Wheat is a cereal grain that is a staple food worldwide. Many of today’s food items that we enjoy contain wheat. While wheat is very common, it is surprising that not many people know what wheat berries are. Learning more about this particular grain should help you get the most out of your culinary adventures.
Wheat Berries Defined
In its simplest description, wheat berries are the whole kernels of wheat without its husk or hull. It contains the endosperm, the germ, and the bran. The endosperm provides nutrition for the developing wheat. The major component of the endosperm is starch; although different varieties of wheat berries can provide varying levels of oils and protein. The cereal germ is what produces the wheat. In other words, it is the seed’s embryo. The bran, meanwhile, is the hard, protective covering of the seed. It lies underneath the hull or the husk of the wheat berry.
When farmers harvest wheat, they remove the husks of the individual grains. These are the wheat berries. It is the very first product that comes out of the wheat milling process. Wheat berries are also the source of all other wheat products, including wheat flour.
Health Benefits of Wheat Berries
Because wheat berries are the result of the first stage in the production of wheat products, they still contain many nutrients in their unadulterated form. One has to remember that the only part of the wheat that’s removed at this stage is the husk or hull. It is like peeling an egg so you get to enjoy the nutrient benefits of the egg.
Given that wheat berries are the minimally-processed form of wheat, it provides numerous health benefits. These can include digestive and heart health support as well as blood sugar regulation, among others.
- Promotes More Normal Bowel Movement
An ounce of wheat berries can provide 3.4 grams of dietary fiber. A quarter of a cup of wheat berries is enough to give you 24 percent of your everyday requirements for fiber. This can help people with infrequent bowel elimination to defecate on a more regular basis. Fiber can add bulk to the fecal matter in the colon, allowing it to move with ease. Not only is fiber helpful in moving the bowels, it can also help address some of the symptoms associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Crohn’s disease. Some say it can also protect against ulcers.
- Improves Heart Health
Because of the rich fiber content of wheat berries, they can be helpful in promoting optimum heart health. There are many studies that show fiber can help reduce the levels of cholesterol in the blood. This also reduces the risk of forming fatty plaques in the inner walls of blood vessels. Fiber can reduce the levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides by 12.1 and 8.5 percent, respectively. Overall, this can help reduce the risk of coronary artery disease.
- Protects Against Diabetes
There is another benefit attributed to fiber. It can also help people with diabetes or those who are unable to control their blood sugar levels in an efficient manner. Fiber can reduce the rate of absorption of sugar from the intestines and into the bloodstream. This promotes the more gradual release of insulin from the pancreas. Adding two servings of wheat berries to your diet every day can lower your risk of non-insulin dependent diabetes by as much as 21 percent.
- Promotes Achievement of Ideal Body Weight
Obesity is not a disease but is a major risk factor in many health conditions. The fiber and protein content of wheat berries can help provide individuals with a healthier means to achieve their ideal body weight. Fiber can promote satiety. In turn, this reduces appetite. Protein takes more time to digest, making you feel full longer. More importantly, protein reduces ghrelin levels so you do not feel hungry.
- Helps People with Anemia
Aside from fiber and protein, wheat berries are also rich in Iron and Folate. An ounce of wheat berries contains 1 mg of Iron and 12 mcg of Folate. Iron is important in the production of hemoglobin, a critical component of red blood cells. Folate, meanwhile, is important in the production of red blood cells. Together, these two nutrients can help prevent anemia.
- Promotes Healthier Pregnancy
Not only is wheat berry rich in iron and folate, it contains magnesium, too. This is a mineral that can promote healthy growth and development of the fetus inside the womb of a pregnant woman. It can also help maintain the optimum function of muscles and nerves, preventing cramps that many women experience when they are pregnant. Magnesium can also help promote healthier birth weight in newborn babies as well as to prevent hypertension in pregnancy.
- Aids in the Strengthening of Bones
Most of us know that calcium is an important mineral for the bones and teeth. However, phosphorus is also important since it forms one of the essential components of bone – hydroxyapatite. An ounce of wheat berries contains 93 mg of phosphorus and 7 mg of calcium. These can help strengthen the bones without having to suffer the consequences of lactose intolerance.
- Protects Against Certain Types of Cancer
High-fiber diets like wheat berries can reduce the risk of breast cancer by 12 to 19 percent. Menopausal women who include wheat berries in their diets can reduce their breast cancer risk by 24 percent. The magnesium content of wheat berries can also provide protection against pancreatic cancer. Magnesium-deficient people have a 24 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than individuals who have adequate magnesium levels. The other types of cancer that wheat berries can help protect people from include ovarian cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.
Cooking Wheat Berries
Wheat berries have a nutty but slightly sweet flavor. They work best with savory and sweet dishes. They can also absorb some of the flavor of these dishes, further complementing the overall flavor profile of the recipe.
These whole grains are quite hard since they still have the bran. As such, cooking them requires time. The traditional way of cooking wheat berries is by boiling them in water and simmering them for about an hour. To facilitate the faster cooking of wheat berries, it is advisable to soak them in water overnight. This will help soften the bran and allow the grain to cook faster. An alternative method will be to cook them in a pressure cooker or a crock pot.
You can eat cooked wheat berries as is, like you would any whole grain like rice. You can also add them to side dishes, salads, and soups. Others will use them as a base for their stir fry dishes. Other home cooks mix them with other ingredients for stuffing into bell peppers and other vegetables. One can also turn wheat berries into breakfast porridge by simmering the wheat berries in milk. For those with millers, wheat berries are a great ingredient for making homemade wheat flour.
Storing Wheat Berries
Always use an airtight container to store raw wheat berries. You can then store this in your cool pantry. If you want it to last longer, better store it in the refrigerator.
You can also store cooked wheat berries in the freezer. Cook them beforehand and allow to completely cool. Make sure to fluff them as they cool down to release moisture and steam from the interior. Transfer the cooled cooked wheat berries in a freezer-safe, airtight container. You can store wheat berries this way for up to 3 months. In the refrigerator, it will stay fresh for up to 3 days.
Sample Recipe: Wheat Berry Salad
You cannot get any simpler than this wheat berries recipe. Aside from the fact that it is very easy to prepare, it can also serve as an excellent base for other salad creations. In this recipe, there are no meat proteins. As such, a good variation will be to add your favorite animal proteins. You can add stir-fried or broiled chicken tenders or big chunks of tuna. Smoked salmon works great, too. The decision is yours. Whatever you add in this recipe, you can be sure that the nutty and sweet flavors of wheat berries will complement your other ingredients.
- 1.5 cups of wheat berries
- ¾ cup of walnuts, chopped
- ½ cup of dried cherries, chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, chopped finely
- ½ cup of parsley leaves, chopped
- 1 piece of scallion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Boil and simmer the wheat berries until tender, about an hour or so. Drain the water and allow the wheat berries to cool.
- Heat up a medium-sized skillet and toast the walnuts for about 2 to 3 minutes or until fragrant.
- Get a bowl and combine all the ingredients, including the now-cool cooked wheat berries. Toss well and season with salt and pepper according to your taste.
Wheat berries are the whole kernels of wheat sans the outer covering or the husk. It is rich in nutrients that makes this whole grain a wholesome treat.
- 11 Health Benefits of Wheatberries According to Science (+ 5 Delicious Recipes) – Jen Reviews
- What the Heck are Wheat Berries? – Recipe Geek