A Grain Primer

A Grain Primer

By Jennifer A. Wickes

The proper term, in reference to grains, is cereal grains. The word "cereal" comes from Ceres, a pre-Roman goddess of agriculture. Cereal includes any plant from the grass family that produces an edible seed.

Cereals are inexpensive, have an available source of protein and the highest concentration of carbohydrates compared with any other food.

Varieties of Grain

Barley: Barley dates back to the Stone Ages. It is used in recipes such as bread, cereal, and soups. Most barley in the western world is now used for two reasons, for making beer and whiskey, and for animal fodder.

Bulgur Wheat: Originating from the Middle East, this is wheat kernels which have been steamed, dried and crushed.

Couscous: A staple in North Africa. Couscous is derived from semolina. Can be cooked and added to milk to make a porridge, fruits and honey can be added to make a dessert or you can mix a dressing into it and eat it like a salad.

Kasha: This is roasted buckwheat grains.

Millet: Millet is a staple grain for over a 1/3 of the world's population, particularly in Asia and Africa. The United States uses millet almost exclusively for fodder and birdseed. Millet is rich in protein with a bland flavor, so it takes well to be cooked with other foods and spices. You prepare millet like rice, in boiling water, to make into a hot cereal or some sort of pilaf. Ground millet is used in puddings, breads and cakes. You can find millet in natural food stores, as well as Asian markets.

Oats: In the 1700s, England would feed oats to their horses, yet the Scottish used to eat every day!

Polenta/Cornmeal: Dried corn kernels that have been ground to a powder. Quinoa: A staple to the Incas. Contains the most protein than any other grain. It also contains eight essential amino acids. Quinoa is also high in unsaturated fats and lower in carbohydrates. You need to cook Quinoa like rice, and it has been compared in flavor to couscous. Can be found in natural food stores.

Rice: Rice has been cultivated throughout Asia since at least 8000 BC. There are also over 7000 varieties. Rice contains iron, calcium and B- complex vitamins.

Risotto: An Italian rice which is cooked as rice and can be served with a variety of meats and vegetables. Italian Arborio rice is usually used in the preparation of risotto.

Rye: Rye contains less gluten that any other flour, therefore, all rye breads tend to be dense. There are a variety of different ryes, all of which are found at Natural Food Stores: medium, light, dark and pumpernickel.

Sorghum: The third largest grain in the entire world, the US only use it as fodder. The only thing the US use sorghum for when speaking of human consumption, sorghum molasses, which is used to sweeten baked goods.

Spelt: A cereal grain native to southern Europe, where it has been used for thousands of years. It has a nutty flavor, and can be used in lieu of wheat flour in recipes if a person is gluten intolerant. This grain can also be found in Natural Food Stores.

Teff: A cereal grain native to Ethiopia, but is currently being harvested in Idaho. This grain has a nutty flavor, is high in protein, carbohydrates, calcium and iron. It can be found in Natural Food Stores.

Triticale: Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye. It has more protein and less gluten than wheat. It comes in berries, flakes and flour. You can find this in Natural Food Stores. Triticale is usually used to make casseroles, hot cereals and pilafs. Due to the low gluten content, breads made from this grain make loaves to be very heavy, therefore using ½ wheat flour helps add some air.

Wheat: Wheat has been cultivated for over 6000 years. It is the world's largest cereal crop with more than 30,000 varieties.

Wild Rice: Wild rice is not really rice at all. It's a long grain marsh grass cultivated throughout the United States by originated near the Great Lakes region. Wild rice is also known as Indian rice.

More Grain Tidbits

How To Store: All grains should be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Spices: Basil, cardamom, cayenne, chervil, chili powder, chives, cinnamon, cumin, curry powder, fennel, ginger, marjoram, paprika, parsley, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, turmeric.

Nutritional Values: High in carbohydrates and fiber, low in protein.

Folklore / Alternative Healing: Pearl barley used to be combined with water and lemon and fed to invalids to help restore their strength.

Barley Bread

24 Servings

4 1/2-teaspoons dry yeast

2-cups warm water

2-tablespoons honey

2-cups barley flour

2-cups whole-wheat flour

2-cups white unbleached flour

2-tablespoons olive oil

2-teaspoons salt

Dissolve yeast in warm water and place in large mixing bowl. Stir in honey and leave till yeast becomes foamy. Combine the three flours and add half to the yeast. Beat with a wooden spoon for 10 minutes. The consistency should be of thick mud. Cover and set aside to rise for 1 hour, till the dough has doubled.

Punch dough down and carefully fold in olive oil, salt and 1/2 c remaining flour. Gradually fold in more flour till dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead well for 10 minutes. Add more flour as necessary. Place dough in a lightly oiled mixing bowl. Cover and leave to double.

Punch dough down again and shape into 2 domed round loaves. Cut a cross in the center. Place on an oiled baking sheet, cover and let rise till doubled, 45 to 60 minutes. Bake at 350F for 50 minutes. Source: Public domain recipes converted from Meal Master format

Highland Oatcakes

12 Servings

8-ounces oatmeal

1-teaspoon salt

1/2-ounce lard, or drippings

3-tablespoons hot (or more) water

Sift salt and oatmeal in a roomy bowl. Put on the griddle or a heavy frying pan to heat. Bring the water to the boil with the fat. Pour into a well in the oatmeal. Work into a stiff dough and cut in half. Roll out on a floured board to the size of a dinner plate and about 1/8-inch thick. Cut into quarters or fourths.

Test the griddles heat by holding your hand over it. Lay on one of the quartered rounds. When the oatcakes are ready, the surface stops steaming and begins to look dry and white. Turn them and do the other side. Dry off the oatcakes and lightly brown the edges in a hot oven or under the grill - they should curl up to the fire to prove that you have made your own. Source: Public domain recipes converted from Meal Master format

Orange-Currant Couscous

4 Servings

Prep 0:05 Cook 0:05 Stand 0:05 Total 0:15

1-cup low-fat reduced sodium chicken broth

2/3-cup couscous

1/4 cup currants

1-orange peel, grated

2-tablespoons orange juice

2-teaspoons lemon juice

Bring chicken broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in couscous, currants and orange peel. Remove from heat and cover. Let sit 5 minutes. Stir in orange and lemon juice and serve. Source: The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute

This article was originally published at Suite 101.

Copyright 2001 Jennifer Wickes

About the author

Jennifer Wickes is the editor at "Cookbook Reviews" and "Cooking With The Seasons", which has been voted to be one of the Top 100 Culinary Sites on the Internet! For more information about Jennifer Wickes or her columns, please go to HERE

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