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Ingredients and Safe Substitutions 2 Grains and flour

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Edited By Crimsonwolf

Ingredients and Safe Substitutions

 

Grains and Flours

 

Most Western readers, if asked about grain, can tell you the following:  it's used to make flour, which is then made into bread and other baked goods, and it comes in white and whole wheat.  In reality, flour can be ground from any grain, as well as nuts and legumes.  In addition, grains can be used whole, without being ground into flour.  The most common example of whole grain consumption would be brown rice;  any grain can be consumed much the same way, steamed or boiled, then served plain, or with a little butter or salt.  

Grains are seeds, from plants in the grass family, and can be used whole, sprouted, cooked, roughly milled, craked, rolled into flakes, or ground into meal or flour.  They are high in nutritional value, rich in protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and fiber.

Each grain is composed of three parts:

  • the bran, which is the protective outer part of the edible kernel,
  • the starchy endosperm, which breaks down into sugar and feeds the seedling as it grows the first leaves to allow it to produce its own food through photosynthesis, and
  • the germ, which is the heart of the kernel, the part that would sprout if the seed were planted.

Whole–grain flour includes the bran, which is rich in oils and nutrients, the starchy endosperm (the sole ingredient of so–called "white flour"), and the germ.  Most of the nutrients are in the bran and the germ, so "white flour" breads are often enriched with synthetic vitamins and nutrients, to raise their nutritional value, while the germ and bran stripped away in the process of creating "white flour" are fed to cattle and other animals.  This monumental waste is encouraged by consumers who have never tried a good whole–grain food, and have been brainwashed by popular marketing campaigns into believing that the only good bread is white bread, or that whole–grain foods are always heavy, coarse, and unappetizing.  Some even confuse the bran with the rough outer husk of the grain, a part of the plant that is as inedible as corn shucks.

While whole grains may be served as a cereal or side dish, and rolled grains are a primary ingredient in granola, grains are most frequently found in baked goods, and the occasional non–baked breads, such as fried breads, donuts, etc. Grains serve several functions in baked goods. The simple starch of the endosperm serves to feed the yeast, in yeasted breads and sourdoughs (yeast from the baker's shelf or from the air), whose rapid growth adds the lightness and air pockets that make yeasted bread so light and fluffy.

Wheat is the most common flour grain in the Western world, valued for its high gluten content, which makes it remarkably easy to work with, but can also make some lighter baked goods tough.

Gluten

Gluten is a subject worthy of a section to itself.  Gluten, especially wheat gluten, can cause allergic reactions in some individuals, or irritate Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), sometimes known as spastic colon.  People suffering from Leaky Gut often find that gluten, and glutinous (gluten–containing) foods are among the most difficult to tolerate.  However, many people find that they can tolerate gluten–rich grains, such as rye, or even wheat, if they have been sprouted.  If you have a mild allergy to wheat, you may be able to eat essene bread, or other sprouted wheat breads.

Note: If you are following a restricted diet for medical reasons, PLEASE do not deviate from the prescribed diet without consulting your health care professional.

Gluten is a protein, consisting of gliadin and glutenin;  when glutinous dough is kneaded, these two stick together to form an elastic web, which traps small pockets of carbon dioxide exhaled by the yeast as they grow, those from the chemical reaction of baking soda or baking powder reacting with acids, and/or air from the kneading process.  This allows the bread to rise and keep its shape during baking;  gluten–free breads tend to be more crumbly and less flexible.

Gluten is present in highest levels in wheat, while rye and triticale contain less, predominated by the stickier gliadin.  Oats and barley contain low levels of gluten, and other grains none at all;  grains with low gluten levels should be used with care in baking yeasted breads, but are highly suited to cakes and quickbreads, where they will produce a soft crumb.  

Different grains can provide a variety of tastes and textures, from the golden taste of cornbread dripping with butter (yum!), the sharp tang of a sourdough rye, to the nutty taste of buckwheat, and the delightful warm crumbliness of oatcakes in the morning, or the blended overlay of flavors in multi–grain muffins.  A rich farm bread can be made using overcooked brown rice for the moisture content, while the less common amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum, triticale and teff provide a variety that should allow almost anyone to enjoy the pleasures afforded by the wide family of grain-based foods.

Amaranth

This ancient grain was a staple food of the Aztecs, prior to the ravages of Cortez.  It is extremely high in protein, especially including the rarer lysine and sulfur–containing amino acids.  Amaranth is an important option for hypoglycemics, and others with blood sugar problems, as it avoids the excessive unbalanced starch that can cause such devestating effects on the insulin and blood sugar.  The small grains can be popped and used in cereal or confections, or cooked and eaten whole (I like them mixed with brown rice, 7 parts brown rice to 1 part amaranth.)  The flour can be used alone, or added to other grains to raise the protein content and add a light nutty flavor.

Barley

Barley is an extremely hardy grain, flourishing from the Arctic Circle to the subtropics.  It is believed to have been the first grain cultivated by humans, and is honored in old songs and harvest celebrations.  "John Barleycorn", the colloquial name for barley in some of these folk songs, is honored for providing bread and beer, the two staple manifestations of its dietary importance over the centuries.  So central was this crop to the diets of many peoples that the yearly cycle of planting and harvest was linked to the myths of death and rebirth, and the bond between the land and the King, who was held to be married to the land of the kingdon.  Although it is still a staple dietary crop in many parts of the world, in the West barley is primarily fed to livestock, and made into malt, and beer.

The most commonly available form of barley in the average Western supermarket is "pearl barley";  this is barley grain that has been stripped of its outer bran and inner germ, the equivalent of white rice.  It is used in soups, including "scotch broth", a mutton/beef vegetable soup that is a favorite of mine (the trick to a good scotch broth is in the marjoram).  For any other purpose, you are better off with "brown barley", which has only been hulled, and still retains both the bran and the germ.  

Brown barley can be cooked whole, roughly milled into a delicately nutty meal, for porridge, or ground into flour.  Barley flour is light in flavor, low in gluten, adding a soft, delicate crumb when used in breads, cakes, and cookies.  Barley flour can be combined with whole wheat flour to creat a delicious, chewy unyeasted loaf.  Used alone in cookies, barley flour produces a light, tasty, slightly pasty product;  I prefer it in combination with other flours.  Barley can be added to breads as cooked barley or rolled barley flakes, as well as in the form of lightly pretoasted flour, which gives a light, sweet, cake–like texture.

Berry

The berry is the seed or kernel of the grain, without the inedible husk, but otherwise whole and unmodified.  Whole berries can be sprouted, either slightly, after which they can be ground to make a sweet, mealy dough, about the texture of hamburger.  This dough can be baked as Essene bread, or added to other ingredients for an extra touch of chewy sweetness.  Or the sprouts can be allowed to grow longer, and eaten whole, juiced, or planted.  Wheatgrass, in particular, is very high in clorophyll, providing a boost to the body's oxygenation, and a noticeable surge of energy when consumed as juice.  Warning:  be very careful trying wheatgrass juice for the first time – it can be powerful stuff, and an uncomfortable feeling if one exceeds one's limits.

Bran

This term is usually used to refer the partially ground outer cortex, or protective outer layer, of the wheat berry.  However, it is not limited to wheat, and refers instead to this outer cortex of any grain, sometimes mistakenly called the husk.  In reality, the husk is the grass sheath that surrounds the seed, also known as the kernel, berry, or grain.

The bran, or outer cortex of the berry, is rich in oils and nutrients, including the majority of the protein found in the whole grain; it also contains the majority of the dietary fiber of the whole grain.  Bran is found naturally in whole grain flours, or it can be added, to make food even higher in fiber, and darkly flecked.  Warm bran muffins are not just for those in need of a laxative, though the majority of Westerners consume a diet inadequate in dietary fiber;  they are also one of my favorite breakfast treats, topped with butter (when I can eat it).

You may want to watch the cooking time and temperature if you add a lot of bran to a recipe, as when converting a recipe from white flour to whole grain, it may be necessary to drop the baking temperature by about 25 degrees Farenheit (15 degrees Celsius), and increase baking time by about 15 minutes.

Buckwheat

This misnamed plant, more closely related to rhubarb than it is to wheat, was probably first cultivated in ancient China, and spread to Europe by migrating tribes.

Farinha, a refined buckwheat flour, was a staple food of the Mediterranean area, though what is currently called farina is usually a degermed wheat.

Buckwheat groats, hulled whole buckwheat berries, can be used raw, or roasted;  roasted, they are a staple food of Russia and Eastern Europe, where they are called "kasha", and often cooked as gruel.  Kasha can be ground, cooked, and whipped to make a light fluffy dish that can be used in place of mashed potatoes, including by those who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and its common intolerance of potatoes (along with dairy products and corn/maize).

In the United States, buckwheat is mostly grown as animal fodder, or a kind of "green manure", a nutrient–rich plant grown to enrich the soil by being plowed under at the end of the growing season, then left to decompose and release their nutrients and organic matter into the soil.  However, buckwheat flour and buckwheat groats, both raw and roasted, are available organically grown in the United States and Australia, and can be used in baked goods, pancakes, casseroles and side dishes, limited only by your ingredients and your tastes.  Fresh flour may be ground from groats, roasted or not, if you prefer.  Buckwheat's nutritional value is similar to that of wheat, save that it is outstandingly high in the amino acid, l-lysine.

Buckwheat has a strong nutty flavor, with a distinctive undertone, and must be used with care if you don't want it to dominate a dish;  fortunately, the taste is one that many people, myself included, enjoy very much.  Buckwheat pancakes are a great introduction to this nutty but unusual flavor, and I'm also strongly partial to buckwheat scones.  If you haven't tried buckwheat before, and aren't sure about it, try a half a cupful in a whole–grain recipe.

 

 

Crimsonwolf

Heathen's Kitchen Compendium