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The Grains Glossary and a Recipe for the Perfect Pancake

Three pancakes on a griddle

Grains are a ubiquitous part of the American diet and a staple in many of our favorite recipes. Bread? Yep, grains. Pasta? Grains there, too. Pancakes? Most definitely! With such a strong presence in our daily eating habits, shouldn’t we know more about what grains actually are and why they make our favorite foods taste SO good?! Check out this handy grain glossary and a few facts about wheat and then try your hand at making the perfect pancake.

The following is an excerpt from The New Bread Basket by Amy Halloran. It has been adapted for the web.


Terms like “gluten” and “ancient grains” are often tossed around in food circles and placed on packaging, but what do they actually mean? Learn more about what goes into your daily bread with this helpful glossary of essential grains terminology:

Ancient grains: This is more of a marketing concept than a classification. The name suggests grains that date from very early in the domestication of crops. Ancient types of wheat include einkorn, emmer, and Khorasan.

Classical plant breeding: The deliberate crossing of plants from chosen plant parents, followed by selection of new varieties with desirable properties from the resulting populations.

DON: Deoxynivalenol, a vomitoxin that may result from contamination with the Fusarium fungus. Wheat for human consumption is not permitted to have DON levels above 1 ppm because of the potential to cause human sickness (vomiting).

Gluten: A diverse group of two storage proteins in the wheat grain: gliadin and glutenin. These two storage proteins make up gluten as dough is hydrated, and provide the elasticity and extensibility needed for making yeasted breads. Carbon dioxide is trapped by this network of linked glutenins and gliadins and causes the bread to rise. These storage proteins are present in varying degrees in all wheats, including einkorn, emmer, and spelt, as well as to a lesser extent in barley and rye.

GMOs: Genetically modified organisms are made through the insertion of genetic material using techniques of genetic engineering, rather than manual crossing of two plants. In grains and legumes, GMO corn and soy are common. GMO wheat is in the test phase, but not yet on the market.

Grains: The edible seeds of certain plants from the grass family. Hard wheats: These are generally used for bread, because of their higher protein levels. The hardness refers to the quality of the endosperm. Heritage or heirloom grains: Crops that are products of human selection and that were developed before professional breeding programs existed.

Modern grains: Varieties developed after 1950 through breeding programs. These plants generally have shorter straws (stalks) because of the incorporation of dwarfing genes.

Pseudo-cereals: Plant foods that are used for their flour but that are not true cereals. Buckwheat, amaranth, and other foods that fit into the eating category of grains but do not share any plant relations to true grains.

Soft wheats: Soft wheats are mostly used for pastry, crackers, and other non-bread foods.


Wheat grows in forty of the fifty states. More land in the world is planted to wheat than any other crop. On average, 20 percent of the world’s calories come from wheat; in some places wheat and bread account for a much greater portion of people’s diets. This was certainly the case in the past. Fifty percent of the American wheat crop is exported. Most is grown in wheat belts in the western and Plains states. Many wheat farms are large, ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 acres. Two thousand acres is an area equal to about three square miles. Wheat and other grains grown for the commodity market often leave farms in tractor-trailer trucks at harvest, traveling to a grain elevator. Farmers take an offered price, unless they have storage facilities themselves and can wait for a better deal. Commodity prices are set by boards of trade and reflect international markets. The prices can swing wildly and have little to do with what it costs a farmer to grow a crop.

There are six classes of wheat: hard red winter, hard red spring, soft red winter, durum, hard white, and soft white. Red and white refer to the colors of the bran. Red wheats have more tannins than white wheats, and these tannins tend to have a bitter flavor. Hard wheats have more gluten than soft wheats, so hard wheats are preferred for making bread. Durum flour is used for noodle making, as are white wheats, much of which are exported for the Asian noodle market. Interest in healthier, whole-grain eating has driven a market for white whole wheat flours in the United States, too.

Wheat kernels, like most grains, have three major parts: the outer layers of bran, the endosperm, and the germ. Wheat kernels are shaped like teardrops, and the germ sits at the base of the endosperm. As the edible seeds of certain plants in the grass family (Poaceae), the first job of wheat is reproduction. The germ sits protected, waiting for moisture and temperature cues to penetrate the protective layers of bran and signal the beginning of germination. As the seed sprouts, the endosperm is food for the growing plant. We humans want that food, too.

Bread wheat is hard wheat, meaning the endosperm, the starchy part of the grain, is very hard. Pastry wheat is soft wheat. Hard wheat has more gluten than soft. Gluten is made up of proteins, gliadin and glutenin. When these proteins are mixed with water, they create strong bonds—a matrix that is a good skeleton for bread. Over the last decade, American interest in gluten-free diets has soared, morphing the low-carb trend that began with the Atkins Diet in the late 1980s into the current fear of gluten. Before anyone shuts the door on wheat, however, I think they should get to know what frightens them. Here is the monster that I adore.


When I go on about fresh flour, people can tell that I’m engaged in an idea, but the pancakes help convey what I’m saying. One second I look like a nut wielding a spatula. The next, my words mean something because people are eating pancakes made from organic stone-ground whole-grain flour. I still seem like a nut, but my topic makes sense.

In writing, there is a commandment: Show, don’t tell. Fresh flour shows what I have told in this book. I’ve described the magicians who are pulling rabbits from thin air. Farmers, millers, bakers, brewers, and maltsters are drawing attention to ingredients that have become anonymous. Flour and malt did a vanishing act. I’ve peeled back the velvet curtain, told you what it takes to make these things. Showed you the grains all-stars who are doing some heavy lifting. You have met them, and now you need to meet their work. Find some bread and beer made with off-grid grains. Make some pancakes at your very own griddle. Your tongue can show you why all of this matters. I swear.

Recipe for the Perfect Pancake

Ingredients

1 cup white whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 ⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
1 ⁄2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 ⁄2 –3 ⁄4 cup milk
Depending how thick you like your pancakes: 1 tablespoon yogurt

Procedure

  • Whisk together the dry ingredients, and add the liquids to the same bowl.
  • Combine thoroughly and let rest for 10 minutes. This allows the flour to absorb liquids.
  • Heat a griddle until water dances on the surface, or melted butter just starts to darken. Sizzle plenty of butter, probably a teaspoon or two, on a 12-inch griddle. If this griddle is aluminum, you will be best equipped. If your aluminum griddle has a temperature dial in the handle reading cold, ready, hot, you will know exactly what you need to know about your heat.
  • Once the griddle is ready, spoon small rounds of batter on the buttered griddle.
  • When bubbles just start to form, flip the pancake and cook it briefly on the other side.
  • Serve with butter and yogurt, and, if you like, maple syrup. Enjoy!

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The New Bread Basket

How the New Crop of Grain Growers, Plant Breeders, Millers, Maltsters, Bakers, Brewers, and Local Food Activists Are Redefining Our Daily Loaf

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