Wheat berries are the simplest form of wheat. In fact, wheat berries are the original source of all wheat products before any processing. Stored wheat berries can be milled into flour, cooked or sprouted.
Wheat is classified based on color, hardness of the wheat kernel, and the growing season. The hard red wheat (spring and winter) varieties are produced in dry temperature climates and are high in gluten (the protein in wheat that allows the dough to stretch), making it the best for bread flour. The soft red and white (spring and winter) varieties are lower in gluten and fare better in making flour for pasta, cake, biscuits and pastries.
According to Bill Davidson, University of Illinois Extension Local Foods and Small Farms educator, soft red winter wheat is the most commonly grown wheat in Illinois. He gave me some certified organic local wheat berries from The Mill at Janie’s Farm in Iroquois County. I was excited to get to experiment in the kitchen!
Wheat berries need to simmer in water until soft, which may take about an hour. They’re a great substitute for rice or barley. Try them in a stir-fry, salads, soups and stews, or as a breakfast porridge. Since wheat berries are the entire kernel, they provide the fullest nutrition, including the maximum fiber, protein, and B vitamins. Buy some local wheat online or head to the natural food section at your grocery store to try experimenting with this nutritious ancient grain.
Wheat Berry Apple Salad
1 cup soft red winter wheat berries
3 cups water
⅓ cup orange juice
⅓ cup dried cranberries
1 large sweet apple, cored, unpeeled, diced
3 tablespoons red wine or apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup chopped pecans, toasted
To cook wheat, combine wheat berries and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30-45 minutes or until chewy but tender. Drain and rinse. Set aside to cool. In a small bowl, combine juice and cranberries. Allow to soak for 15 minutes. Drain, saving the juice. In a large bowl, combine apple, wheat berries and cranberries. To the reserved orange juice, whisk vinegar and oil. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over wheat berry mixture. Gently toss to coat. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Stir in toasted pecans prior to serving.
Yield: 8 servings
Nutrition facts (per serving): 210 calories, 10 grams fat, 75 milligrams sodium, 28 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 4 grams protein