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Food Challenge: Wheat Berry

Posted Mar 20 2010 1:48pm

For this week’s Food Challenge , I’m trying out a whole grain — wheat berry. So far the only whole grain options that I am familiar with are: oats , popcorn and brown rice . I definitely have not been courageous in the past with expanding my taste for whole grains, so I’m really excited about adding wheat berry to my list.

Before attempting anything crazy, I did a bit of research and found some interesting information.

  • Wheat berry is an intact whole grain ! It is the whole unprocessed wheat kernel, which means none of the germ or bran has been removed, and so it is nutritionally intact. This grain is a very good source of fiber (keeps the digestive system healthy, helps to lower cholesterol and promotes bowel regularity). In addition, it contains a wide array of nutrients that may help to reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Because it is unprocessed, wheat berry does take some time to cook before it softens up. To prepare: In a large pot, put in 3 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt for every 1 cup of wheat berries. Cover and boil, then reduce heat and let simmer, with lid covered, for about 1 hour until the grains are plumped and al dente (try a few kernels to see if it is the right doneness for you). Drain and set aside. 1 cup uncooked wheat berries will yield 2.5 cups cooked.
  • Other whole grains that substitute well include: farro, barley, kamut, and spelt.

Originally, I thought that wheat berries would be very hard and dense with a strong nutty flavour. But I was pleasantly surprised after tasting my very first batch of wheat berries. It didn’t taste anything like I had expected; instead, they were slightly sweet with a mellow nutty flavour and a very chewy texture. Compared to brown rice or barley, these grains are a lot firmer and chewier, but I quite enjoyed their unique texture.

To see how well wheat berries can be incorporated into my diet, I decided to try them in three different ways, at three different meals. I stirred it into my breakfast bowl, made it into a stew for lunch and added it to my salad for a light dinner.

1. The breakfast bowl was leftover Mung Bean Dal with wheat berries and minced cilantro stirred in. The dal was creamy and mushy, while the wheat berries provided chewiness and the cilantro infused a fresh, clean flavour and brightened up the dish beautifully.

2. Lunch was simply a vegetable soup with wheat berries (inspired by Mark Bittman’s Carrot, Spinach and Rice Stew ). The slow cooking process made the vegetables very tender, allowing their flavours to melt into the soup and made it very delicious. However, the addition of the wheat berries was a poor choice. All the soup’s components were cooked well beyond tender, almost mushy even, so the grain’s chewiness was like the elephant in the room; it was very weird to have a few extremely chewy pebbles of wheat berries mixed in with a mouthful of very soft vegetables; the contrast was simply too great.

3. For a quick salad dinner, I decided to toss together canned corn, fresh bamboo shoots and wheat berries with a LOT of  peanut sauce (FYI, I am absolutely in love with this stuff and cannot possibly get enough.) The thick peanut sauce clung onto the wheat berries very well and each bite was full of flavours. A very well balanced blend of crunchiness, sweetness and chewiness, beautifully wrapped up by a dangerously delicious peanut sauce. YUM!

What I learned from this week’s challenge:

  • wheat berries make a very good addition to salads and they can be substituted in for other whole grains in recipes that have some sort of a sauce or dressing that can coat the wheat berries well (which means: okay in thick stews, not okay in thin soups).
  • they pair well with ingredients that have a somewhat crispy or crunchy texture (for example, bell peppers, edamame, onions, chickpeas) — avoid very soft and tender greens at all cost.
  • Wheat berries can be very fulfilling in small amounts. Due to the grain’s chewy nature, I chewed for longer and ate much more mindfully, which helped to significantly slow down my eating speed and as a result, I only needed a very small portion (1/4 cup) to feel satisfied.
  • It is definitely worthwhile to precook lots and keep them in the fridge or frozen in single portions. In fact, wheat berry may be better stored pre-cooked since uncooked wheat berries can turn bad fairly easily (because they are unprocessed, the natural oils in the wheat kernels’ bran can easily go rancid).

Will I eat it again?

If I have a ready-to-eat supply of wheat berries in my fridge/freezer, I will happily add them to salads or thick stews for the extra texture and for the extra nutritional boost (more fiber and phytonutrients!). But, if I don’t have any pre-cooked, I probably will choose another whole grain option that takes much less time to prepare and is equally healthy and delicious, such as barley (about 20 minute prep time) or brown rice (30 – 40 minutes).

To learn more about this awesome whole grain, visit these places:

Interested in trying wheat berries? Start with these delicious recipes:

Have you tried wheat berries before? Did you like it? How did you prepare it?

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