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Introduction to Whole Grains

From the dawn of agriculture, every civilization has carefully cultivated grains for human food and animal feed. Cereal grains continue to furnish a significant portion of the diet for both. They account for about a quarter of the total food calories of the human population of the United States, and about a third of the calories for livestock and poultry.

Many of the cereal flours are used for bread, but "bread" has different meanings. In the United States, Canada and England, it may refer to leavened wheat bread; in some southwestern and southeastern regions, corn pone; in northern India, unleavened wheat chappati; in Norway, barley loaf; in Scotland, oaten cake; and in Mexico, corn tortillas.

In milling cereal grains for human consumption, the other inedible hull or husk is removed. If the remaining hulled grain is left intact, simply cracked (as grits), coarsely ground (as meal), or finely ground (as flour), the product is a whole grain.

Usually, in milling, the bran layer (about 14 percent of the kernel) and the germ (about 3 percentof the kernel) are removed. The remaining portion of debranned and degerminated grains, is the source of white flour. It contains from 70-75 percent of the kernel's protein.

Although cereal grains contain protein, some of the essential amino acids are low (mainly lysine, tryprophan, methionine, and isoleucine). The protein efficiency can be improved by combining grains with plant foods such as legumes or dried beans, seeds or sources such as meat, poultry, fish and dairy products.

Cereal grains offer important health benefits. They are low in fat and sodium, and contribute dietary fibers. they contain valuable nutrients, including vitamins (notably magnesium, iron, zinc, copper and manganese.)

The roughage value of cereal brans has long been recognized. Hippocrates recommended the use of unbolted wholemeal bread "for its salutary effects upon the bowel." To this day, wheat bran has been used for this purpose. Now that dietary fibers are being explored for health contributions other than bowel transit time, bran and barley have been found to regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol levels.

Cereal grains, when whole but dehulled, can be sprouted, or they can be cooked or soaked, and then added to bread dough. Whey they are cracked, they are called "grouts" or "grits". Cooked in liquid, cracked grains make hearty hot cereals. An easy rule of thumb is to use two parts liquid to one part grain. Some grains will require slightly more some slightly less. When cooked, cracked grains usually swell two to four times their original volume, depending upon the grain.

Cracked grains make good substitutes for rice or potatoes, and add variety to the diet. All whole grains are bland, and can be used interchangeably. The cooking liquid need not be water. It can be milk, fruit or vegetable juice, or soup stock, depending upon what dish is being prepared. Instead of using rice for traditional rice pudding, try substituting millet or replace rolled oats with rolled wheat in an oatmeal recipe.

Whole grains store well for long periods of time, provided they are dry before they are stored, and kept in tightly closed containers, in a cool place. These precautions will keep grains free of molds, insects and rodents. After grains are cracked or ground, they should be packaged so that air is excluded. At home they may be refrigerated or frozen, and should be used as promptly as possible.

Some cereal grains such as wheat, rye, corn, oats, and wild rice are familiar to most Americans. Others, such as amaranth, quinoa and buglur have a long history of use by people in other cultures. A few others, such as millet, barley, and buckwheat have been used mainly as foodstuffs for animals, but they can contribute nutrition to the human diet as well. Triticale, a man-made grain, needs and introduction as do two ancient grains, teff and Job's tears. So do two forerunners of our modern wheat, spelt and kalmut. One familiar grain, rice, an old standby, needs a reintroduction. Most Americans eat white rice and need to learn the simple art of cooking brown rice so that it is fluffy, dry and doesn not clump. Good eating. Good health.

Source: Grain Power by Beatrice Trum Hunter.

We carry flours, meals, grains and cereals for many of the grains noted in this article. Visit one of our stores or give us a call if any of these are of interest to you.