Flavor, nutrition, health. quality

brown grain kernel
Photo by Marek Studzinski on Unsplash

A tiny kernel of grain is a storehouse full of nutrition. From healthy bones and heart, to balancing blood sugar levels, aiding in weight management, regulating intestinal function and providing a host of needful nutrients, whole grains are a powerhouse for your body.

In the past several years, grain, specifically wheat, has been given a black eye it didn’t really deserve. The culprit is really what modern industry has done to whole grains. Modern milling techniques started the industrial flour revolution in the late 1800s. The local farmer growing a variety of wheat and grain and the small town miller providing nutrient rich, freshly milled flours for the community began to be replaced by big production. White processed flour meant more food for more people with a long shelf life and light fluffy bread! The value of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber in grains was generally unknown. It was like taking a  twenty dollar bill (the whole grain) and given back a dollar (refined white flour). That’s a very bad exchange. 

Locked up in one small seed of grain is everything needed to create an entire new plant! This seed can lie dormant for hundreds of years and given water, sunshine and dirt it is able to grow and produce many more seeds. For example, one kernel of wheat that grows a new plant produces about 100 seeds!  

The protector of the essential nutrients inside the grain kernel is the outer layers of bran. This makes up 15% of the weight of the kernel. It is a tremendous source of dietary fiber. The good bacteria in your gut enjoy munching on this fiber and if their supply is inadequate the gut flora is forced to eat the mucus lining that protects the large intestine. Bran promotes good digestion and prevents constipation, helping your body get rid of toxins and waste as quickly as possible.  Toxins that sit in the large intestine too long can be absorbed back through the intestinal wall into the body leading to many health problems. Bran, an Insoluble fiber, does not dissolve in water and helps speed up digestion in the stomach and intestines, building bulk to move food quickly through your intestines.  

Fiber also helps slow down the absorption of sugar from carbohydrates thereby keeping your body from sugar spikes and crashes. Eating good sources of fiber like whole grains provides an even release of energy, keeps your body satisfied between meals, controls appetite and helps with weight management.  

Bran also contains large quantities of B vitamins which are beneficial for your skin, digestion, eyesight, and nerves. Antioxidants present in dietary fiber can help prevent cancer. And just as a big bonus, bran contributes delicious flavor to all kinds of bread and baking.

Next we come to the heart of the kernel where new life begins. This is called the germ. It only makes up 3-5% of the weight of the seed but is nutrient dense because it has to ensure a good start to a new plant. It contains high quality proteins, trace minerals, omega 3 fatty acids, healthy fats, vitamin C and E, zinc, phosphorous, folic acid, magnesium, iron and potassium. The small but mighty germ delivers big on nutrition and flavor in whole grain goods. When a grain falls into the ground and receives moisture and warmth, it begins to germinate or sprout, creating roots, stalk, leaves and ears of grain. The ONE becomes many!

The food for this germinating seed is called the endosperm. 80% of the total weight of the seed is this part of the kernel and contains carbohydrates (starch) and protein. There is a protein tissue wrapped around the endosperm that plays a big part in delivering to us the vitamins, antioxidants and minerals contained in the seed.

The protein in the endosperm is known as gluten and makes up 8-18% of the endosperm. The endosperm also contains soluble fiber which creates a gel in your digestive system, binds with fatty acids for heart health and good cholesterol levels, aids in absorption of nutrients, and regulates blood sugar levels which is important in risks for diseases like diabetes and insulin resistance.

So there we have a kernel of grain with the bran, germ and endosperm, a whole food, which brings us to another important ‘kernel of truth’. The whole grain is in a beautiful balance of synergy, where each part has a purpose and works together with the other parts to provide optimal benefit in taste and nutrition. Many cereals, breads and other food products isolate parts of the grain which upsets the balance of nutrients contained in the whole grain. The negative results can include difficulty in digestion, deficiency in the absorption of nutrients, and development of food sensitivities. For example, consider the above mentioned protein tissue wrapped around the endosperm. This plays a key role in enabling you to absorb the grain’s nutrients. If you are eating an isolated part like adding wheat germ to a recipe, where is that tissue to help you absorb all those nutrients in the germ? Who would have thought a piece of tissue could be so important! Each part of a whole grain is important to the whole and are best consumed together. Freshly milled whole grain is the answer to providing 100% of what is good for you with 100% fresh flavor.

There are many varieties of whole grains all of which contribute their own special health benefits along with a vast array of subtle and complex flavors that make them each a delight to bake with. The world of baking with whole grains is an exciting adventure of endless combinations and tasty creations awaiting discovery by you!