Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wheat Berries

Food storage fanatics are fond of wheat berries - they are quite nutritious, keep their nutrients for many years, don't spoil, and can be made into flour. Wheat berries are actually just the seed of the wheat plant, which are usually ground into flour for baking bread or other baked goods. Estimates of shelf life vary, but wheat reportedly has a shelf life of 6 -10 years when stored properly, unlike flour, which only has a shelf life of 6 months - 3 years. As a whole food, wheat berries are full of protein, fiber and vitamins. Just one thing - you need a grain mill to convert them into flour in order to use them.

WAIT a second! You DON'T need a grain mill in order to take advantage of the stable shelf life and nutritious graininess of wheat berries! It turns out that they can be cooked like other grains - brown rice, barley, oats. In fact, wheat berries are rather versatile. Here are some of their uses:

  • Ground into whole wheat flour to make breads, pancakes, muffins, pizza crusts
  • Cooked and incorporated into pilafs, stews, chilis, veggie burgers
  • Cooked, sweetened and eaten as a breakfast cereal or grainy dessert
  • Sprouted to make more of the nutrients available and to have a "live" food
  • Mashed and made into beer

As some of you know, my usual response to serious doomy news is to buy wheat berries. I'm lucky to have a great source available from the OK Food Co-op. They are available already dried, cleaned, frozen for a week (to kill any larvae) and packaged in plastic buckets. Yay - little to no work involved! The only extra thing is the special Gamma Seal lid I purchased so I wouldn't teach my son lots of four-letter words as I tried to remove the horribly inconvenient lid that came with the bucket. Yes, it's worth $8. Trust me.

We recently installed our Country Living Grain Mill in our tile countertop. We had to bolt it down since the mill is completely made of metal and thus very heavy. This is a temporary measure since we plan to replace the countertops soon, but for now we have a stable place to grind flour.

I finally got around to cooking wheat berries for the first time yesterday. You can soak them overnight, like beans, to reduce the cooking time - otherwise they take about 1.5 hours to cook on the stovetop. Maybe this is why no one cooks them anymore??

I cooked the berries in the Sun Oven by adding 3 1/2 cups of water to one cup of wheat berries in a dark pot with a dark lid. I left them in the GSO for about 3 hours (just to make sure). The wheat berries were destined for a chili I found in 366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans and Grains, which has several wheat berry recipes. I also found this handy "Cooking with Food Storage" pamphlet with some wheat berry recipes from Utah State Extension service. Half of the cooked wheat berries went in glassware in the fridge for some later use. The other half was placed with the chili ingredients in the pot, stirred and cooked for a few more hours. The Sun Oven kept it warm until dinner.

The chili was super yummy. I have heard wheat berries described as tasting "like cartilage", but they added a nice chewy, slightly nutty texture to the chili. The chili was also great because I was able to let it cook in the sun oven for four or five hours, blending the flavors up nicely. My husband was pleased with the results, although my toddler said "too spicy." Less chipotle chile next time.


Kate said...

I imagine wheat berries would cook up much the same way that spelt berries do. We sometimes steam spelt berries in our rice steamer. I don't think it takes as long as 1.5 hours. We like them for breakfast simply drizzled with olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt. Yeah, we're pretty weird with breakfasts. But I once heard that this is pretty much what the Roman legions marched all over Europe on. Not sure if it's true, but we like it.

Lewru said...

Good for you! How's the grinding going?

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Lewru - We ground about 6 cups of wheat for bread (although haven't used it yet). It was a little more difficult than anticipated. Need to work out more!

Kate - The cookbooks say 75 - 90 minutes, with soaking 50 - 60 minutes. But I haven't tried it on the cooktop or in a rice steamer.

Alison Kerr said...

I'll bet they'd be pretty fast in a pressure cooker. Can you combine a pressure cooker with a sun oven? At the start of last winter we enjoyed barley quite a bit, but I haven't sought out a good source yet.

Living in a wheat state I really need to try wheat berries. Someday, someday. I reckon my next step toward sustainability is to move from regular store-bought flour to flour from a small, private Kansas mill. Grinding my own flour from organic wheat berries comes somewhere after that. Tiny steps, tiny steps.

I hope you're enjoying your Prius. My post yesterday drew a few comments about the Prius. I'd love to have a comment from you.

Chile said...

You can cut the cooking time in half by sprouting them just to the tiny tail stage. Soak overnight, drain, and let sprout about one day, rinsing occasionally. By the second morning, they'll be ready to cook. The taste will be sweeter and they cook much faster.

Michelle Ellis said...

I've been wanting one of those for a few years now. Have you started looking for an exercise bike to modify so you can grind faster?

Gavin said...

I have been around for a while, and I have never heard of the wheat seed called a wheat berry. Well not in Australia anyway.

You are so right about the many uses of the seed. I use it with other grains in stews and soups, and as chicken feed.

I don't have a grinder, but it looks like something I might need to invest in. I think my biceps will get a workout!

One Dog said...

Thanks for reminding me that there are other ways to use wheat berries that don't involve grinding.

The Country Living grain mill ( has a pulley built in to it, so it would be relatively easy to connect to a bike. That is described in Human Powered Home (, but you don't need the book to figure it out. I don't think you would want to run it as fast as you can by pedaling -- it does get warm even with hand-cranking, and you don't want to heat the flour too much.

We bought our CL grain mill last summer and are really enjoying it. Before we bought, I emailed them and asked about scratch & dent, and got one for $25 less than the retail price and they threw in the power bar, which gives you more leverage when cranking -- makes it possible for kids to turn the crank. I have not been able to find any scratches or dents, so it may have been just a gimmick, but I would have paid full price otherwise so I'm happy.

Tara said...

How do you like your CL mill? We're considering buying one, and we got to borrow a friends for a few days to try it out. I was a bit disappointed in the grind - it seemed quite coarse. To be fair, though, since it didn't belong to us, we were afraid to push the limits of the thing lest we break such an expensive bit of gear!

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Hi Tara - We have only ground 6 cups of flour with it so far. It took us some fiddling to get the right tightness of the grind. We had very fine flour at one point, and then very coarse. We finally got it adjusted to where we wanted it (the turny thing on the back side). For someone not used to manual labor (me), it seemed a little tiring and seemed to take a long time to grind six cups. But then six cups will probably last me quite a while.

Chile said...

It's easier grinding it with our pedal power set-up but still provides a good workout. The advantage of the bike is the large muscles in the leg are more powerful than the arm and shoulder muscles so it's easier on the body.

One Dog said...

The one problem we had with it at the beginning was keeping it adjusted. It seems that the flour lubricates the threads on which the grinding plate and adjustment knob are mounted, allowing them to loosen as you use it. The solution is to buy and screw on a 5/8" nut. Once we did that, it maintained a fine grind. More here: