Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wheat, Kamut, and spelt berry 101

**Obviously these grains contain gluten, as this was posted before I eliminated gluten from my diet.**

wheat, Kamut, and spelt berriesI had a hard time picking the first grain to feature for my new Whole Grains 101 series. I finally decided on wheat, kamut, and spelt berries because they are some of my favorite grains that I've discovered on my whole grain adventures. Plus, I decided to make a spelt berry salad the other day that I'll be posting in the next day or so, and I figured that this would be a good time to introduce you to these. These three grains are closely related and are interchangeable, which is why I lumped them together.

Before I get started, I must acknowledge that much of my knowledge about wheat kernels, as well as other whole grains, has come from Lorna Sass's "Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way."

What are wheat, Kamut, and spelt berries?

Wheat berries are, simply, the entire wheat kernel (including endosperm, germ, and bran). The main type of wheat berries that you find at any natural foods store (more on that later) is of the hard red variety. You may also see hard white and soft white wheat berries, and these have a slightly milder flavor (and the soft ones are obviously softer than the hard ones). I've only tried the hard red variety, but from what I've read, there's not a big difference in taste or cooking times when you're talking about the whole berry. Flours milled from these different types, however, are drastically different, and are made into whole wheat (hard red), whole white wheat (hard white), and whole wheat pastry (soft white) flours. I realized that the difference between these whole wheat flours are incredibly important, so I'll be adding a post about this at some point in the series.

Although they could actually be labeled as a variety of wheat berry, Kamut and spelt retain their own name on labels. Kamut is a trademarked variety of wheat that originated in the Fertile Crescent, and these kernels are longer than those of traditional wheat. Spelt, on the other hand, is a species of wheat from Europe. Both of these have a slightly higher protein content than traditional wheat berries, and some people with a wheat intolerance have less of a problem with Kamut and spelt.

What do these taste like and how are they used?

All of these berries have a sweet and nutty taste. Imagine the best piece of whole wheat bread you've ever eaten and smash that into a small chewy morsel. While the three taste very similar, Kamut tends to have the boldest flavor (and is my favorite!), while spelt has the most subtle flavor. They remain very chewy after cooking (similar to brown rice that is undercooked), and I love this texture. My favorite way to use them is to make them the base of a salad with veggies, fruits, and cheese. They also make great breakfasts and desserts because of their natural sweetness, and I've also tossed them in green salads or soups. You could also use them as a rice substitute in a stir-fry or top them with a curry. Basically, I have yet to find something that doesn't work with these.

Where do you buy and store them?

Like all of my whole grains, I buy them at my local co-op or natural foods store. They're also available at Whole Foods, if you're lucky enough to live near one. I usually buy them out of the bulk bins because they're cheaper and I can get the exact amount that I want. If you can't find them in these places, there are many sources online. My first bag of wheat berries came from Massa Organics, and they were great (thanks, Dad!). You can also order Kamut, spelt, and several varieties of wheat berries from Bob's Red Mill.

If you have room in the refrigerator or freezer, store them there in an airtight container. If not, keep them at room temp but try to use them within a couple of months (but again, make sure they're in an airtight container). If you cook a big batch, they store well in the refrigerator for a week or so and in the freezer for virtually forever.

How do you cook them?

There are many opinions on how to cook wheat berries, and whether you should soak them or not, but I'll give you what works for me. First, sort through them and pick out any rocks or debris, and then rinse with cold water (just as you would with dried beans). Then put them in a large pot, cover with water (several inches above the top of the berries), and bring to a boil. Once they come to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for an hour. At this point they'll still be chewy, but won't be hard. Drain them, and then if there's time, return them to the pot (off of heat), cover, and let sit for 10 min. They will at least double in volume after cooking (1 cup dry = 2 cups cooked).

My recipes using wheat, Kamut, and spelt berries

Other great recipes

Mushroom Wheat Berry Pilaf from The Savory Notebook (I've made this from the original recipe out of "Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites" and it was amazing)

Again, feel free to interchange these three types of wheat kernels in any of the above recipes (or any others that you discover or create). If you have a favorite recipe using wheat, Kamut, or spelt berries, leave me a comment with a link and I'll add it to the list. Or, briefly describe a recipe so that we can all share the wheat kernel love :).

Is there anything else that you would like to know about these wheat kernels? Anybody going to try them out?


Unknown said...

I love whole grains - I'm excited to go to my local health food store and try some of these recipes!

potlikker said...

My default recipe is from Ina Garten in one of her books. I could not find it online, but in my hunt for it, found this similar one which I will make next time.

Julia said...

It sounds like they really need to be pre-cooked before using in a recipe? I'd probably cook a bunch and freeze it in individual containers to use at will.

Katie said...

LPM - I'm so excited that you're going to try them! Let me know what you think.

PL - Is this the one you're talking about? It looks like what you had last time I was home, which was tasty. Ellie's looks good too, though, and I might try that next time as well!

Julia - they should be pre-cooked unless you're adding them to something that is going to simmer for a very long time. Or, you can sprout them and eat them raw, but I've never tried it, and it takes several days. I love freezing up a bunch to have for several recipes - it makes life a lot easier (and saves energy!).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this informative post, this is really useful!