All posts filed under: Grains

GRAINS

It was in the fertile crescent, comprising modern day Jordan, Syria, Israel, Iraq and Egypt that the first cereal crops were grown and harvested systematically rather than randomly gathered whenever and wherever they happened to grow.  Were it not for the dry, hard seeds produced by various grasses – collectively referred to as cereal grains – there would be no such thing as cities, states, society or even civilisation. The eighteenth century philosopher, Rousseau, laid the blame of our moral corruption fairly and squarely on grain. The business of growing grain to feed expanding populations, he argued, resulted in mankind “fencing off his land,” leading to a collective from of vanity and moral corruption. Fast forward to the twenty-first century and modern thought may not necessarily blame society’s moral evils on grains per se but they do blame grains for many of the ailments prevalent in developed societies. Those on a paleo diet argue that in a pre-agricultural society human beings consumed nothing other than meat, vegetables and fruit – never grains. Whilst Master in the Kitchen …

SLEEPING BEAUTY

Broadly speaking most of the grains we consume today in the form of milled flours, in breads, cakes, biscuits, pastas, pies, porridges and expressed breakfast cereals derive from dry, unfermented seeds whose true potential has yet to be fully realised.  The grain berry, harvested and stored in silos, lies dormant waiting for the day a drop of rain will coat the seed and encourage germination to begin. Since the seed is effectively being “put on hold” it has no need to utilise any of the nutrients the mother plant has bequeathed it.  The seed’s nutrients can be compared to a valuable inheritance that have been packed up and sealed away in the family chests only to be opened by the immature seed as and when conditions are right. Thus, the complex sugars (or starches) that form the endosperm of the dormant grain are tightly bound together in close-fitting balls. Minerals remain locked up in the phytic acid. Vitamins are held in a closed bank account to prevent the infantile seed from squandering such a valuable …

FERMENTING GRAINS

Method Mix one cup of water and one cup of whole flour in a bowl. Add one cup of flour and one cup of water to the mix for seven days until the flour has begun to bubble and smell sour. For centuries fermented gruel, ale and bread formed the bulk of Europe’s diet – not quick rise white breads, pastas, cakes, biscuits, rice, corn, pizzas, or pancakes but coarse, whole-meal, slow-leavened, soured bread swallowed down with a glass of low-alcohol ale or beer. All populations ate soured bread if they wanted their bread to rise . The only known way to cultivate yeasts was by harvesting them in a sourdough starter. In fact the process of separating yeasts from their food source to use in quick rise breads was not wide-spread until the early nineteenth century. According to Suetonius, the “god” Emperor Augustus and pater patria of the Roman empire “…particularly liked coarse bread, small fishes, hand-made moist cheese, and green figs of the second crop.” A man, quite clearly of simple, though impeccable taste. Little …

SPROUTED FLOUR

Method 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 …

SOAKED GRAINS

Method Soak the grain over-night in a mixture of water, a pinch of salt and a table spoon of an acid medium such as buttermilk, kefir, yoghurt, whey, vinegar or lemon juice. Many will know that soaking beans overnight such as lentils and chickpeas helps to soften the beans up before cooking the following day. The practice of soaking milled flour, whole grain berries or rolled oats overnight in an acid medium is less well known or even understood. Traditionally, oats were soaked in water overnight in Scotland before being cooked in the pot the following morning though there is no mention of an acid medium being added to the mix. The Irish traditionally prepared their famous soda bread with buttermilk though whether the flour was soaked over night before use is unclear since few original recipes survive. Similarly early North American pioneers soaked their flour in yoghurt overnight before preparing pancakes the following day. Many German cake recipes still call for either quark, yoghurt or buttermilk. Scones which have been prepared with buttermilk rather …

TO SUM UP

There is nothing like the debate on grains to induce a disproportionate amount of naval gazing and obsessions. Anti-nutrients are not a toxin. They can just become problematic if too much is consumed over a long period of time. The occasional use of breads from wheats that have been neither sprouted, fermented nor soaked is hardly going to pose problems. Enjoy a slice of cake from unrefined flours if a friend offers it to you. Allow the kids to eat biscuits made from non fermented, soaked or sprouted white flour if there’s nothing else on offer.If, however, your daily diet depends on consuming a high proportion of grains in the form of breads, cakes, biscuits, porridges, pastas and high-heat expressed breakfast cereals then you may want to consider some alternatives as set out in the recipe section. Not only will they improve the flavour, texture and taste of the food they will also have a big impact on the nutritional quality of the grains eaten. The modern everyday cook has literally hundreds of grains to …