The A through Z of Whole Grains

Rye meets Teff

Hello fellow bakers and curious folk! 

Lately I found that when I am teaching new friends how to bake bread, many people are asking great questions about varying grains. They want to know what makes the best bread; or what variety of wheat is lightest in texture, while still remaining true to it’s whole grain nature. Another discussion that continues to peak people’s interest is what kind of whole grain makes the best bread, and what is the nutritional breakdown of each?

During the class I explain the differences, but I thought I would share my knowledge with the rest of my fellow bakers out there. Or at least, give you the low-down of what I’ve discovered through my research and thousands of test-bakes.

Let’s start with my favorite grain: RYE

Even though Rye can be incredibly sticky to mix, it is by far one of the most nutritious grains out there. It is highest in insoluble fiber, which means that it can assist a healthier and more regular digestion. Insoluble fiber helps regulate digestion, and it also helps the body maintain its normal Ph level (acidity to alkaline ratio). It is said that rye also contains some trace amounts of soluble fiber as well; making it extra keen at regulating blood sugar in our body. This is why it is often safe for those who are pre-diabetic and diabetic to eat rye. The bulk fiber does not spike the blood sugar, which is also an added bonus for those of us who are afraid of eating bread bc of possible weight gain. Rye bread can actually help one lose weight, since its natural fiber makes one feel full after just a slice or two.

Rye also contains half the amount of gluten that wheat does. Even when commercially milled, the rye grain still stays more nutritious than wheat flour, because unlike wheat’s endosperm (bulk of the grain kernel), rye’s endosperm is full of fiber, and minimal starch.

So so try it out for yourself. Don’t be intimidated by its stickiness at first like I was. Trust me, it’s worth it.

SPELT

Contrary to popular belief, Spelt is indeed a wheat variety. It originated in Iran, as a cross-breed to emmer (another grass-like grain). It is higher in protein, but not gluten protein. More specifically, it does not contain gliadin protein. This is the more specific type of gluten protein that many people supposedly have a hard time digesting. But you know how I really feel about gluten. If you’re new to the site, I invite you to read my thoughts on the matter HERE. Taste-wise spelt is nuttier than most grains, and super delicious with figs and fresh goat cheese. Yum.

Spelt Yin & Yang

TEFF

Teff is the smallest grain in the world, and it’s also the national grain of Ethiopia and Eritrea. If you’re ever had Ethiopean food, you probably used their incredible injera bread in lieu of utensils. It’s super sour because they ferment their injera for up to 48 hours. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. It’s naturally sweet and loaded with iron and calcium. I often prescribe my iron-deficient or osteo-arthritic patients a teff loaf each week. It’s also great for new mama’s post-partum. It really supports the blood in our systems. Another sweet fact is that despite its tiny size, you can sow an entire field of teff with just a handful of seeds. That’s magic.

BUCKWHEAT

In Chinese Medicine, buckwheat (a fruit seed, not a grain) is seen as neutral and sweet by nature, and incredibly rich in amino acids. Particularly it is rich in lysine, a particular protein that is lacking in most grains, and is specifically helpful in preventing cardiovascular disease. Buckwheat is also excellent for deterring diarrhea and dysentery. It helps calm the digestive tract, and reduce inflammation.

EINKORN

Einkorn has made the news a lot lately because people are convinced that it is more easily digested, despite the fact that it contains gluten. Most people believe this to be because the grain itself is impossible to hybridize. Meaning — the grain kernel cannot be broken apart in commercial milling. So all of the parts of the grain (the bran, the germ, and the endosperm) are milled together and not seperated, like they are in commercial milling. Because that is how Mother Nature intended it. This makes einkorn chockfull of vitamins and minerals that many wheat strains are missing. It’s also very special because the original strain of einkorn is over 10,000 years old, making it on of the oldest strains of wheat. It is not grown often in the states, but is becoming more popular. Italy has grown einkorn for years, and now a lot of bakers are importing it from there (or just ordering it from Amazon — Jovial is the brand name). It is naturally buttery, soft, and almost cream-colored. It’s color is due in part to the fact that it is high in beta-carotene. It is also high in protein, magnesium, manganese, and potassium, proving it very nutrient-dense. Try it out for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!

Einkorn Sandwich Loaf

WHOLE WHEAT

With all the anti-wheat parties that are happening right now, it is difficult to even think about how whole wheat can be healthy for us. But trust me, it can. And I know this from experience. I know this because I used myself as a wheat-eating guinea pig for several years now, after having swore it off before my experimenting phase. In Chinese Medicine, whole wheat kernel (or fu xiao mai) is an herb that is used frequently for menopausal symptoms including night sweats, for insomnia, and for calming the spirit.

There  are two main classifications for wheat: hard and soft. The harder the wheat, the higher the protein content. Within these two classifications, there are specific categories: winter wheat and spring wheat.

– Hard winter red wheat: about 40% of the wheat grown in the US is this wheat. It is moderately high in protein (about 10.5%),  so it is prime all-purpose flour.

– Hard spring red wheat: this wheat is highest in protein (about 13.5%) and therefore, makes incredibly great bread! It is most grown in the northern states and Canada.

– Hard winter white wheat: only about 1% of the wheat grown in the US. When you read “white wheat,” those of us who are health conscious cringe a little bit. But not to fear! I’ve worked with organic whole winter white wheat and was amazed at the results. It is still whole grain, so it does maintain all three parts of the entire grain when milled (the bran, the germ, and the endosperm). The “white bread” that has plagued our nation since the Industrial Revolution is bleached and primarily composed of the endosperm. Alone, the endosperm only contains starch and some proteins. Unlike the bran and germ, it does not have many vitamins or minerals to make it healthy for us.

-Soft winter red wheat: grown primarily in Ohio, this wheat is particularly best for pastries, cakes, and cookies. It is lower in protein, and therefore not ideal for baking bread. It also has a particularly mild flavor.

Whole Wheat Boule

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I want to share with you one of the best 20 minute speeches I have ever heard. I know I am whole grain obsessed and biased, but I think you too will learn a lot from his talk. It’s Michael Pollan, the wonderful writer of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, to name a few. I think I have watched it ten times, if not twenty! I hope it inspires you as much as it does me! Please click HERE to view.

So there you have it. There are many more varieties of grains, but I have baked many loaves of bread with a combination of those above and have been very successful. They are highly nutritious, tasty, and with a long fermentation, are chockfull of pre and probiotics. Real bread takes time. But it is worth it. Your body will thank you!