheat in its raw form. Most often people confuse kasha, which is roasted buckwheat, for raw”.

I bought my buckwheat flour while writing the  Handbook of the Nutritional Contents of Foods post. This flour is bluish-purple in color. I used it as part of the flour in a loaf of My Daily Bread. The bread cooked up beautifully, albeit bluish-purple in color, but I really cannot stand the taste of buckwheat! It stinks too!

The kasha I bought for this post is not bluish-purple, so maybe they will taste better than the buckwheat flour. I open the package and sniff the kernels. They do not have the same stink as the buckwheat flour. Maybe they will taste good . . . but no. I cooked them according to the package instructions and I don’t like the taste! They are bitter, and just not to my liking.

Wondering if I am the only one who doesn’t like the taste of buckwheat, I searched online. Thekitchen.com admits that many do not like the taste, calling them “bitter and strong”. A Washington Post article states “A little earthy, a little nutty, a little bitter: The flavor of buckwheat can be intense. But roast buckwheat seeds, or mix buckwheat flour with other flours, and the taste is tamed”. My book 1000 Vegetarian Recipes states “Kasha has a very distinctive flavor and most people either love it or hate it, but few feel indifferent.”

Kasha is in the Oldways Whole Grain Council’s “grain of the month” series. They do not mention any objections to the taste of buckwheat, and state “buckwheat has played an important role in diets around the world, mainly in Asia and Eastern Europe. Buckwheat has been providing essential nutrients, vitamins, energy, and fiber to humanity for approximately 8,000 years.”

Package of kasha.

kasha package

Kasha, uncooked.

kasha

Kasha compared to medium grain brown rice.

kasha and brown rice

Cooking

water time simmering time standing
1 cup whole grain kasha (roasted buckwheat kernels) 5 cups 10-12 minutes none draining not necessary
1 cup whole kasha (1000 Veg. Rec. CB) 2 cups 10-15 minutes 5 minutes

Bob’s Red Mill: 1 cup dry cooks to about 3 cups.

Be aware that kasha can come in medium and fine types, or it may not be whole grain and it may not be roasted. I suggest to cook according to the package instructions, if you have it.

Cooked kasha.

cooded kasha

Nutrition

The values for kasha purchased from Bob’s Red Mill: 1/4 cup of kasha has 160 calories, 2 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, some iron and potassium.

From the nutritionalvalue.org site, I find that kasha has these RDAs: 13% niacin, 11% thiamin, 5% riboflavin, 12% vitamin B6, 4% vitamin K, 11% copper, 9% iron, 26% magnesium, 43% manganese, 14% phosphorus, 3% selenium, and 9% zinc.

The Whole Grains Council website states (and references) that buckwheat is a good source of resistant starch, and “Close examination of buckwheat’s flavonoid compounds (naturally occurring plant pigments in red, purple-red, and purple) reveals groats contain rutin, a particular bioflavonoid thought to help control blood pressure as well as to possess anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.”

The glycemic index of buckwheat groats is reported as 45 and 54, depending on the source (see below). (Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain.)

Glycemicindex.com

  • buckwheat groats 45

Glycemic Index (GI) Guidelines for a Plant-based Diet Barley (Full Plate Living website) gives these values:

  • buckwheat groats 54
  • buckwheat bread (50% buckwheat flour, 50% white flour) 47

Recipes

Buckwheat groats are used as porridge and in hot and cold side dishes, much like farro, freekeh, and wheat berries. Buckwheat flour is used in quick breads, yeast breads, noodles, and pancakes (regular, blinis, and crepes). Buckwheat honey, strong and dark, is available through several online sources.

Buckwheat pancakes are called blinis in Russia and galettes in France. In India, foods made from buckwheat flour are enjoyed, especially on fasting days. Buckwheat is used in several Asian cuisines, for instance, Japanese soba noodles.

Bob’s Red Mill (package)

  • Kasha Purifying Soup, with lentils, yellow split peas, kasha, onions, carrots, celery,  garlic, and spices.

1000 Vegetarian Recipes

  • Kasha Varniskas (onions, kasha, bowtie pasta)
  • Kasha with Jicama and Apples.

Thekitchen.com

Oldways Whole Grains Council

  • Buckwheat Mushroom Kreplach in Dill Tomato Sauce (groats, egg, shitake mushrooms, goat cheese in gyoza wrappers with a tomato sauce)
  • Buckwheat Pumpkin Muffins with Molasses-Cinnamon Glaze
  • Arugula Salad with Chicken, Dates, and Buckwheat Crumble (hemp hearts, Manchego cheese, chicken)
  • Kasha and Beet Salad with Celery and Feta

Grains: Barley

I always keep barley in my pantry. I like adding it to soups, especially beef soup. But I’ve only used it in soups, and I know very little about it. There must be more to discover about this old grain!

And barley is old. It is officially included among the ancient grains. I go to my new-favorite site, Whole Grains Council, and learn this:

“Egyptians buried mummies with necklaces of barley, and centuries later In 1324 Edward II of England standardized the inch as equal to ‘three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end lengthwise.’”

Barley was domesticated around 19,000 years ago (Wikipedia). Wild barley still exists in western Asia and Northeast Africa, but domesticated barley is the type widely available today. I don’t think all the barley we get is considered an “heirloom grain” as is farro, but it is considered ancient. (Humans discovered barley and farro in the same time frame.) Today, barley is ranked as the 4th most popular grain in the world, behind maize, rice, and wheat.

There are about fifty “cultivars” of barley today. Fifty! A cultivar is a “plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding”, according to Google’s dictionary. Most of the cultivars, or varieties, have a hull that is very tough and inedible. That hull must be removed before we can eat it. And yes, hulling the barley removes some of the nutrients. The processed form of barley called “dehulled barley” (confusingly this may also be labeled “hulled” barley) is considered a whole grain because it still has its bran and germ. According to the Old Grains Council, dehulled (or “pot”) barley is available at health food stores, but it takes a very long time to cook. Most of the barley we see in our markets is “pearl barley”. Pearl barley is dehulled barley that has been steamed to remove the bran, and then polished in a process called “pearling”. (Wikipedia).  Another form of barley, “hulless” varieties (cultivars), are available through Bob’s Red Mill and Shiloh Farms (labelled either “hull-less” or “hulless”). Hulless barley never had a hull to lose! Instant or quick barley is available from Quaker Oats. It cooks in just 10 minutes.

The Old Grains Council site states “Lightly pearled barley is not technically a whole grain (as small amounts of the bran are missing) – but it’s full of fiber and much healthier than a fully-refined grain.” Is my barley “lightly pearled”? I don’t know. But, they state “While the fiber in most grains is concentrated largely in the outer bran layer, barley’s fiber is found throughout the whole grain, which may account for its extraordinarily high levels.”

I learn more about dehulled (hulled, pot), hull-less, and pearl barley on the GoBarley web site. Dehulled barley has been pearled for a shorter amount of time and still has most of the barley bran intact, but it takes a long time to cook. According to the GoBarley site: “Don’t ever think you can’t make a recipe because it calls for a different type of barley than the one you have on hand.”

So: unless you buy the instant type of barley, it will take a long time to cook, so plan ahead.

Cooked barley has a chewy texture and good flavor. It barley can be used in side dishes, salads, main dishes, soups and more – much like wheat berries, farro, and sorghum. Barley flakes and grits can be cooked into porridge. Barley is processed into flour and used in breads. Different barley products are used in commercial packaged foods.

And don’t forget gruel: barley meal is made into gruel. Gruel is a thin porridge, the stuff fed to inmates and peasants. “Eat your gruel!”

Beer! Beer and whiskey are more reasons why barley is so popular world-wide. How is that? Barley is made into malt! I learned this when I covered malt syrup in one of my posts in 250 Cookbooks, Blue Ribbon Malt Extract. The barley is soaked in water just until it sprouts and then it is dried – a process called malting. Barley malt helps the fermentation process and adds flavor to beers and whiskeys.

I use barley malt routinely in yeast bread baking. Experts say that it helps the yeast grow, yielding lighter bread loaves. For bagels, I add barley malt to the bagel-boiling water, the step just before baking.

It’s good to become re-acquainted with barley. I haven’t used it in months. I search my pantry and find some in my pantry, but I don’t know what type it is and I don’t know how old it is. I throw it out and start afresh. (Ah, this puts a new take on “old” grains.) First, I order a pearl barley online from Shiloh Farms. This must be a “lightly” pearled version, since it takes over an hour to cook. In a local health food store (Steamboat Mountain in Lyons), I come across (and purchase!) a bag of “hulled” barley. Since the store buys this barley in huge bags and re-distributes it, I don’t know what brand it is or how long to cook it. On my shelves, I also find a new and unopened package of barley flour that King Arthur Flour sent me when I ordered “ancient grain flour”. I’ll put all of these to good use in my kitchen experiments.

Here is the bag of pearled barley:

barley package

The above pearled barley, out of the package:

pearl barley

Pearled barley and medium grain brown rice:

barley and brown rice Below is pearled barley compared to the barley I found at Steamboat Mountain. I am pretty sure it is what I called hulled, pot, or dehulled barley in the above paragraphs, with the husk removed but not pearled, and considered a whole grain because it still has its bran and germ intact. (I don’t think it is the hull-less cultivar.) It is much darker than the Shiloh Farms pearl barley; below are the two compared, pearl on the left, hulled on the right.

pearl and dehulled barley

Nutrition

The values for pearl barley purchased from Shiloh Farms: 1/4 cup of barley has 160 calories, 7 grams fiber, and 4 grams protein.

From the nutritionalvalue.org site, I find that barley (hulled) has these RDAs: 12% niacin, 22% thiamin, 8% riboflavin, 8% vitamin B6, 2% vitamin K, 13% copper, 10% iron, 16% magnesium, 49% manganese, 13% phosphorus, 27% selenium, and 9% zinc.

Barley contains beta glucan, a soluble fiber, that has been reported to reduce cholesterol. (GoBarley website.) Recent research indicates that “barley’s ability to control blood sugar may be exceptional” and barley “reduces blood pressure”. (Oldways Whole Grain Council website.)

I found varied values for the glycemic index (GI) for barley. Remember: lower values are better for diabetics (indicate “slow” grains for sugar release), and under 55 is good for a grain in general.

The Glucose Revolution Pocket Guide to Losing Weight

  • bulgur  25

Glycemic Index (GI) Guidelines for a Plant-based Diet Barley (Full Plate Living website) gives these values:

  • porridge made from barley flour or dehulled flakes 63
  • barley, rolled 66

LiveStrong values:

  • cooked pearl barley 35
  • hulled barley 20 to 22

Oregon State University

  • pearl barley boiled 38

Cooking

Always consult the barley package if you have it. Otherwise, follow the instructions below. (Explanations follow the table.)

water time simmering
1 cup pearl barley (Shiloh Farms) 3 cups 50-70 minutes
1 cup pearl barley (Shiloh Farms) 2 cups 30 minutes in pressure cooker, high, fast release
1 cup dehulled barley (not pearled) 3 cups 35 minutes in pressure cooker, high, fast release
1 cup hull-less barley (Bob’s Red Mill) 3 cups 40-80 minutes

I have two types of barley to cook: pearl barley and dehulled (pot) barley. The package of pearl barley says to cook 1 cup of pearl barley in 3 cups water 1 hour and fifteen minutes. My book, 1000 Vegetarian Recipes, says to cook 1 cup dehulled barley in 2 1/2 cups water for 1 hour and 20 minutes.

I experimented. I started with the pearl barley and my pressure cooker. I cooked 1 cup in 2 cups water for 35 minutes, high pressure, fast release. All of the water was absorbed, and the barley was sticky and very done. If I tried pearl barley in the pressure cooker again, I’d start with 30 minutes.

Note: 1 cup pearl barley yielded 3 cups cooked.

cooked pearl barleyI cooked the dehulled barley in my pressure cooker, 1 cup barley and 2 cups water, for 30 minutes, high pressure, fast release. It was not done, so I cooked it another 5 minutes under high pressure, fast release. Perfect! Chewy and good. It had some water left and I drained it off. So, next time, 35 minuted in the pressure cooker.

Let’s go back to the pearl barley. I want to make beef barley soup (I found this recipe on Cook’s Illustrated). I know my husband, and he would prefer the pearl barley. I wanted to cook the pearl barley in the soup itself so it could take up all of the flavors of the stock (my very good own beef stock) and the other ingredients of the soup, so I added it uncooked at the first simmer of the soup. I simmered the soup for 1/2 hour and checked the barley – it was not done. At 1 hour, though, it was just about perfect. I then left it standing off heat for another 1/2 hour and it was a lot softer than it was before I let it stand. In the future, I’d say, simmer Shiloh Farms pearl barley in a soup (or water) for about an hour, and it will be ready to serve immediately.

From my experiences above with pearl and dehulled barley, it is difficult to tell everyone exactly how to cook this grain. (And add in that I haven’t even tried a hull-less cultivar of barley, such as sold by Bob’s Red Mill – that package says to cook that cultivar 40-80 minutes. I also didn’t try instant barley.)

Experiment! And then if you like it, always buy the same type of barley. Keep in mind that it might take over an hour to cook barley. Or, if you buy “instant” barley, it might take only 20-30 minutes.

Recipes

Recipes for barley abound on the internet. But in my own house? Well, my digitized collection of recipes calls for barley flour in tortillas, and for whole barley in beef soup. That’s it. In my cookbooks? A few of my health food cookbooks have recipes for whole barley and for barley flour. That’s it.

I have an unopened package of barley flour that King Arthur Flour sent me when I ordered “ancient grain flour”. I opened it and added a half cup to My Daily Bread this week, but the loaf failed to rise well in the pre-baking step and baked into a dense (but well-flavored) loaf. The package suggests using barley flour to make soft tortillas – I think that’s the recipe to try next, or I’ll add it to muffins, or use less than 1/2 cup in a loaf of bread.

But online? Recipes abound. In general, barley can be used anywhere rice is used. Or, like other intact grains in tabouleh-style salads. I’m listing some recipe links below.

GoBarley site recipes

  • Sweet and Sour Barley Casserole
  • Sausage, Lentil, and Barley Soup
  • Zucchini, Bean, and Almond Salad
  • Carrot Cake Barley with Walnuts, Raisins, and Greek Yogurt
  • Soft Barley Pretzels

Cook’s Illustrated

  • Light Barley Risotto
  • Farmhouse Vegetable and Barley Soup
  • Barley Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash
  • Beef and Barley Soup for Two (I made this soup using pearled barley and it was great)

Fanatic Cook

Bob’s Red Mill

Old Grains Council

  • Bacon Sautéed Barley with Arugula
  • Baked Chicken with Apples and Barley
  • Barley Antipasto Salad
  • Barley, Pineapple, and Jicama Salad with Avocado
  • Barley-Stuffed Bells
  • Thai Barley Stir-Fry
  • Strawberry Barley Scones

Grains: Sorghum

Sorghum – I always associate the word “sorghum” with syrup. In my cookbook Our Favorite Recipes, the pfefferneusse cookie recipe calls for 4 pounds of sorghum syrup (I did not try to find it!). I listed sorghum as an entry in Encyclopedia of Cookery, Vol. 10, but did not describe it. So I am going to pull that book off the shelf . . .

“A genus of grasses with a large number of species, cultivated throughout the world for food, forage, and syrup. Sorghums were among the first of the wild plants to be domesticated by man. They originated in Africa and Asia; Egyptian cultivation can be dated before 2200 BC and they were grown in China and India at an early date.”

I also learn from the Encyclopedia of Cookery (published in 1966) that the four main types of sorghums are grass, grain, broomcorn, and sugar. Grass sorghums are used for hay and pasturage. The grain sorghums, grown in the US since 1874, are used for livestock food. Broomcorns, grown in the US since 1797, are used for carpet and whisk brooms. The sugar sorghums, grown in the US since 1853, are “tall and leafy and their canelike stalk contains a sweet juice which can be boiled down into a syrup. This syrup has been used as a molasses substitute. During the Civil War sugar was very scarce in the North, and sorghum syrup was used instead of molasses.”

I was correct in associating sorghum with syrup. So why am I now holding this Bob’s Red Mill Sorghum package of big kernels of sorghum grain – ready to be cooked like a grain and intended for human consumption? Because I am re-discovering some of the grains we humans ate as we developed into the beings we are today. Sorghum is one of these “ancient grains”. Bob’s Red Mill has gone before me, and now produces sorghum grain in these convenient packages for people like me:

sorghum package

I found a great reference for sorghum in an article on the Oldways Whole Grains Council website. I learn that sorghum is known by many names: milo and guinea corn in West Africa, kafir corn in South Africa, dura in Sudan, mtama in eastern Africa, jowar in Hindi, jola in Kannada, and kaoliang in China. Sorghum has an edible hull, and thus is common in whole grain form, retaining most of its nutrients.

I learn on the All About Sorghum site that “In the United States, and other countries across the globe, sorghum grain is primarily used for livestock feed and ethanol production, but is becoming popular in the consumer food industry and other emerging markets.” From the same site: “In 2017, sorghum was planted on 5.6 million acres and 364 million bushels were harvested.”

Another great reference is the Simply Sorghum site. I learn that sorghum is available as the whole grain (this is what I have), pearled grain (outer husk removed), whole grain sorghum flour (milled with the hull), white sorghum flour (milled without the hull), sorghum bran and flakes (used most often in the food industry), and sorghum syrup. Sorghum syrup is still used as a sweetener, mostly in the South. For instance, it is used on pancakes and added to BBQ marinades and salad dressings. Sorghum syrup is less sweet than molasses and sugar because it lower in fructose. Benefits are that it is high in potassium. The Simply Sorghum site lists another sorghum product called “black sorghum”. Black sorghum was developed by Texas A&M University in the US. This is emerging as a “super food” as it is high in antioxidants and phytochemicals.

Sorghum can be popped like popcorn! I just had to try doing this. I put it in a pan with a bit of oil and put it over high heat. A lid was not necessary, since the little kernels did not have enough oomph to jump out of the pan.

Sorghum is one of the ancient grains. Most of the grain-sorghum that we find in stores in the US is whole grain (the hull is edible) but hulled or “pearl” sorghum is also available. Curious about the the availability of sorghum, I checked around and found Vitacost to have the widest variety of sorghum grains and flours (they even have sprouted grain sorghum flour) and popped sorghum snacks.

A major “plus” for sorghum is that it is gluten free. This puts it with amaranth, fonio,and quinoa (and a few more more) as acceptable grains/pseudocereals for the thousands of people with celiac disease.

Sorghum:

sorghumSorghum and brown rice:

sorghum and brown rice

Nutrition

1/4 cup of dry whole grain sorghum has 180 calories, 8 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, and 8% of the RDA of iron and zinc. From the nutritionalvalue.org site, I find that sorghum also has these RDAs: 11% niacin, 11% thiamin, 8% vitamin B6, 4% vitamin K, 6% copper, 8% iron, 15% magnesium, 31% manganese, 14% phosphorus, and 5% zinc.

According to the Oldways Grain Council site, sorghum contains policosanols, compounds that may have a healthful effect on cardiac health. Some researchers claim policosanols have cholesterol-lowering potency comparable to that of statins. (The Oldways Grain Council lists references here.)

Whole grain sorghum has a glycemic index of 62 (source: SimplySorghum). Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain.

Not to forget: sorghum is gluten-free.

Cooking

The Bob’s Red Mill package instructions say to cook whole grain sorghum 50-60 minutes on the stove top. Like with kamut, I immediately think “pressure cooker”, and sure enough, I find pressure cooker instructions on the Simply Sorghum site. Both sets of instructions are below.

water time simmering
1 cup whole grain sorghum 3 cups water 50-60 minutes drain off any water
1 cup whole grain sorghum 2 cups water 35 minutes in pressure cooker, high, fast release drain off any water

1 cup dry sorghum yields about 2 1/2 cups cooked.

Cooked sorghum:

cooked sorghum

Recipes

Sorghum can be used much like wheat berries, kamut, and farro. It is a large grain and more suitable for side and main dishes than porridge (at least, in the whole grain form).

As a flour, it can be added to all sorts of baked goods. King Arthur Flour has several suggestions for using sorghum flour along with other gluten-free flours to make yeast and quick breads.

Popped sorghum can be eaten “as is” or added to snack bars, granola, salads, and desserts.

Old Grains Council site recipe examples:

  • Molasses Sorghum Cookies (sorghum flour)
  • Roasted Tomato, White Bean, and Sorghum Salad with Walnuts
  • Sorghum & Blues Salad (blue cheese)
  • Stir-Fried Thai Sorghum Bowl (asparagus, carrots, tofu, snow peas, with a spicy coconut milk sauce)
  • Split Pea and Sorghum Salad with Swiss Chard and Spiced Tahini Dressing

Simply Sorghum site recipe examples:

  • Apple Cinnamon Raisin Sorghum Bake (a breakfast dish made with pearled sorghum)
  • Berry and Kale Sorghum Salad
  • Caprese Sorghum Salad Bowl
  • Chicken, Leek, and Sorghum Soup
  • Chicken Jambalaya
  • Carrot Cake (sorghum and almond flours)
  • Chocolate Almond-Sorghum Poppers (popped sorghum, chocolate chips, dates, almond butter, almonds)

Grains: Fonio

Pierre Thiam told me about fonio in a TED Talks podcast, “A Forgotten Ancient Grain That Could Help Africa“. That grain was fonio. I was fascinated. I’ve been to Africa, and my son-in-law and first grandson were born there. My daughter worked on helping West Africans build sustainable businesses while in the Peace Corps. I am curious about grains, and interested in West Africa, so fonio is right up my alley.

Besides the podcast, I consulted these three resources, and then wrote my own brief synopsis below the references.

Fonio is an ancient grain that has been grown in West Africa for thousands of years. It is drought resistant, and the first crop to come in after the rainy season. It is more nutritious than rice, with more protein and a lower glycemic index. It is a very small grain, and requires a lot of labor to harvest. (Labor is cheap in the area, and farm equipment expensive.) A few people, such as the owners of the business Yolélé, believe that fonio could help locals remain in the area, produce fonio for sale on local and world markets, and help the development of the area. The blogger Oluwafemi brings up another issue: the preference of locals, especially when they move to the cities, is to default to what isn’t homegrown, thus giving up on ancient and traditional grains like fonio. Developing and encouraging homegrown products instead makes a lot of sense.

Since fonio is gluten-free, with proper development, it could rival quinoa for Westerners on gluten-free diets. Some worry that if that happens, all the fonio produced locally  would disappear from diets in West Africa and instead go to other countries, much as quinoa is disappearing from diets in South America.

Fonio is the grain from a grass, genus Digitaria, that is related to millet but much smaller. (Wikipedia.) There are white and black varieties of fonio (black fonio is found in Togo and Mali).

I was able to purchase Yolélé fonio online for about $7 for 10 ounces. I kind of wonder how this “boutique” grain will catch on in the US and actually provide a living for working folks in Africa, but I admire the founders of Yolélé for making the effort. To me, perhaps local production and local consumption in West Africa is a better answer. The crop is easy to grow, nutritious, and can be grown with sustainable agriculture.

fonio

Here is uncooked fonio:

fonioFonio compared to medium grain brown rice:

fonion compared to brown riceIt is really tiny! The Yolélé package states that the fonio they sell is pre-cooked. I am not sure if this process is similar to the production of bulgur, where the grains are first parboiled and then milled into smaller pieces. My guess is that the pieces of fonio we see in the above photographs is unmilled grain, but I am not sure.

Nutrition

1/4 cup of dry fonio has 170 calories, 1 gram fiber, 2 grams protein, and some iron. I note that the values for protein and fiber are less than most of the other grains I have covered.

Yolélé foods states that the glycemic index of fonio is 57. (Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain.)

Fonio is gluten-free, an important consideration for those on gluten free diets.

Fonio is a whole grain.

The Yolélé package and a couple web sites (The Guardian and Health Benefits Times) tell us that fonio is particularly nutritious because of two amino acids, cystine and methionine. Amino acids, recall, make up proteins. Some proteins have more or less of certain amino acids in them, and thus used to be called “incomplete proteins”, although this theory has been pretty much debunked. (See Diet for a Small Planet, one of my 250 Cookbooks posts.) Still, particular amino acids are shown to have certain health benefits, as I learned from a quick net search. Methionine is good for skin, hair, and nails; cystine is also good for skin and hair, assists in detoxification, and helps in healing wounds or burns.

Cooking

water time simmering time standing
1 cup fonio 2 cups boiling water none 5 minutes

At the end of the cooking time, the Yolélé says to fluff the fonio with a fork and add salt and butter or oil.

1 cup cooks to about 2 1/2 cups.

Okay, time to taste this fonio. I grab a spoon and tentatively dig in. Oh, yum! I like this! It is kind of like cream of wheat (farina), but less wheaty and more . . . delicious! I would definitely like this as a breakfast cereal, maybe with a little fruit and rich milk. A few spices? Yes, especially cinnamon. And a little sugar.

cooked fonio

Indeed, I tried fonio for breakfast with sultans, sugar, and milk. It was quite good. I think it would also be good with a fried egg on top and some sort of sauce.

Recipes

Fonio can be used as the whole grain (at least I think the package I bought is), or it can be made into flour. I have not yet found fonio flour for sale online or in stores.

In general, fonio can be cooked as a porridge (one recipe says to cook it in a mixture of milk and water and serve with fruit). It can be cooked much like rice, with various seasonings. It can be used much like couscous or polenta, under spiced meat or vegetable mixtures. It can be used like bulgur or quinoa in taboulleh-style salads. It can be added to soups and stews. It can be made into cakes and baked or fried. The flour or the cooked grain can be added to a variety of breads.

Below are examples of recipes that show the wide variety of uses for fonio.

Yolélé Foods recipe page:

  • Kimchi Fried Fonio is fonio cooked with kimchi, onion, garlic, ginger, herbs, soy sauce, herbs, and topped with fried eggs.
  • Fonio, Butternut Squash, Spinach & Tomato Frittata – uncooked fonio is added to butternut squash, tomatoes and garlic, spinach is added, it is cooked in the oven with eggs, milk, and cheese to make a frittata.

Fonio Balls in African Peanut Sauce on the Full of Plants Tasty Vegan Recipes site.

Zesty Southwestern Fonio Salad on the Earth’s Goodness site.

Fonio Sushi from the TED blog.

Grains: Kamut

I bought a bag of Bob’s Red Mill “Kamut” at Safeway yesterday. The cashier, an interesting woman from Eastern Europe who has worked at that store for years, held the bag in her hands and peered at the label. “What is this? What are you going to do with it?” I said, “I have no idea, really. I am studying unusual grains because I am curious about them!”

“The history of this ancient wheat grain is a bit mysterious” reads the package. Ooh, a mystery! It’s known as “Prophet’s Wheat” because some believe that Noah brought kamut along on the ark. It is also known as “King Tut’s Wheat”, because some say that it was found in the tomb of that Egyptian pharaoh. On the Bob’s Red Mill package, it is also called the “traditional grain of Egypt”.

Wikipedia tells me that kamut is also known as “Khorasan wheat” or “Oriental wheat”. It is a tetraploid wheat species, scientifically Triticum turanicum. It is one of the ancient grains. Khorasan is a kingdom that existed in what is now parts of Iran, Iraq, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Egypt.

The story of how Kamut came to the United States begins in 1949, according to the Kamut® Brand Khorasan wheat website. A US airman stationed in Portugal came upon an unusual grain in the markets. He sent “thirty-six kernels of the wheat” to his father, a farmer in the US. His father grew those seeds into many bushels, and passed those seeds out at a county fair. A teen, Bob Quinn, was at the fair and saw the seeds. He went on to get a PhD in Plant Biochemistry, and when he returned to the family farm years later, he and his father found and grew some of those large grains, now known as kamut. In 1990, “the ‘KAMUT®’ trademark was registered to be used as a guarantee that the original grain would remain unmodified and always grown organically”.

Whole berries of kamut are larger than the common wheat berries that I covered in another post. They have a “chewy, toothsome texture and nutty, rich flavor makes a delicious spring and summer salad” according to Food Republic. That same site also reports that kamut has more protein than most wheat, and some people who are allergic to wheat can tolerate kamut. King Arthur Flour says kamut flour has a “rich and buttery” flavor, and in quick and yeast breads, lends a light and tender effect to baked products.

Uncooked kamut berries:

kamut

Below is kamut compared to common wheat berries and farro. This is the order: wheat – kamut – farro. The kamut is notably larger.

wheat kamut farro

Kamut compared to medium grain brown rice:

kamut and brown rice

Kamut flour and flakes are currently added to a wide variety of food products. I searched the cereal section of Whole Foods and found a cereal that contains kamut, as well as oats, spelt, barley, millet, and quinoa. This cereal has a delicious crunch!

Heritage FlakesNutrition

1/4 cup of dry kamut has 160 calories, 4 grams fiber, 7 grams protein, some calcium and vitamin B6, 15% of recommended daily magnesium, and 10% each of iron and zinc.

The glycemic index (GI) of kamut is reported on several sites as between 40 and 45. (Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain.) Whole berry and coarsely ground kamut have lower GI values than flakes and flour kamut products. (Sources: Kamut®, Four Winds Nutrition, and Traditionally Me websites.) The variety of GI values is probably because GI varies, in general, depending on the processing of the grain.

An article in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition discusses the beneficial effect of kamut on cardiovascular risk factors. A quote: “consumption of Kamut products showed a significant reduction of metabolic risk factors such as total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and blood glucose compared to control semi-whole-grain wheat. (Source: Characterization of Khorasan wheat (Kamut) and impact of a replacement diet on cardiovascular risk factors: cross-over dietary intervention study, by F. Sofi et al, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition volume 67, pages 190–195, 2013.)

The kamut I bought is a whole grain, as specified by this definition from wikipedia: “A whole grain is a grain of any cereal and pseudocereal that contains the endosperm, germ, and bran, in contrast to refined grains, which retain only the endosperm”.

Cooking

The Bob’s Red Mill package says to soak one cup of kamut in water overnight, then boil in 3 cups of water for 30-40 minutes. Or, skip the pre-soak and boil for 45-60 minutes. To me, that screams “try a pressure cooker!” Why? Because in Colorado at 5400 feet, things take longer to cook anyway, and it’s summer and I don’t want to be boiling anything on the stove for a long period of time. And also, I have an electric pressure cooker. So I google, and find how to cook kamut in a pressure cooker on the Food Storage Moms website.

water cooking time
1 cup kamut 3 cups 40-60 minutes
1 cup kamut, presoaked in water overnight 3 cups 30-40 minutes
1 cup kamut 2 cups 30 minutes in pressure cooker, high, fast release

Below is my photo of pressure-cooked kamut. I found it delicious! Big kernels of nutty, chewy, and even “buttery” tastiness. But hubby called them “rubbery”. Nevertheless, my son and his wife really enjoyed the tabouleh-style salad I made from them.

cooked kamut

Recipes

Much as I serve wheat berries, cracked wheat, and bulgur, I like kamut in tabouleh-style salads with fresh herbs like mint and cilantro, sharp cheeses like feta, nuts, any chopped vegetables, and a light dressing of olive oil and vinegar or lemon. Cooked kamut might be good added to My Daily Bread. Kamut would be good in breakfast cereals, but I would mix it with other grains.

King Arthur Flour sells kamut flour and recommends substituting some of the all purpose flour in recipes with kamut flour, with these general guidelines. As examples, they offer recipes for banana bread, scones, muffins, pancakes, and cinnamon bread (a yeast bread).

Oldways Whole Grain Council suggests this recipe:

The Kamut Brand Khorasan site has a wide variety of recipes including:

  • Khorasan Wheat, Sweet Potato, Kale, and Avocado Bowl

  • Khorasan Wheat Bread – Bread Machine
  • Wheat Tortillas
  • Khorasan Wheat Sicilian-Style Pizza
  • Khorasan Wheat Pilaf
  • Khorasan Wheat Cashew and Apricot Pilaf
  • Kamut, Quinoa, and Black Barley

Food network’s Healthy Eats:

Food Storage Moms

  • a list of 24 items you can add to kamut and other grains along with oil and vinegar of course

Glue and Glitter offers a recipe for Kamut Pilaf with pumpkin seeds, onions, and carrots. That site also links to more kamut recipes.

Below is the package of kamut I bought. On the back is a recipe for “Kushari”, with kamut, lentils, elbow macaroni, onions, oil, garlic, cumin, red pepper flakes, and tomato sauce.

Bob's Red Mill Kamut package

Grains: Amaranth

Amaranth, a new name to learn! I have to look carefully at the spelling to get it right. Why did I choose to do this grain this week? Well, I was walking the aisles of the Longmont Whole Foods and happened across the Bob’s Red Mill section of grains. Hmm, I needed a new grain for my next post. Amaranth was my choice because of its unusual name.

Amaranth is one of the Ancient Grains. These are grains and pseudocereals that are considered to have been little changed by selective breeding over thousands of years. I think it is fun to try these grains just because they have a long history, and haven’t been selectively bread for ease of growth, processing, and flavor.

Amaranth in general refers to a species of plants, the amaranthus. Amaranth is not a wheat, making it a choice for those who cannot tolerate gluten. Many species of amaranth are cultivated, some for the grain called a pseudocereal, some for the leaves to be used as vegetables, and some for ornamental reasons. A lot of amaranth species are not cultivated – they are pesky weeds, called pigweed. And yes, pigweed is common in Colorado.

A pseudocereal is the seed of any non-grass grain (amaranth is a leafy plant). The nutrient profile of pseudocerals is similar to that of grass-grain cereals. Just like our familiar wheat products like wheat berries and bulgur, pseudocereals can be cooked in water to make porridge or added to soups, main dishes, sides, and salads, and the dry seeds can be ground into flour.

The Oldways Grain Council has a wonderful article on the history and use of amaranth. I learn that amaranth is the traditional grain of Mexico. It probably originated in Peru, and became a major food crop of the Aztecs, domesticated about 8,000 years ago. It was used both for food and for religious ceremonies. When the Christian Spaniards came, they outlawed amaranth because it was used in “pagan ceremonies”. But amaranth is a hardy species, and it survived. Not only did amaranth survive in the New World, it also spread around the world and became an important food source in areas of Africa, India, Nepal, China, Russia, Thailand, and Nigeria. It came to the US markets in the 1970s.

The Bob’s Red Mill package agrees with the Oldways Grain Council article, but the description is brief and not as colorful. It states that amaranth is the “supergrain of the Aztecs”, and highly valued as a source of protein, magnesium, iron, and fiber. They have a recipe for Alegria, a sweet treat made from popped amaranth to celebrate the Day of the Dead. (It also has a recipe for amaranth fritters.)

In the online article Comeback of an Aztec Food on the Fine Dining Lovers, the authors state “It [amaranth] grows fast – more quickly than corn – in high temperatures and is able to withstand drought, with a very high yield: one plant can produce 200,000 seeds”. This same website has a great photo of amaranth growing in a field.

I open my package of amaranth. Oh, it is full of small rolly-polly seeds – they want to go everywhere! Here is a photo of amaranth:

aramanthCompared to medium grain brown rice:

aramanth and brown rice

The package gives directions for popping the seeds, which then can be used directly in sweet-type recipes. Well, I wasn’t successful! I put a tablespoon in a large pan over medium high heat and stirred. They did start popping, but I tried to get every single one popped, and they turned fairly dark brown, and tasted terrible and gritty. And the rolly pollies spread all over my cooktop. The next morning, I heard a strange hissing/popping sound after my husband finished cooking his eggs. I went into the kitchen and found amaranth seeds trying to pop under the hot pan. These little seeds are really hard to clean up!

Nutrition

1/4 cup of dry amaranth has 190 calories, 7 grams fiber, 8 grams protein, some calcium and vitamin C, 20% of suggested daily iron, 15% vitamin B6, 30% magnesium, 10% folate, and 10% zinc. Wow! None of the grains I studied so far did have as much (or any) of these mineral and vitamin RDAs. (Source: Bob’s Red Mill package.)

Food Facts states “A study on amaranth reported that its seeds contain not only important nutritional properties, but also phytochemical compounds like rutin and nicotiflorin, and peptides with the ability to help lower hypertension and incidences of cancer.” Food Facts also states “One reason amaranth is emerging into the forefront among grains is because of its remarkable nutrition. It’s higher in minerals, such as calcium, iron, phosphorus, and carotenoids, than most vegetables. It has truly remarkable protein content: cup for cup, 28.1 grams of protein compared to the 26.3 grams in oats and 13.1 grams in rice.”

Cooked amaranth has a glycemic index value of 97. (Source: Glycemic Index (GI) Guidelines for a Plant-based Diet.) The author of an article on the Very Well Fit website states: “I have not been able to find a study of the glycemic index of cooked whole-grain amaranth. Ground into flour, it seems to be somewhat more glycemic than wheat flour, possibly similar to rice flour. It can also be popped like popcorn, in which case the glycemic index is near the top of the chart, at almost 100.” (Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain. So the high value of 97 for amaranth is unfavorable for those people looking for low glycemic index foods.)

Cooking

The package said to cook 1 cup amaranth in 3 cups water for 20 minutes, but I found it took at least 30 minutes before it was soft and all of the water was taken up.

The photo below is cooked amaranth. The cooked grains/seeds are semi-reflective.

cooked aramanthI note from one site that you should rinse the cooked amaranth with water before serving or adding to recipes. That might make it have a more pleasing texture. But, you’d have to use a pretty fine sieve to rinse it.

Amaranth can also be toasted in a dry pan and then used in sweets. But, I was not successful (discussed above), so I suggest researching other online sites for directions. The bit that I did get toasted tasted yucky to me, so I am not going to pursue this.

Recipes

I did not really like the taste of amaranth cooked as a porridge. We all have our own tastes! To me, it was almost bitter. I stirred some sugar into my porridge and it was a lot better! But that defeats my slow-carb goals. Plus the texture was a little sticky and mushy. If I was gluten-intolerant, I would pursue recipes that use amaranth flour instead.

I have not totally given up on amaranth, since I have most of a bag of it left. I might try some of the recipes in the links below. They suggest using amaranth in puddings, as a substitute for polenta, in tabbouleh-style salads (after cooking and rinsing), or mixed with yogurt and granola (after toasting).

Grains: Wheat Berries

A wheat berry is the seed of any species of wheat. If you buy a product labeled “wheat berries” in our local U.S. stores, it is likely the berry of common wheat, unless it is otherwise specified. All wheat berries are whole grains, as they include the bran, germ, and endosperm.

About wheat

Many species of wheat make up the genus Triticum. The most widely grown is common wheat, T. aestivum. Hard winter wheats are planted in the autumn; flours made from winter wheat have a lot of gluten and are used to make bread flour for yeast bread. Spring wheats, in contrast, are “soft”, and have less gluten. They are blended with winter wheat to make all purpose flour, or used alone for cake flour. Durum is the hardest wheat, and it is usually planted in the spring in the US. Durum wheat is used in making pasta. Whole wheat flour is made from the entire wheat berry, while other flours are made from only parts of the wheat berry.

So far I have discussed freekeh, farro, cracked wheat, and bulgur. I need a quick review, so here goes! Freekeh is made from green durum wheat, and farro from a species of wheat that includes spelt, einkorn, and emmer. Both can be found as full berries. Different treatments such as parboiling, roasting, and cracking or grinding lead to different commercial products: I had cracked freekeh and whole farro. Bulgur and cracked wheat are made either from durum wheat or from a mixture of several different species of wheat – on the internet, one website claims bulgur is an ancient grain. Freekeh and farro are definitely ancient grains. All of the above grains are whole wheat products.

Wheat berries are the same as wheat “groats”. The term “groats” is more common when describing oat products.

Wheat berries

Wheat berries can be cooked and used much like farro, freekeh, bulgur, and cracked wheat. But in the past, I bought them solely for making sprouts for bread.

Around the 1970s-80s, “Sprouted Wheat Bread” was popular in local stores. Me the bread making nut wanted to make my own sprouted wheat bread. I came across a recipe in a Bon Appetite magazine calling for milk, margarine, yeast, molasses, honey, ginger, gluten flour, whole wheat flour, white flour, and wheat berry sprouts. I adapted the recipe and made it my own, making changes over the years as I went from hand-kneaded bread to mixer-kneaded bread to breadmaker-kneaded bread. Here is a link to the sprouted wheat bread entry in an old blog that I wrote in 1999.

Sprouts can be made from just about any whole seed. You simply soak the seeds in water overnight, drain them, then water them daily and wait several days for them to sprout fully. Sprouts were very popular in the 1970s and 80s, especially alfalfa sprouts (Alfalfas Market in Boulder was named for them). A year or so ago, I decided I wanted to make sprouts again, so I searched local stores. Store after store – but no sprouting seeds! Even at Sprouts Market! I checked the produce sections for prepared, packaged sprouts and even those were sometimes hard to find.

After a frustrating search, I finally found both seeds and sprouting jars at the Vitamin Cottage store. (If I was wiser, I would have just searched online, since they are readily available there.) The Vitamin Cottage carries a wide variety of sprouting seeds and jars for sprouting. I bought alfalfa, mung bean, clover, sandwich mix, and wheat berry sprouting seeds.

Below is a photo of the package of wheat berry sprouting seeds. Note that the label specifies the wheat as Triticum aestivum.

wheat berries for sprouting

Last week, I found wheat berries sold in bulk at our local Whole Foods. The bin was labeled “hard winter red wheat berries”. They cost a few dollars for a pound (454 grams). Note that the wheat berries sold specifically for sprouting cost $2.69 for 50 grams!

Here are the bulk-purchased hard winter red wheat berries:

wheat berries

Compared to medium grain brown rice:

wheat berries and brown riceHere are sprouted wheat berries. They are kind of good “as is”, but are better in breads. (I sprouted these wheat berries from the berries I bought in a bulk-bin.)

wheat berry sproutsNutrition

1/4 cup of uncooked hard winter red wheat berries has 157 calories, 6 grams fiber, 6 grams protein, some calcium, and about 8% of daily iron needs. Source: Nutrition Value website.

Wheat berries have a glycemic index value of 41. Source: Glycemic Index (GI) Guidelines for a Plant-based Diet.

Wheat berries are a whole grain wheat product.

Cooking

Wheat berries take a long time to cook. Most sources say to simmer 60-90 minutes. Use 1 cup dry berries to 3 cups water.

Using a pressure cooker, I found online that they should be done in 15 minutes. That sounds better to me! I have a good electric pressure cooker.

The pressure cooked worked, but I goofed and set the cooker to “low pressure” and 30 minutes was barely enough time for the wheat berries to be done. I meant to use the “high pressure” setting! Next time I will do it this way:

  • put 1 cup wheat berries in the pressure cooker and toast them
  • add 3 cups water and a little salt
  • set pressure cooker to “high pressure” and set the timer for 15 minutes
  • quick release the pressure
  • if they are not done, cook some more!

cooked wheat berriesI liked these! They are as nutty tasting as they look. Crunchy and full of flavor. But tastes differ, and my husband didn’t like them much at all when I used them as a substitute for rice. He called them “rubbery”.

Note that the wheat berries I cooked are hard winter red wheat berries. I haven’t tried any other types of common wheat berries yet.

Recipes

Wheat berries can be used as a cereal, in salads, in grain bowls like tabbouleh, as a substitute for rice or pasta, and in breads. I think they would be great added to soups or added in small amounts to salads to provide a bit of crunch and flavor. Mixing with other grains might coax reluctant eaters into enjoying them. And as I discussed ad nauseum in the sections above, sprouted wheat berries can be used in breads.

Since wheat berries take so long to cook, it might be a good idea to cook a big batch of wheat berries and store them frozen in small portions. That way, you can pull a few out of the freezer and add them to a recipe in a flash!

Here are some recipes I might like to try: