3 Herb Mamas

SEASONAL LIVING: Wheat

Wheat Berries

Organic Wheat Berries (Triticum spp., probably Triticum Aesativum)

Winter is a good time to focus on hearty whole grains, root crops, and dark leafy greens along with some high-quality proteins for the bulk of the diet. These are nutrient dense, warming foods that are sustaining. Over the course of the next few weeks I will take a close look at a variety of grains including Oats and Rice. This week, let’s take a closer look at Wheat.

Wheat is getting a lot of bad press these days. I notice that there is so much media hype that equates wheat with gluten in a blanket way, similar to the way Atkins type diets a decade ago equated fruits and many vegetables with simple carbohydrates. Although gluten-intolerance may be a very legitimate condition, I expect that when the dust settles over this it will prove to be yet another dietary fad. That people following a standard American diet (a.k.a. SAD) consume far too much gluten in the form of processed, denatured white flours is undeniable. However, I am not yet convinced that this means all gluten needs to be eradicated from all diets. This smacks of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Those with colitis, celiac, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohne’s disease, and such certainly know the triggers for their condition beyond a shadow of a doubt and I am not suggesting that they do not need to follow non-standard diets any more than I would suggest a diabetic does not need to take care with what they consume. This blog post will be looking at organic whole grain Wheat as part of a well-balanced and varied diet appropriate for the general population.

Before I explore the benefits and delights of Wheat, another important consideration that may have contributed to its negative impression for many is serving size and quantity. Although male teens and active men have  9-11 servings suggested by the USDA food pyramid, women and children under 6 years old should consume only 6 servings per day. A serving size is ONE slice of bread or 1/2 cup of cooked grains, pasta, or rice. Measure your spaghetti the next time you make this dish. Hopefully you will not discover, as I did,  that you are eating about 4 servings. Add a couple of slices of French bread. Having rice or a sandwich at lunch time as well as toast or a bagel for breakfast? I could easily be eating twice the daily recommended allowance for grains. I believe this is very common in our busy, over-scheduled modern lives. Sandwiches, wraps, and pasta dishes are readily available, quick and satisfying to eat. But consuming in excess consistently is bound to lead to problems. So, if you do not have any dietary restrictions for health reasons, a first consideration might be trying to eat fewer grains while making certain they are high quality, organic, and whole.

Although theoretically “whole” grain products and recipes are available readily today at fast-food drive-thru windows, big box and grocery stores these bear little resemblance to what our earthier ancestors consumed. We sometimes forget that even whole wheat flour is a processed food. Once grains of Wheat are ground into flour, often “enriched” with synthetic vitamins and other preservatives and conditioners as in bromated flours, they begin to oxidize and decrease in nutritional value. If not properly stored the natural oils can become rancid. Traditionally, truly whole grains were soaked and/or fermented often for days before being cooked or prepared as breads, porridges, or simply cooked. Traditional European bakers not only used fermented starters for their doughs before the rise of modern commercial rapid-rise yeasts, but they would also allow for a long, cool rise often lasting several days. Faster does not always equal better.

Why is this soaking/fermenting of grains important? In simple terms, all grains are coated in the outer bran layer with an organic acid in which phosphorus is bound called phytic acid. In its natural state phytic acid combines with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and most importantly, zinc in the intestinal tract and blocks the absorption of these important minerals. In fact, a diet high in unfermented whole grains can actually lead to mineral deficiencies and bone loss. Soaking whole grains allows enzymes, lactobacilli, and other helpful organisms to neutralize phytic acid. Even soaking grains overnight in warm water before cooking reduces and neutralizes phytic acid and other enzyme inhibitors dramatically and improves their nutritional benefits. It actually encourages the production of beneficial enzymes that aid digestion and increases the amounts of many vitamins, especially B vitamins.

Wheat protein, including gluten, are difficult to digest and a diet high in unfermented whole grains stresses and slows the whole digestive process. However, during the process of soaking and fermenting, gluten along with other proteins are partially broken down, making them more readily available for absorption. Grains can be sorted into categories according to whether they contain gluten or not (or possibly only a trace). Oats, Rye, Barley, and Wheat all contain gluten and therefore should always be soaked/fermented. Whole Buckwheat, Rice and Millet do not contain gluten. However, they still benefit us more nutritionally by being cooked slowly in a mineral-rich broth.

Soaking Wheat Berries

Soaking whole Wheat berries in water overnight improves digestibility and nutrition. This is the first step in our family’s favorite Sprouted Wheat Berry Cakes.

In what I consider to be the beauty and wisdom of Nature, all seeds are coated with enzyme inhibitors that protect the seed during the time when it needs to remain dormant because growing conditions are not optimum. This is an important, essential even, feature of all seeds. However, they are out of place in the human body. Modern agricultural practices further speed harvest and storage so that natural exposure to moisture and sun cannot begin the work of partial germination and healthy enzyme activation that traditional hand harvesting and aging before threshing allowed. Lacking the four stomachs of the ruminants who feed almost exclusively on grain grasses, we need to be certain that we do not skip steps that provide a means of removing or disabling these enzyme inhibitors before we consume the grains. Soaking and sprouting (germinating) is an easy way to accomplish this while boosting nutrition. Sprouting seeds produce a whole range of substances, vitamins, and enzymes that are either completely absent or only present in tiny amounts in the unsprouted seed.

Sprouting Wheat “berries” (actually just the seed or grain of Wheat, also known as kernels) is very simple. I soak 3 cups of Wheat berries overnight in a stone crockery bowl along with 3 cups of cool water, covered with a large dinner plate. In the morning I drain these in a large colander, rinse with cool water, and allow them to drain well. You can use any sieve or arrangement you like based on the tools you have at hand. I spread the grains out to an even thickness, set it over a bowl to drain completely, and cover the colander filled with soaked Wheat kernels with a tea towel to block out light. I rinse these in the same manner 2-3 times per day for the next 2-3 days. When the Wheat berries have little 1/4 inch “tails” or sprouts they are ready to be ground into dough for baking. I rinse them one last time before grinding.

Sprouted Wheat

Sprouted Wheat Berries ready for grinding.

I used my electric food processor with the chopping blade to grind my sprouted Wheat into a fairly uniform dough. Sometimes I use a hand-cranked grain mill for this step. Both do the job well although the food processor is quicker. You can add nothing at all to this or sprinkle in a bit of your favorite sea or earth salt. Note that you can certainly sprout other grains or beans and grind them along with the Wheat to create a variety of nutritious breads, popularly known as Essene Bread. I “knead” my dough slightly for a few minutes using a spatula and my hands but it is really pretty much ready for baking once it has been ground and shaped.

Sprouted Wheat Ground Dough

Sprouted Wheat dough ready to be shaped into loaves or “cakes” and baked. No rising needed. 

I place my sprouted Wheat dough into stoneware bowls that I have prepared by oiling them and then dusting them with cornmeal. These are set down in a roasting pan with about a half inch of hot water added to the pan. I will put a lid on the roasting pan (my homemade version of a baking cloche) before placing it in the oven and it will slowly steam the loaves in a low to moderate oven. Traditionally these cakes may have been slowly “baked”/dried in the sun on hot stones but I have found the oven steamed method to give excellent results. I place the covered roasting pan with the stoneware bowls of dough into an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Then I reduce the temperature to 325 degrees for 2 hours and 15 minutes. Some people use an even cooler oven and a longer baking time. I am happy with the results and quality of these settings but feel free to experiment. Once baked, I remove the roasting pan from the oven and lift the stoneware bowls of Sprouted Wheat Berry Cakes onto a cooling rack and allow them to cool down for 20 minutes or more before removing them. I like to run a knife blade around the edges of the bowls and then lift sliced wedges of them out with a pie spatula to serve.

Essene loaves ready for baking

Two medium sized Sprouted Wheat “Cakes” in stoneware bowls that have been oiled and dusted with cornmeal.

Baked Essene Cakes

Warm Sprouted Wheat Berry Cakes fresh from the oven

Wheat Berry Cake 1 Wheat Berry Cakes 2

Slices of fresh Wheat Berry bread, or “cakes”, are naturally sweet, light and delicious with or without the addition of butter, jam or syrup.

Essene bread meal

A nutritious, hearty winter meal: Cuban Black Beans over heritage Golden Rice with steamed Carrots and Broccoli and Sprouted Wheat Berry Bread.

 Happy “Goes-Within” Season! ~Leenie

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