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The Traditional Uses of Grains

Whether it’s a hearty buckwheat croquette on a blustery day, a refreshing noodle salad for a picnic, a hunk of homemade bread, or a delicate piecrust, grains are inextricably part of our daily fare.

Unlike some new fangled foods, cereal grains have been mans’ primary food staple throughout history. A few exceptions are cultures consuming a predominantly animals foods diet including sub arctic and contemporary western cultures. These societies, considering all of history, are indeed uncommon. Looking at the big picture, it is easy to see why world religions have a goddess of grain.

Grain-based diets are traditionally supplemented with a large variety of legumes, seasonal and regional vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and small amounts of animal foods. With such a variety of supplemental foods, as well as countless preparation methods, everyone can enjoy a healthful, whole foods diet. Grains and beans have a natural affinity for each other. They taste good together, are plentiful, and form a whole protein with superior nutritional properties.

This unbeatable duo is part of our heritage; Boston brown bread and baked beans, cornbread and black-eyed peas, chili and sourdough. They also appear in virtually every national cuisine: tortillas and frijoles (Central and South America), bulgur or pita and hummus (Mideast), pasta and fagioli (Italy), rice and dahl (India), millet or rice and miso, tofu, tempeh and shoyu (Orient), French bread and haricot beans (France).

As with other seeds, grains contain concentrated protein and other nutrients that allow them to burst into life if planted; and if eaten, they provide sustaining energy and regenerative properties. Cereal grains are low on the food chain, and if they contain pesticide residues, these residues are not highly concentrated. Animal foods (meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products) are high in the food chain; animals eat enormous quantities of feed and with each meal the concentration of pesticides stored in their tissues increase. These toxic residues are about 13 times higher in animal foods than in grains and other vegetable foods. It is important to purchase organic grains and grain products as much as possible. Look on the label for certified organic symbols.

Grains are a complex carbohydrate consisting of bran, germ and endosperm. They are low in fat and a good source of fiber, minerals, and the B-complex vitamins. To be assimilated they must be cooked with salt (at least 1/4 teaspoon salt to 4 cups grain) to reduce their slightly acidic properties. They also require chewing, since the first stage of grain digestion occurs in the mouth. However, chewing well is no hardship, for the longer you chew, the sweeter the grains become. Grains give complex carbohydrates to the body, which break down slowly and provide long-lasting energy and strength. Beans, nuts and seeds provide a protein balance to grains, and should be eaten regularly by those who do not eat meats. For those who do, they can be used as a periodic protein substitute to alleviate the potential of creating too much congestion and toxins from eating meat all the time.

Grains and beans should comprise about 50-60% of every meal in various forms. Bread is not a substitute for grains. One meal with bread in a sandwich is fine, but beyond that, whole grain cereals, pilafs and pasta should be used.

Good quality grain is whole and contains few broken, scratched, or deteriorated grains. It would seem, that grains of the same size and color indicates hybridized seed, which, although more cosmetic, is less vital than unhybridized. It is important to store their grain in a cool, dry, place.

Any grain, if it sits long enough, will become infested. To prevent this, try to use grain within six months of purchase, store it in glass jars, or keep it in tightly closed sacks. Should it develop bugs or moths, isolate it from other grains and use it up quickly. Place a bay leaf in the container for the bay aroma seems to retard hatching. Remove visible infestation. Although it may not sound tasty, a minuscule amount of insect protein is not harmful or even noticeable in a cooked dish.

Each grain has its own unique history, flavor, nutritive, and medicinal properties. Are there any that you are not yet familiar with? Experiment with all of them and you will expand your culinary, as well as global, horizons. Before opening up Dostoevski, put on a pot of buckwheat, together they will carry you to the steppes!

  • Buckwheat- is excellent for cold and humid weather since it produces heat quickly. It contains vitamin E and is a good blood builder, which is beneficial for the kidneys.
  • Barley- good in soups. Next to rice it is the easiest to digest. Makes a great morning cereal. It has a cooling nature and is a good summer grain.
  • Corn- is a good cooling grain for hot weather. It is also an excellent blood builder and gives high energy. It is good for the heart and is considered the sweetest grain.
  • Millet- is the only alkaline grain and is high in protein. It is strengthening to the spleen and is good for people with acidosis and bad breath. Very good flavor.
  • Brown rice- highest in B complex vitamins. Easiest to digest and is beneficial for the nervous system and the brain. Also good for those suffering from allergies. It also helps to rid the body of toxins.
  • Rye- this grain is good for providing muscle power. Good for endurance and energy. Useful in low gluten diets.
  • Oats- they are a good source of fat and good for slow thyroid. Very soothing to the intestinal lining and said to be calming to the nervous system. A good building grain.
  • Quinoa (keen-wa)- an ancient Mayan grain. Provides the highest level of protein of any grain. Nourishes the blood and digestive system.

For more information on how to cook whole grain references can be found in the books Laurel’s Kitchen by Laurel Robertson or The American Whole Foods Cuisine by Nikki and David Goldbeck.

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