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, sand ome 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:

Grains: Cracked Wheat

Cracked Wheat

In Turkey, we had several meals that included a delicious grain called “cracked wheat”. These cooked grains were big and chewy. When we got home, I bought a package of cracked wheat at a Middle Eastern store, and on the package, under “cracked wheat”, is printed “coarse burghul #3”. From my bulgur post, I knew that burghul is an alternative spelling of bulgur. How does cracked wheat differ from bulgur, or does it differ?

The package of cracked wheat that I purchased is sold under the brand “Ziyad”. They have a website – here is the link to cracked wheat #3. On the web site it says the wheat is parboiled and then dried.

Whole Grain Goodness states that cracked wheat is made from whole wheat grains that have been cracked or ground into smaller pieces, and it is similar to bulgur but is not usually precooked (parboiled). “Many people use cracked wheat as a base, like couscous, serving vegetables or meats alongside it. It can also be used in grain pilafs and multi-grain bread, pancakes, and other grain dishes”.

WiseGeek states that cracked wheat is made from whole wheat kernels that are cracked into smaller pieces. They further state that cracked wheat differs from bulgur in that it is not steamed and toasted before cracking. “Because cracked wheat is made from whole wheat berries, it carries a great deal of nutrition and fiber since it includes the fiber and nutrient rich outer bran and germ of the wheat. For this reason, it is often added to healthy diets, especially those eaten by people who are concerned about heart health.”

According to Wikipedia, accessed 7/2018, cracked wheat is crushed wheat grain that has not been parboiled. On the Wikipedia bulgur entry, they spelled the non-parboiled form “burghol”. But when I search today for “burghol” on the web, nothing comes up.

My conclusion is that the division between bulgur and cracked wheat is blurry. Assume that products called “cracked wheat” may or may not be parboiled – check the package if you are curious. My guess is that “cracked wheat” is used for coarser grinds. When we visited Turkey, the cracked wheat we were served was definitely a coarse grind, like the #3 product I bought here in the US.

The take-home lesson is that both cracked wheat and bulgur both taste wheat-y and nutty and in my opinion, great. The coarser bulgurs/cracked wheats will be marked #3 or #4. Check the package to see how long to cook it. Then, enjoy.

Here is cracked wheat, uncooked:

raw cracked wheatHere is cracked wheat compared to medium grain brown rice:

cracked wheat and rice

Nutrition

1/4 cup dry cracked wheat has 140 calories, 5 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, some calcium, and an appreciable amount of iron. (Source: Ziyad brands package.) That’s almost exactly like bulgur – only the fiber amount is different.

Cracked wheat, like bulgur, is a whole grain wheat product.

Online sources report the glycemic index of cracked wheat as 46-53, making cracked wheat a medium GI food. (Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain.)

A good reference for GI of bulgur and cracked wheat: Diet and Fitness Today.

Cooking

water time simmering time standing
1 cup cracked wheat #3 2 cups 20 optional not necessary

My package of cracked wheat only gave instructions for a recipe, not basic cooking instructions. So, I just put it in boiling water and checked it: I found it took 20 minutes of simmering to become tender and soak up all the water.

Cooked cracked wheat:

cooked cracked wheat

Recipes

In Turkey, cracked wheat was often cooked with onions and tomatoes. The recipe on the package of Ziyad Cracked Wheat that I purchased in a local Middle Eastern store, the cracked wheat is soaked in water and then sauted with onions and garlic in olive oil; bell pepper, water or stock, and a little tomato paste are added; the mixture simmered until the cracked wheat is tender.

Epicurious offers a recipe for a yeast bread. Cracked Wheat Top-Knots call for medium bulgur (“also called cracked wheat”). The bulgur is soaked in hot water before it is added to the yeast dough.

Several sites suggest serving cracked wheat as a breakfast cereal, especially with nuts.

Garlic and Zest’s Mediterranean Cracked Wheat Salad is made with kalamata olives, peperoncinis, radishes, tomatoes, and garbanzos.

Spiced Cracked Wheat and Lentils for Grown-Ups from Food Network is made with jalapenos, turmeric, tomatoes, paprika, ground coriander, cinnamon, and cilantro.

Honey Cracked Wheat bread is another good cracked wheat recipe. It’s in one of my own posts: The Bakery, New and Improved Recipes, Zojirushi America Corporation. In that post I briefly discussed cracked wheat.

package of cracked wheat

Grains: Bulgur

Bulgur

Bulgur is a wheat product, made either from durum wheat or from a mixture of several different species of wheat. It is sometimes spelled burghul, burghul, or bhulghur. Bulgur is classified as a “whole grain” because it contains the endosperm, germ, and bran. It is one of the “ancient grains” – grains haven’t been selectively bred and have changed little for thousands of years.

I don’t think burghol is bulgur, but I’ll get to that in a later post when I study cracked wheat.

To make bulgur, hulled wheat kernels, called groats, are cracked and parboiled (steamed), then milled into different grinds, from fine particles to coarse particles (number 1 is fine, number 4 is coarse). I’ve found bulgur in many local stores, both in bulk and packaged. I think the packages I’ve found do not denote the grind, but I am going to pay more attention next time I look for it.

Bulgur is common in Middle Eastern cuisines. It can be used as a cereal, in soups, and as a substitute for rice or pasta. Cooked, it is fluffier than farro (an intact grain) or freekeh (a cracked grain), both of which are not parboiled.

Looking through my own cookbooks, I find many that have bulgur recipes. None before the 1970s, though, and mostly in “natural food” type cookbooks. It became popular with the hippie vegetarian movement because it is a whole grain with a good amount of protein.

Uncooked bulgur:

bulgur

Bulgur compared to medium grain brown rice:

bulgur and brown rice

Nutrition

1/4 cup dry bulgur has 140 calories, 7 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, some calcium and especially iron. (Source: Bob’s Red Mill package.)

Online sources report the glycemic index of bulgur as from 46-48, making bulgur a medium GI food. (Anything under 55 is pretty good for a grain.)

Ordinary Vegan likes bulgur for people on a diet. They compared it to quinoa: cooked bulgur has half the calories per cup as does cooked quinoa, so calorie-counting dieters get to eat more of it. If you eat the same number of calories of quinoa and bulgur, you get the same amount of protein. They also claim that bulgur has more fiber than quinoa, and that bulgur has a resistant starch that is especially good for keeping us feeling full.

Food Network’s Healthy Eats has a page on “meet this grain” for another discussion of the nutrition and uses of bulgur.

Nutrition Value has more nutritional information for bulgur. Nutrition Value is a great database. It gives vitamins, minerals, proteins and amino acids, fats and fatty acids, carbohydrate values, and more miscellaneous information for many foods. You can search by a specific food, mineral, macronutrient, or amino acid, or search by food category. (It does not give the glycemic index.) I also like WolfAlph as a resource for nutrition values.

Cooking

water time simmering time standing
1 cup bulgur 2 cups (may need more) 20-25 5 minutes draining not necessary

I added 1/2 teaspoon salt per 1 cup dry grain.

I wasn’t sure how long to cook the bulgur, since I did not have the package, so I had to look it up online. As it cooked, I checked it after about 10 minutes and decided it was too dry, so I added more water. I did this one more time during the cooking. I checked for doneness at 20 minutes, and stopped cooking at 22 minutes. Draining was not necessary. I did leave it covered, off burner, for about 5 minutes before opening the pan and letting the cooked bulgur cool.

1 cup dry cooked to 4 cups cooked! It really is amazing. You can eat a larger volume for the same amount of calories as some of the other grains.

I did not know the coarseness, or “grind”, of my bulgur, since I had bought it in bulk or taken it out of the package to store in another container. Different grinds (they are 1-4 with 1 being the finest) might have different cooking times, so if you buy bulgur in a package, consult the package for cooking time.

Cooked bulgur:

cooked bulgur

Recipes

Probably the most famous bulgur dish is tabbouleh, a salad made of bulgur, tomatoes, onion, mint, parsley, olive oil, and lemon. I make variations of this type of grain dish a lot, using different types of grains – it makes a great lunch bowl, and a great side salad for those who like grainy dishes. Sometimes I add nuts or spinach or kale or cooked chicken or fish. But almost always, I add feta cheese, if I have some around! And at least one fresh herb – it seems to me to be a necessity for this dish.

Bulgur, cooked, can be added to bread dough.

Food Network’s Healthy Eats has recipes for:

Eating Well collection (includes Asian seasoned bulgur).

Epicurious has a recipe for bulgur with herbs that includes toasted almonds.

Any sort of chopped vegetable, including cucumbers, and garbanzo beans are good additions to bulgur bowls.

Grains: Freekeh

Freekeh

Blue Apron introduced me to freekeh. I tried Blue Apron off and on for a year or so. Why? Just to learn some new things, I guess. And it was so cute and convenient to get little packages of herbs and sometimes unusual and hard to find ingredients. Plus, they sent just the right amount of food for two people, so no leftovers. Last year, when I learned that “freekeh” was in the next week’s Blue Apron shipment, I got all excited. Something new! And I remember the meal being pretty good. Why did I end up stopping the Blue Apron service? Too much packaging to recycle.

Freekeh, like farro, is an “ancient grain”. Freekeh is sometimes spelled frikeh or called farik. It is a wheat – green durum wheat. The “green” denotes that it is picked early. Traditionally, freekeh is first roasted, and then cracked or crushed to make it into smaller pieces. So freekeh is still a whole grain with nothing removed, but it is in small pieces. It is also sold “uncracked”, but I haven’t tried that type yet. I found cracked freekeh, Bob’s Red Mill brand, in a local store. The package claims freekeh to be “the traditional grain of the Middle East”, and states that it is still used in Middle Eastern and northern African cuisines. For more information, I like Two Healthy Kitchens discussion of the history of freekeh.

Below is my photo of uncooked, cracked freekeh. The size of the pieces varies quite a bit. Note how some of the pieces are slightly green.

freekehFor a size comparison, freekeh next to medium brown rice:

freekeh and brown rice

Taste

Freekeh has a nutty taste – the roasting probably brings out this flavor. It’s also pleasantly chewy.

Nutrition

1/4 cup dry has 170 calories, 8 g fiber, 7 g protein, some calcium, iron, magnesium, and a lot of manganese.

Glycemic Index: 43 if whole, 55 if cracked.

Two Healthy Kitchens has links to several sites with more information on the nutrition of freekeh.

Cooking

water time simmering time standing
1 cup cracked freekeh 2 1/2 cups (boiling) 20 minutes 5 minutes draining might not be necessary

1 cup dry yields about 3 cups cooked. I added a bit of salt to the cooking water. When I cooked it here in Colorado (about 5500 in altitude), it was cooked perfectly when I used the method above. After the 20 minutes cooking and the 5 minutes standing, there was barely any water left to drain off.

Cooked freekeh:

cooked freekeh

Recipes

Freekeh is pretty much like farro in usage: as a substitute for rice and in hot and cold salads. I don’t think it would be good in soups, at least not the cracked freekeh. Since cracked freekeh is already roasted, toasting it is not really necessary to bring out the flavor.

The Bob’s Red Mill package suggests serving freekeh as a salad with garbanzo beans, bell peppers, tomatoes, dressed with an herb pesto made from mint, lemon zest and juice, pine nuts, and olive oil. (Lemon Mint Freekeh Salad, more freekeh recipes on the same site.)

Using my own ingredients, I tried Blue Apron’s “Orange Chicken Thighs with Cherry Salsa and Green Wheat Freekeh Salad“. The warm freekeh salad is made by adding cooked freekeh, arugula, and almonds to the orange sauce used to cook the chicken. I liked it a lot, but hubby wasn’t as enthusiastic.

Online recipes:

Grains: Farro

I am a fan of grains, and not only for baking bread. I remember seeing “wheat berries” in a recipe years ago, and searched for them in stores just out of curiosity. Now I have so many types of grains in my pantry that I get confused as to what they are and how to cook them and what recipes to use them in. So I am putting that information here in one place, one grain at a time.

Introduction

We all know what a grain is, right? It’s the wheat that makes up our bread, the oats in our breakfast cereal, the corn in our corn bread, the rice in our risotto. A grain is usually the edible fruit of grasses, although grains can be harvested from other plant families, as we shall see.

A grain is made up of an endosperm, germ, and bran. “Whole grains” are the natural form of the grain, containing all three, and have carbohydrates, fats, oils, protein, and vitamins and minerals. Our food industry refines most of our grains, removing the bran and the germ, leaving products that are mostly carbohydrates. But that’s what we love! White flour combined with sugar (pure carbohydrate) and fats make our delicious cakes and pie crusts and muffins and cookies. I am as guilty in my love of these foods as most Americans.

But ever since my early twenties, I have tried to get myself trained to like whole grains. And this is a continuation of that training, and of a search for healthy grains.

One way to judge how “healthy” or “whole” a grain is by its glycemic index. (I say these words in “quotes” because various healthy food theories come and go.) Many of the grains or grain products in this section have a low glycemic index (GI), and low is good. I discussed glycemic index in my post on The Glucose Revolution Pocket Guide to Losing Weight, a 2000 book. Briefly, these are foods that take a long time to release their glucose into the bloodstream, keeping you feeling full longer, and decreasing glucose spikes and thus the risk of diabetes. The GI scale is from 1 to 100, with 100 being pure sugar, and any value under 55 considered good. Today, I find that I can usually google a food and glycemic index, e.g., “farro glycemic index”, and a value will pop up at the top of the search results. If I can’t find it by that method, I go to:

Now, let’s get to the first of the grains I studied: farro.

Farro

Farro is a type of wheat, or grass, but different from the common US cultivated species of wheat. It is called an “ancient grain”, or an “heirloom grain”. Ancient grains were first used thousands of years ago, and the seeds passed down over the generations. Are they all more nutritious than our current whole wheat? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But they are certainly different in flavor and texture. And it’s fun knowing the grain you are eating has been passed down carefully, generation to generation, as a tradition.

This is uncooked farro:

uncooked farroHere it is next to grains of medium brown rice, to show you the size:

farro and rice

According to Wikipedia, farro is the term for a species of wheat that includes spelt, einkorn, and emmer. These grains are called “hulled wheat”, or wheat that cannot be threshed (threshing removes a grain from the husks). “Farro” is often used to describe these three different grains, without specification. The Healthline website explains the confusion.

The farros that I bought locally did not specify whether they are spelt, einkorn, or emmer. So far, I have found Bob’s Red Mill farro in local whole food and regular markets, and Trader Joe’s carries a “10 minute farro”.  This grain project of mine is a work-in-progress, and I’ll update as I learn more about the specific make-up of available farro.

Ancient grains

Farro is what is called an “ancient grain”. This term even has its own Wikipedia entry. Bob’s Red Mills calls farro “the traditional grain of the Mediterranean” and “a hearty grain that was a mainstay of the daily diet in ancient Rome” and the “mother of all wheat”. It is still a favorite grain in Italian cooking – although I did not notice it in any of my Italian cookbooks.

Emiko Davies’ blog has a great entry on farro, including its use in certain regions of Italy, its nutritional benefits, and a recipe.

Farro, like all grains, can be milled into flour. I found “emmer flour” online but haven’t tried it (emmer is of the 3 species of wheat that are all called farro). King Arthur flour has an ancient grains flour, but it has no farro in it. King Arthur Flour sells an ancient grain blend, of amaranth, millet, and sorghum, but it has no farro in it.

Taste

What does farro taste like? Like a nutty and chewy wheat grain. It is similar to wheat berries, and chewier and tastier than bulgur. I’d say, it tastes great! I even got my hubby to like it. He is happy with it as a substitute for rice.

Nutrition

1/4 cup dry has 200 calories (value from the Bob’s Red Mill package). I cooked 1 cup dry farro – after cooking it had a volume of 2 3/4 cup. So, if I have a pile of cooked farro and want to eat 200 calories, that’s .69 cup or just under 3/4 cup cooked.

1/4 cup dry farro has 37 grams total carbohydrate and 7 grams protein and 7 grams dietary fiber. No vitamins A or C; 2% daily calcium and 10% daily iron.

The glycemic index is 40, called “medium” GI. As a comparison, whole wheat berries have a GI of 41. White flour has a GI of 85. Old-fashioned oatmeal has a GI of 58.

The Healthline website has a good discussion of the nutrition of farro.

Proponents of ancient grains (like farro) claim that they are high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, and claim that they have more health benefits than modern grains. If you compare ancient grains with today’s grains, you would have to compare the whole grain. Perhaps they are more nutritious, but I’d have to see a study that compares “apples with apples”, or “whole grains with whole grains”.

Cooking

Put farro in cold water and bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer according to the recommended time in the table below. I like to add about 1/2 teaspoon salt for 1 cup of dry grain. The grain will use up most but not all of the water.

water time simmering time standing
1 cup regular farro 3 cups 30 minutes not given drain off any water
1 cup 10 min farro 2 cups 10 minutes 5 minutes drain off any water

I cooked regular farro about 25 minutes in already boiling water and drained it immediately, then covered until I was ready to use it. That worked great too.

Other notes:

  • You can toast the dry farro before cooking to bring out a nuttier flavor, and you can add seasonings to the cooking liquid or use stock instead of water.
  • One source suggested soaking 1 cup farro in the refrigerator overnight, draining, add back 3 cups water, simmer 10 minutes, then drain excess liquid.
  • Bob’s Red Mill suggests pre-rinsing.
  • Do not overcook farro, it’s good a little crunchy.
  • 1 cup cooks to 2 3/4 cups, so dish up 3/4 cup for 200 calories.

Here is my cooked farro:

cooked farro

Recipes

How do I use farro in my daily cooking? I use it instead of rice, under a saucy pork paprika or a stir fry. I add it to soup, like beef and vegetable soup. I like cooked farro the next day, in a cold salad mixed with olive oil, a bit of vinegar or lemon juice, a little sharp cheese, nuts, miscellaneous raw veggies, and any fresh herbs I have around.

I first tried making farro yeast bread: I added 1/2 cup cooked farro to My Daily Bread. It tasted really good, especially as toast, but it did not rise well and it was super moist and well, heavy. My second try was a success. First, I put 1/2 cup dry farro in a food processor and ran it until it was flour-like. This took about 10 minutes, and it still had a few grainy bits in it. It weighed 3 ounces, so for the rest of the My Daily Bread flour mixture I weighed out 9 ounces. I put the buttermilk in my breadmaker, then let it sit a couple hours, hoping to soften the farro bits. Then, I added the rest of the ingredients and turned the breadmaker on. It turned out perfect! More flavor than my usual “my daily bread”.

This if from a farro package: Saute chopped onions and garlic a couple minutes, then add uncooked farro and cook another couple minutes. The mixture should smell delightfully nutty and fragrant. Then add chicken or vegetable stock and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the farro is done but still chewy. You can add mushrooms and peas during last 15 minutes of the cooking time. Just before serving, stir in some butter and top with a little Parmesan cheese. (Recipe on the farro package.)

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