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The New Book of Whole Grains
More than 200 Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Including Amaranth, Quinoa, Wheat, Spelt, Oats, Rye, Barley, and Millet
By Marlene Anne Bumgarner, Johanna Roy
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1997 Marlene Anne Bumgarner
All rights reserved.
Let us gather up the sunbeans Lying all around our path, Let us keep the wheat and roses, Casting out the thorns and chaff. —From "If We Knew St. 6 1867" by May Riley Smith
Wheat is definitely the universal bread grain; it is grown in nearly every country in the world, and has replaced corn, rye, barley, and millet as the grain staple in most cultures. There are two major reasons for the predominance of wheat. First, it is a hardy and forgiving plant which grows in just about every temperature zone as long as the ground is fertile and there is adequate water. Second, wheat contains gluten-forming proteins which, when leavened with yeast, cause dough made from wheat flour to rise and become light, definitely desirable for baking bread.
Wheat vies with barley for the honor of being the oldest cultivated cereal grain, but its wild origins are relatively obscure. The Greeks considered all cereals gifts of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, and the Romans gave credit to Ceres, their equivalent deity. Isis was the provider in Egypt: she was believed to have discovered wheat growing in Phoenicia (Lebanon) and gathered some to take home to her worshippers.
Ancient beliefs notwithstanding, authorities generally agree that wheat was first cultivated in Western Asia. Charred pieces of wheat similar to the modern variety einkorn have been found in the 8,700-year-old village of Jarmo, in Iraq, and archaeological excavations there indicate that this village may have been one of the earliest known sites of agriculture. Wheat was undoubtedly one of the cereal grains that permitted the nomadic tribes of the Near East to change their way of life to a more sedentary, agriculturally based one. Wheat has also been cultivated in China for centuries, and a ceremony which dates back at least to 2800 B.C. honored wheat along with five other cereals planted in the spring.
The Egyptians were milling wheat along with their barley by about 4000 B.C. They used large, heavy grinding stones to break down the hard outside layers of the grain, added water to make a dough, shaped the dough into large flat cakes something like pancakes, and baked them in clay ovens. This first bread was very heavy, but edible, and became the mainstay of these early settled people.
The early Hebrews soured their dough in order to leaven it; the Egyptians deduced that the leavening agent was yeast, and they isolated this agent and grew it separately. They were the first people to introduce live yeast into fresh dough and make bread with the resulting product. Although we think of bread as being made into round or rectangular loaves, the early bakers were more imaginative. Sumerian and Egyptian breads came in varied geometrical shapes—circles, cones, triangles, spirals. In Eastern Europe even today some of these shapes have persisted, and braided or twisted bread is quite common there.
Egypt provided the wheat for most of the Roman Empire, and so became the source of the grain which eventually spread to Europe, Britain, and the Orient. Bread was so basic to the everyday diet by this time that the writers of the Old Testament used the word as a synonym for food ("Man does not live by bread alone," Deuteronomy 8:4), and the prayer in Matthew, which was later incorporated into the Lord's Prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread" used it the same way. My English father has called bread the "staff of life" ever since I can remember, and the loaves that come out of his bread machine are truly life-giving.
The cultivation of wheat spread widely. The wheat which grew in the Nile River valley had descendants on the Spanish ships making their way to the New World in the sixteenth century. Wheat apparently did not grow wild in the western hemisphere, but Columbus carried seeds with him to the West Indies in 1493, Cortez took some to Mexico in 1519, and missionaries traveled along the Pacific coast with the grain as they spread their faith. English colonists grew wheat beginning in 1618, and although it did not grow as well in coastal areas as did corn, some varieties were found which succeeded, and as settlers moved west the wheat fields sprang up along their paths. By the 1800s wheat was being cultivated in every major nation. At present, world production centers are China, the United States, India, Russia, and France.
Almost all the wheat produced today for human consumption is used for making bread, but the very earliest farmers didn't use their wheat that way. The evidence from Jarmo seems to indicate that they parched the grains, perhaps to make it easier to remove the husks and chew the grain within. The next step was probably to soak or cook the kernels into a porridge or gruel. Perhaps some grinding took place to break the kernels into smaller pieces that would cook faster. If this porridge was left in a warm place for a few days, it fermented from the action of wild yeast, and it is likely that in this way the secret of making leavened bread was eventually discovered—and also the secret of making alcoholic beverages. This is probably why brewing and baking were always linked in ancient times. It is known, for example, that the Egyptians were making a beerlike drink at least five thousand years ago by fermenting half-baked bread.
Parching the grain before threshing paradoxically slowed down the development of successful bread-baking techniques, though it sped up the process of threshing. Parching changed the protein structures in the grain, rendering them less elastic, and any rising due to the introduction of yeast became minimal. For bread to be light, the carbon dioxide bubbles produced by yeast under favorable conditions have to stretch the dough into millions of spongy, cell-like structures that then harden during baking. Heating the protein before the yeast can do its work prevents the dough from rising adequately. Eventually, however, different varieties of wheat and more refined threshing techniques led to the development of satisfactory leavened bread.
The earliest yeasts came from various sources. Since wild yeast often produced unpredictable results, peasants learned to use yeasts from fermented wine and freshly brewed beer. Porridge was sometimes mixed with wine, and the soured combination added to dough. Sliced new potatoes, scalded and set out overnight, could also be used to grow a yeast. The liquid extracted from the potatoes was added to bread dough. Once a fermented dough was obtained, bakers would keep part of it out each day to use as a "starter" for the next batch, a practice which is maintained even today in the preparation of renowned San Francisco Sourdough.
A grain of wheat is, first of all, a seed. The heart of the grain, so to speak, is the germ, or embryo. This is the part which, if the seed is planted, will develop into a new plant, and it is logically where most of the vitamins and minerals are stored. The major portion of the seed, the endosperm, contains the gluten-forming proteins glutenin and gliaden, and starch, food for the developing embryo. Surrounding the endosperm is a layer of aleurone cells (another protein) and several layers of bran, covered by a thin husk.
Milling techniques have changed drastically since the first wheat kernels were ground into flour. The earliest mills pulverized the germ right along with the endosperm, releasing the vitamin-rich wheat germ oil into the flour, coloring and flavoring it slightly. Although this seems desirable to those of us seeking to improve the vitamin and mineral content of our foods, it was not convenient to the grocer or baker, since wheat germ oil soon becomes rancid, and bags of flour left long on the shelf will spoil. The invention in the mid-nineteenth century of roller mills which separated the germ from the wheat kernel and allowed the germ to be sifted out was considered a great technological advance.
Later developments in milling have included screening out most of the bran along with the germ, blowing off any remaining bran or aleurone layers, and bleaching the remaining fine powder. Since the flour resulting from these "refinements" is depleted of most of its nutrients, not to mention fiber, modern nutritionists have had to be called upon to "enrich" flour by putting a few vitamins and minerals back into their product.
With such "improvements" in milling techniques, how is one to obtain wheat flour and still get the nutrition that this grain so naturally provides? Actually, most large grocery outlets now carry a wide variety of flours, and with some facts in mind the vitamin-seeking consumer can do fairly well.
There are five main types of wheat flour. Enriched, bleached, all- purpose flour is the finest, highest quality result of modern milling techniques, and the flour which most American bakers use. It is consistently fine, soft, and pure white, blends well with other ingredients, and keeps indefinitely on the shelf. It also contains practically none of its original vitamins, minerals, or fiber. Buy all-purpose flour only if you are making angel food cake or something you are preparing for its beauty alone. (I've never seen unenriched bleached all-purpose flour, but avoid it if you see it.)
Next on the shelf you will probably find self-rising flour, often called cake flour. This is all-purpose flour with salt and baking powder added, and is more expensive. Don't buy it unless your recipe specifically calls for it.
If your friendly grocer is following modern trends, you will probably next see a few bags of unbleached white flour. Since this flour is probably unenriched (check the label), and is almost sure to be more expensive (since it was put there specifically for health food faddists), and because it is slightly yellow and will color your light, fluffy white cake, there's really no reason to buy this either, unless you're vehemently opposed to the bleaching agents used in all purpose flour.
Now we move on to whole wheat flour. Once upon a time this label could be put on any flour that was made wholly of wheat. Now, thanks to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards, it can only be used to label flour made from the whole grain. But don't grab it too fast. Does it say "stone ground" whole wheat flour, or just whole wheat flour? Grinding the whole wheat kernel into flour is great, but if it is done with a high-speed roller mill, hammer mill, or steel plate mill, the oil released from the germ is not distributed evenly through the flour, and is heated in the process, forming masses of rancid oil which flavor the flour and spoil it. Whole wheat flour which has been milled in a high-speed process is usually cheaper than that which is stone ground—check the price tag. Stone ground whole wheat flour may not be available at your local grocery store, but your grocer can get it. So can you, from natural food stores or from the companies listed in the Sources section. Make loud noises if you want your local grocers to supply you with superior products. They'll listen.
Perhaps you don't want to buy commercially ground whole wheat flour, but would rather grind your own. Or, you buy flour at a health food store, but you'd like to have some cracked wheat to cook for breakfast. The whole wheat grain, when sold for food, is called a berry. Wheat berries can be purchased at most natural foods stores, and from the companies listed in the Sources section. You can buy cracked wheat from these places, too, and often at ordinary grocery stores as well, but if you want any control over the size of the pieces, you'll need to grind your own. Cracked wheat is simply wheat berries that have been crushed into several pieces with a flour mill. The smaller the pieces, the faster they cook, and the smoother the consistency of the resulting product.
If you get into baking all the bread for your family and want to cut down the cost, think about buying wheat in bulk. There are two major ways to do this.
Storing foods in bulk has become an increasingly popular activity in our high-pressure times, and a number of businesses now exist primarily to supply families with packaged bulk foods for long-term storage. Wheat is one of the items carried by these suppliers. If you cannot locate a bulk storage outlet in your area, call one of the numbers listed in your telephone directory for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and ask them for help in locating one. One of the programs of the Mormon Church is food storage, and members are usually knowledgeable and helpful in this regard.
The other way to buy bulk wheat is from a feed store. A 100-pound sack of uncleaned wheat (that means it has bits and pieces of straw and other grains mixed in with it) will cost as little as a quarter of the price of 100 pounds of wheat purchased through commercial outlets.
If you buy wheat in bulk or plan to grow your own, you will need to know the types available.
Hard Red Spring Wheat is a bread wheat, used for making high quality flour. The kernels are short, thick, asymmetrical, and hard, and are rich in protein.
Hard Red Winter Wheat is similar to hard red spring wheat in its uses. It has longer, narrower kernels.
Soft Red Winter Wheat is higher in starch and lower in protein than the hard wheats, and is primarily used for pastry products and for livestock feed. The kernels are long and wide.
Durum Wheat. When varieties of wheat were given Latin names, the most durable and hard-kerneled was named durus. One of the ancient grains (the earliest evidence of durum's existence has been dated by scientists at 3,000 B.C.), modern durum is known for its glass-like and lustrous amber kernels. From durum roots have developed a number of common derivatives: semolina, pasta, couscous, bulgur, and certain kinds of breads. One variety of durum wheat, Kamut®, which is noted for its extra-long kernels and nutty flavor, was cultivated in Montana from seeds reported to have come from King Tut's tomb.
Spelt Wheat (triticum spelta) is an ancient wheat that originated in the Middle East and later moved through western Europe. In Italy it is known as farro. Nearly forgotten after the nineteenth century due to its low yield and the need to dehull the grain mechanically before milling, spelt has recently emerged into the commercial food market. Higher in protein than other wheats, spelt also contains more B vitamins, and minerals. Many people who are allergic to wheat seem to tolerate spelt well, and it is popular with kosher bakers. In addition to traditional breads, spelt seems well suited for baked goods such as pancakes, biscuits, and cakes, and the result is often lighter than such products made with other whole grain wheat flours. The unbroken grains take over an hour to cook when boiled, but have a rich flavor and chewy texture.
Flour made from hard wheat is generally considered to be better for baking bread, mostly because it absorbs more water and rises to a larger degree. Bread made from soft wheat is much denser, but it tastes just as good, and the kind you choose is really more a matter of what is grown in your area and your personal preference. Pastry flour is made from soft wheat.
Spring wheat is planted, naturally enough, in the spring. It requires at least a 90-day growing season, and is usually planted as early as the ground can be worked, for harvest in the autumn. Spring wheat is grown in the colder areas, such as the northern wheat belt in the United States, and in Canada and Russia.
Winter wheat is planted in the fall, and grows best where autumnal rains are good and the winter temperatures not too severe. It grows a few inches before the frost, then matures when warm weather comes. Seeding is usually done in the middle of September, but planting times vary with individual farmers, based on moisture content of the soil, weather, and varieties being planted. Find out what grows best where you live by listening in at feed stores, talking with farmers, or calling your local Agricultural Extension Agent. Try to purchase seed which has been certified to be free of weed seeds and tested for germination.
Excerpted from The New Book of Whole Grains by Marlene Anne Bumgarner, Johanna Roy. Copyright © 1997 Marlene Anne Bumgarner. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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