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Timeless Grains : After centuries as feed for birds and animals, seeds such as quinoa and amaranth are finding an increasingly significant place in a healthier American diet.

The so-called “new grains” are not really new at all; neither is oat bran. But in the American quest for better health, oat bran was delivered from the barnyard to the breakfast table. And, likewise, the new grains may be liberated from the bird cage.

Although vegetarians and health-food enthusiasts long have known of the virtues of whole grains--experimenting with them as a means of achieving an alternative source of complete protein--most others considered them best suited for horse and bird feed.

That may be changing.

Ethnic cuisines have paved the way for widespread interest in whole-grain cookery--familiarizing partakers with couscous, arborio rice, polenta and bulgur. And today, as more and more Americans proceed from good taste to good health, a fascination with ancient forms of fiber--including such “new grains” as amaranth, quinoa and triticale--has begun to develop.

According to Food Marketing Institute’s annual nationwide shopper survey, “Trends/Consumer Attitude and the Supermarket--1989,” Americans have grown increasingly aware of the correlation between good nutrition and good health and have undertaken a variety of behaviors to ensure that their diets are healthful. This includes eating more fruits and vegetables and more fiber, the report states.

The survey reported that 76% of the American shoppers queried indicated that nutrition was a very important factor when they purchased food--up 4% from last year’s data.

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The American Cancer Society, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in its “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” and the National Cancer Institute all have emphasized a high-fiber diet. They point to a low incidence of cancer and other degenerative diseases in populations where this type of diet is maintained.

One of the most widely emphasized ways to increase intake of dietary fiber from what specialists in the field say is the current average adult intake of 11 grams per day to the recommended 25 to 30 grams is to add whole grains--products that contain the entire grain or as much of it as is edible--to the diet. That’s where the new grains come in.

Although there is an assortment of familiar whole grains available in supermarkets--whole wheat, cracked wheat, bulgur, oats, whole cornmeal, popcorn, brown rice, whole rye and barley--some health watchers are turning to the local health-food store or the health-food section of the supermarket for supplies of unusual whole grains.

Triticale, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), millet and amaranth are just a few of the equally versatile and delicious whole grains that have begun appearing on shelves next to the barley, bulgur and buckwheat as well as in recipe books.

Triticale is a hybrid grain, the offspring of wheat and rye. Its kernels are larger than those of either parent and they retain their crunch even after soaking and cooking. Triticale can be purchased flaked, a form very similar to oats or wheat flakes, or as flour.

Quinoa, a tan-colored, birdseed-like grain is popular for its high protein and calcium content. It is high in the amino acid lysine, which most other whole grains lack, making it a complete source of protein. Quinoa seeds have a distinctive flavor upon cooking, and the grain is excellent in savory dishes. Because of a natural coating called saponin, quinoa requires thorough rinsing before cooking.

Millet is probably the most familiar of the new grains. In this country it is used as the basis of birdseed mixtures. In Ethiopia, however, millet flour is made into a spongy, crepelike meal accompaniment-- injera. This fine-textured grain has a long shelf life and an endless array of uses from pilaf to stuffing to salads. Use millet anywhere rice can be used as an ingredient. It may even be toasted before adding to recipes.

The only real newcomer of the group is a commercial product, Kashi, a combination of seven whole grains and sesame. It is found in supermarkets where cereals and grains are sold. It is available in puffed form for eating out of hand or as a cold cereal, or in its original state as a pilaf that can be cooked and eaten as cereal or mixed with other ingredients in savory dishes.

These and the other whole grains are basically seeds that are eaten whole or are sprouted, cooked, milled, cracked, rolled or ground into flakes. They are highly nutritious, excellent sources of protein, carbohydrates, some B vitamins, Vitamin E, magnesium and zinc.

In their whole form, these grains have three major portions, although most contain a dry, rough outer covering--the husk or hull. Located just under the husk is the bran, a darker outer layer that serves as a protective coating. The region toward one end of the kernel is the germ, which contains most of the oil, vitamins and minerals needed for growth of the new plant. The lighter, larger, starchy inner portion of the kernel is called the endosperm. This is the region used for making flour.

In health-food stores, whole grains can be purchased in just about all forms.

As whole berries, kernels or groats, the grains have been husked only and take longer to cook than processed grains--about twice as long. They should be soaked before cooking. After cooking, they can be added to savory ingredients or sprinkled over salads. They don’t cook into a soft cereal and are best reserved for other uses.

Bran is the ground husk of a berry and is usually available either from wheat or oats. Its primary feature is its high fiber content, although some protein, vitamins and minerals may be present. While wheat bran is too tough to cook into a cereal, it is ideal for baking into muffins, breads or bagels. Oat bran, however, cooks quite nicely into a hot breakfast cereal.

Whole grains that are labeled “cracked” have undergone a grinding with steel blades or millstones that cuts them into several small, rough pieces. Unlike bulgur, they have not been precooked. But cracking the kernels makes them cook more quickly than they would as berries. The bran and germ may, occasionally, be left intact. Cracked rye and wheat are made from whole grains. Others such as barley grits and hominy grits are polished first, then cracked.

Meals and milled or ground whole grains are commercially known as ground flour. Since the bran and germ layers do not break down as readily as the endosperm during processing, they are easily separated from the powdered endosperm--a process known as refinement. The remaining powdered endosperm is sold as flour.

Though whole grains, vegetables and fruits provide different kinds of fiber--each with a different protective function--they do have one thing in common. They contain materials that are either not digestible or only partially digestible by the human body and, therefore, help move other foods and byproducts of digestion out of the body. This is believed to help reduce risk for colon cancer, heart disease, diabetes, diverticulosis and constipation.

Fiber fits into the category of carbohydrates that are important for providing bulk to the intestinal contents. Adequate amounts of insoluble fiber in the diet teamed with sufficient water intake make the feces bulkier and forces the muscles of the colon to exercise more. This makes them stronger and able to function better, thus relieving constipation and its related maladies.

Increased fecal bulk and decreased transit time also reduce risk for gastrointestinal tract complications such as diverticulosis (an out-pocketing of the intestinal wall) and colon cancer.

But the importance of reducing risk for these diseases appears to pale compared to the value placed on water-soluble fiber and its role in lowering blood cholesterol and risk for cardiovascular disease.

“I don’t think it’s talked about enough,” said Evelyn Tribole, a dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Assn., who explained the value of a fiber-rich diet in reducing risk for inflammatory diseases.

“The importance of whole grains has to do with increasing the fiber in the American diet, so we’re really looking at the importance of fiber (not necessarily whole grains) in the diet. And there’s been a real problem with Americans not getting enough fiber in the diet.”

She complained that there’s been “an explosion of information” on the effects of soluble fiber and its cholesterol-lowering properties but that we may be solving one problem and creating another. “We need to look at the whole picture, not just what the craze is at one time,” she said.

Many Sources

Tribole emphasized that the recommended intake of 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day be derived from a variety of sources, adding, however, that too much fiber has been associated with other complications.

“Too much fiber,” she said, may promote “decreased availability of minerals--especially iron” and may create a syndrome known as “bran block” in which intestines become clogged and form a “dam.” She recommends a minimum intake of 8 cups of liquid--preferably water, although juice and milk also will eliminate the problem.

A way to meet the requirement is to consume two to three servings of whole grains per day, choosing from the grains mentioned above as well as other varieties such as corn and rice--each with its own broad category of byproducts.

An easy way to use whole berries, Kashi and firm-textured whole grains such as bulgur and buckwheat is to let them steep overnight in hot water then use them in tabbouleh or other salads, Tribole said.

“Fiber does keep you full and satisfied; it tends to absorb liquids and form gels . . . which really add bulk to the intestines,” Tribole said.

“There’s another theory that if the intestines are moving slowly, there’s more opportunity for contact with carcinogens in the body. But if everything is going out rapidly, there’s less opportunity.”

KASHI-STUFFED CORNISH HENS

1 cup Kashi (commercial combination of grains, not kasha)

1 pound Italian turkey sausage, casings removed

1 medium onion, chopped

1 1/2 cups chopped celery

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

Salt, pepper

1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/8 teaspoon dried sage

4 Cornish hens

Heat nonstick skillet or saucepan over medium heat and cook and stir Kashi until dry, about 3 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups water and cook over medium heat, 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in separate skillet, brown sausage over medium heat. Add onion and cook until onion is transparent. Add celery and cook 3 minutes. Add cooked Kashi, spinach, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, marjoram, thyme and sage. Stir to mix well. Season hen cavities with salt and pepper. Stuff with Kashi mixture, reserving leftover Kashi for serving time, then season outside of hens to taste with salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees 1 hour and 10 minutes or until hens are done. Heat reserved Kashi and serve with hens. Makes 4 servings.

Note: May use Kashi to stuff 8 hens instead, if desired.

MUESLI

3/4 cup oats

1/2 cup wheat flakes

1/2 cup rye flakes

1/2 cup whole bran flakes

2 tablespoons raisins

1/4 cup sliced almonds

1/4 cup puffed rice cereal

2 tablespoons diced dried peaches

Combine oats, wheat, rye and bran flakes, raisins and almonds. Store in tightly covered container. Makes about 2 cups.

YOGURT PIE

1 cup whole steel-cut wheat flakes

1/2 cup flake coconut

3 tablespoons melted margarine

1 (8-ounce) carton frozen whipped topping, thawed

2 (8-ounce) cartons raspberry or pina colada yogurt

Raspberries

Combine wheat flakes, coconut and margarine in bowl and mix until flakes are moistened. Pat into 9-inch pie plate and bake at 350 degrees 10 to 15 minutes. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, combine yogurt and whipped topping. Spoon into cooled crust and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Garnish with fresh raspberries. Makes 8 servings.

QUINOA PUDDING

1/3 cup quinoa

3/4 cup water

2 cups low-fat milk

2 eggs

1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar

Dash ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

Wash quinoa well and drain. Wash and drain again. Place in saucepan with water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until quinoa is tender and water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

Heat low-fat milk to warm. Beat eggs in bowl, then add warm milk, 1/3 cup sugar, nutmeg, vanilla and salt. Stir in quinoa. Turn into 9-inch round baking dish, then place in baking pan and add hot water to come halfway up sides. Bake at 325 degrees 50 to 60 minutes. Stir at end of baking time. Sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon sugar and place under broiler to brown lightly, if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

ORANGE-TRITICALE COOKIES

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup margarine

2/3 cup brown sugar, packed

1 egg

1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

1 1/2 cups triticale flakes

3/4 cup raisins

Sift together flours, soda, salt and cinnamon. Cream margarine until smooth. Gradually beat in sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add orange juice concentrate 1 tablespoon at time, alternating with dry ingredients, beating well after each addition. Fold in triticale and raisins. Drop by teaspoons onto nonstick baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees 10 to 12 minutes. Makes about 3 1/2 dozen.

MILLET PAELLA

2 cups millet

1 tablespoon oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic

6 cups chicken broth

3 tomatoes, chopped

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 pound turkey smoked sausage, sliced

2 cups julienned cooked turkey or chicken breast

Salt

1 cup chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Sliced green onions Heat large nonstick Dutch oven and add millet. Cook and stir over medium heat until millet is lightly browned.

In separate pan, heat oil and saute onion and garlic until tender. Add to millet along with broth and cook, covered, 30 minutes. Add tomatoes, peas, shrimp, sausage, turkey and salt to taste. Cook until heated through and shrimp are done. Sprinkle with cilantro, lemon juice and green onions before serving. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Food Styling by Minnie Bernardino and Donna Deane


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