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Most cooks understand the importance of fresh, local and homegrown ingredients, such as sweet heirloom tomatoes from the farmers’ market and herbs picked right in your backyard. Grains are no different. Once you taste the delicious, nuanced flavor of specialty heirloom grains, you can begin to think about wheat and flour in a new way.

Modern farmers are experimenting with growing heirloom grains and grinding them in small batches. The resulting flours are entirely distinct from the shelf-stable flours at supermarkets. Specialty grains have character and variety, and may be tricky to work with at first due to different gluten contents and textures, but their uniqueness is exactly what makes them worth the trouble.

Discover Specialty Grains

Origin: Central America
Character: Grassy and
earthy with a hint of pepper
and slightly sticky
when cooked.

Culinary Uses:
Though
amaranth is treated and
eaten like a grain, it is
actually a gluten-free seed
full of nutritious amino
acids. Amaranth can be
popped like popcorn,
cooked as a grain or
ground into flour, which
yields dense baked goods.

AMARANTH

 

BARLEY

 

Origin: India, Ethiopia and
South America

Character: Sweet, earthy,
malty and chewy.

Culinary Uses: One of
the oldest known foods,
barley is used to brew
beer and often ground
into flour to add malty
flavor to baked goods.

BUCKWHEAT


Origin: East Asia
Character: Nutty, earthy,
light and slightly chewy.

Culinary Uses: Despite its
name, buckwheat is not
wheat but another
gluten-free plant cooked
like a grain. Historically,
buckwheat has been
cooked into porridge or
dumplings; it is also a key
ingredient in soba noodles.

BULGUR


Origin: Middle East
Character: Nutty, wheaty,
mild with a texture that is
somewhat coarse
and chewy.

Culinary Uses:
Quick-cooking bulgur,
often referred to as
Middle Eastern pasta, is
made by boiling, drying
and cracking wheat, then
removing the outer layers
of bran. Bulgur is a primary
ingredient in classic tabouli.
It can be added to
soups and meatballs
and cooked into a pilaf.

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CORN

Origin: Americas
Character: Sweet,
toasted, usually coarse
and toothsome.

Culinary Uses: Different
varieties of corn are best in
different applications.
Some corn may be eaten
fresh from the cob, while
the dried kernels of other
varieties can be ground
into cornmeal, polenta
or grits.

EMMER


Origin: Middle East
Character: Nutty, slightly
sweet, full-bodied, firm and
chewy.

Culinary Uses: A versatile
heirloom grain, emmer
flour can be used for
flatbreads, pastas, biscuits
or crackers; or to add
flavor to leavened breads.
It is also delicious whole, in
a grain salad or pilaf.

KAMUT

Orgin: Africa
Character: Rich, sweet, buttery and firm.
Culinary Uses: An ancient,
high-protein variety of
wheat, kamut is the
commercial name for
khorasan wheat. Whole
kamut grains can be
soaked and added to
salads, while kamut wheat
is also baked into breads
and other baked goods and
used in pastas and beer.

Origin: East Asia
Character: Very mild and
nutty; fluffy or creamy,
depending on how it is
cooked.

Culinary Uses: Naturally
gluten-free millet was
used to make noodles in
ancient China, but in
subsequent years millet
porridge became popular
throughout the world.
It cooks quickly and may
be eaten in sweet or
savory dishes, milled
into flour or used in
alcoholic beverages.

MILLET

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OATS

RICE

RYE

SPELT

Origin: Middle East
Character: Sweet, nutty,
creamy and chewy.

Culinary Uses: Most
commonly, oats are cooked
into porridge and toasted
and incorporated into
muesli. Instant,
old-fashioned rolled and
steel-cut oats are typical
varieties, along with whole
grain oats, or groats.

Origin: China
Character: White rice is
sweet and mild, while
brown rice is richer and
nuttier. The texture depends
on how it is cooked; it may
be sticky and chewy, firm or
tender with a slight bite.

Culinary Uses: Rice is
usually boiled or steamed
to serve alongside as
protein or main dish. It can
also be cooked into a
risotto, rolled into sushi or
grape leaves, or
sweetened for desserts,
such as rice pudding.

Origin: Eastern and
Central Europe

Character: Tangy, hearty,
slightly spicy, sticky
and dense.

Culinary Uses: Rye flour is
used to add flavor to
breads, such as
pumpernickel. It also adds
its bold, distinctive flavor to
rye whiskey.

Origin: Europe
Character: Nutty, sweet,
mild and chewy.

Culinary Uses: Spelt flour
is easy to work with, ideal
for pastas, breads and
other baked goods. The
whole grains may be
soaked overnight and
cooked in fresh water until
tender—the cooked grains
can be added to salads
and soups. Rolled spelt
flakes can be prepared
and eaten like oats.


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Q: How are milled specialty grains different from the grains you buy at the store?

A: Like other ingredients, flour is at its most flavorful when it is freshest. Milling grains at home ensures the best, most intense and aromatic istinctive sweetness to baked goods. Additionally, milling your own flour allows you to experiment with grains beyond the wheat flour you find in grocery stores, contributing new layers and dimensions of flavor to old recipes.

Q: How long will the grains remain fresh after they have been ground into flour?

A: The flours can be left at room temperature for two to three days before they will start to spoil. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 10 days and in the freezer for up to 30 days.

Q: How should the grains and flours be stored?

A: Store fresh whole-grain flours in tightly sealed containers in a cool, dark place, such as a pantry, refrigerator or freezer (see above). They will become rancid more quickly than regular all-purpose flours, so always smell or taste them before using. If they smell musty or taste bitter, do not use them.

Q: How do different grains affect the taste and texture of baked goods?

A: Whole-grain flours lend a pleasantly chewy quality to baked goods such as cookies, cakes and breads—not too dry or dense. The flavor will vary depending on which grains you work with, as they all have different characteristics. However, with most grains, you can count on a sweeter, slightly nutty, earthy and toasty profile—a flavor that is much more intense and aromatic than that of shelf-stable flours.

Q: What are the best ways to cook heirloom grains, and how should you start?

A: Most grains are simple to cook: simply bring them to a boil in water, cover and simmer until tender with a slight bite. Cooking times vary for each grain, so plan accordingly. Prepared this way, the grains may be added to salads, soups and stews or enjoyed as a side dish. Individual recipes will provide instructions for cooking grains into a risotto or pilaf, or even into a sweet, creamy breakfast or dessert dish. Whole-grain flours can be substituted for all-purpose flour in recipes for baked goods for enhanced flavor and texture.