Whole Grains Made Simple
The trend toward whole-grain cooking has become a way of life for many people in America. They have discovered the natural hearty flavors of whole grains, enjoy the benefits of a high-fiber diet, and appreciate the added nutrition provided by their vitamins and minerals. However, the emergence of all these whole grains on the market may cause some confusion. What exactly are they and how do you use them?
Whole grains include the bran and germ, which are otherwise removed during processing. The outer covering, or bran, is an important source of dietary fiber, while the germ, or embryo, contains important vitamins and minerals. If you think your only choice of a whole grain is wheat, then you are in for a pleasant surprise.
Wheat berries are the whole, unprocessed kernels of wheat. Whole kernels of grains may also be called groats, as in oat groats. They can be used for cereal or ground into flour. Raw wheat germ is the embryo of the wheat berry. It is a very rich source of vitamins, minerals, and proteins. It is very oily and should be kept in the refrigerator. Wheat germ has a nutty flavor and is sold in both toasted and natural forms. It can add nutrition to a variety of foods — sprinkled on breakfast cereals, added to some baked goods, and combined with ground meats.
Cracked wheat is the crushed wheat berry. It adds a nut-like flavor to breads and also can be eaten as a cereal. It is usually sold in health food stores.
Brown rice has only the hull and a small amount of the bran removed, thus preserving more vitamins and minerals than the more polished white rice. It takes about twice as long to cook brown rice, but the delicious nutty flavor is worth it.
Cornmeal can be ground into different textures (fine, medium, and course) by two methods. The old-fashioned water ground (or sometimes called stone ground) uses water power to turn the mill wheels. This method retains some of the hull and the germ. Because of the fat content in the germ, this cornmeal should be stored in the refrigerator and only for about four months. The modern method of grinding uses huge steel rollers and removes the hull and the germ almost entirely. It can be kept at room temperature almost indefinitely.
Steel cut oats/Scotch oats/Irish oatmeal is made by slicing the whole kernel lengthwise with sharp blades. They take much longer to cook than rolled oats and have a chewy texture.
Hulled barley has only the outer husk removed and is the most nutritious form of the grain. Pearl barley also has had the bran removed and has been polished. After cooking, barley becomes soft and has a chewy texture. Barley can be added to soups or used in casseroles.