Submerge the whole grain berries in water (note, not milled flour as is the case with fermentation) for up to two days or at least until a tiny sprout has begun to appear at the end of the grain. Rinse and dry the berries in an oven before grinding them into flour for use in cakes, biscuits and pies.
Sprouting is a second fine example of how food can be transformed from one of nutritional inferiority to one of optimum nutritional quality. The transformation of the grain is truly astounding. Brewers have been sprouting grains since time immemorial in order to increase the sugar content of the brew for the yeasts to feast on – it is called “malting” though the germination period takes somewhat longer for the brewing of beer than it does for flours.
Whilst the practice of sprouting barley for ales and beers has always been commonplace, the practice of sprouting grain for baked or cooked goods is probably more happenstance than systematic. Water and moisture are the enemies of the farmer seeking to harvest and store grains for future use. Wet grains lead to all sorts of problems in terms of mould and the deterioration of the grain. Ergots, commonly known as St Anthony’s Fire, was a terrible disease that killed many a person during the middle-ages and was caused by a fungus growing on damp rye berries. Traditional as well as modern husbandry has always sought to harvest the grains before they could be ruined by summer rains to keep them dry.
Traditional or not, the fact is that modern scientific enquiry shows us that grains which have been sprouted under correct conditions are the stars of the show and excellent for the baking of cakes, biscuits, pies and pizza dough. Why?
The moment an individual seed or berry encounters moisture the internal biology of the plant sends signals that germination may commence. Germination releases a host of enzymes that are tasked to help the plant to grow. As is the case with fermentation the enzymes:
- break down the phytic acid in the bran so that the inter-locked minerals are freed for use … (phytase).
- break down the complex sugars in the endosperm so that they are cut up into simple sugars to provide the growing plant with energy… (amylase).
- break down the gluten protein present in many grains into simpler amino acids …(protease).
At the same time as releasing enzymes that unlock the nutritional treasures the growing seed will pressurise the tight fisted trustees (the enzyme inhibitors) to release their assets and grant the seed access to its rightful inheritance.
The immature seed will need all the nutritional help it can get to grow into a mature plant, thus the closed vitamin bank account is freed and the assets returned with interest:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) increase of 28%
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) increase of 315%
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) increase of 66%
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic) increase of 65%
- Biotin increase of 111%
- Folic acid increase of 278%
- Vitamin C increase of 300%
Thus, the hard to digest, dormant, tight-fisted seed is transformed into a food source that tastes sweet, is nutritious and places a lesser strain on the digestive system.
It is possible to sprout grains at home and many do. It can be quite time intensive if one bakes regularly. In North America there are farms that supply sacks of sprouted grain flour – but few in Europe. As a result it is still quite expensive compared to ordinary flour. In terms of nutritional quality, flavour and texture, however, sprouted flour is second to none.
Since sprouted grain has not been fermented it does not have the soured flavour of a sourdough starter. Rather it has a mildly malt flavour. For those who prefer their cakes, biscuits, pies lighter and sweeter we recommend use of sprouted flour. Since the gluten content of the grain has been reduced considerably due to enzymatic activity, sprouted grain flour is not very effective for bread baking, though it can be done. For bread baking we recommend relying on sourdough leavening.