Until recently, I’d never really thought of using wheat for anything but flour. I’m comfortable with using whole-wheat flour but had never tried using the grain in its whole, unground state, known as wheat berries. After doing a little research and poring through a few food storage cookbooks, I decided to try wheat in ways I never have just for the heck of it and to see how I’d like the variety.
Cooking wheat berries on the stove takes a long time. Mine took about an hour before they finally got to the “splitting open” stage, which is how you know they’re done. I consider an hour too long to baby-sit something on the stove, so I tried my slow cooker. 3 hours on high did the trick and yielded perfectly chewy, but done, berries. (There is also the Instant Pot option for 30 minutes, but I haven’t tried that yet.) So, how the heck do you eat these things? They’re chewier than brown rice and nuttier in flavor, so not all the suggested uses were equally liked in our family.
1. As a substitute for rice (side dish), we decided NO. The berries are simply too chewy to pass off as rice, even brown rice.
2. As fried “rice”, YES. The berries soak up the soy sauce and taste delicious. I cooked them just as I would regular fried rice.
3. As a breakfast cereal, YES. They are really tasty with butter, salt, and honey. The chewiness takes a little getting used to, but it’s not unpleasant.
4. As popped wheat, NO. James said they tasted too much like Grape Nuts. I much prefer popcorn since the wheat doesn’t get fluffy. It’s crunchy like a soy- or cornut, but the flavor is different. I tried cinnamon-sugar, but I think savory would be better, like seasoned salt. I didn’t hate popped wheat, but since James didn’t like it, we will stick to popcorn.
5. In salads, NO. I prefer my salads to be all veggies and have never really liked cold grain salads or even pasta salad very much.
6. As a meat substitute, NO. I never find any meat substitute to be convincing, and James hated the idea, so we didn’t try it. I’d be much more likely to use beans or skip the meat instead of trying to fake it.
7. As bulgur, NO. The process for making bulgur removes part of the grain, and I wanted to use the whole thing since it’s more nutritious.
8. In soup, MAYBE. The berries don’t get soggy, but I don’t often make soup that doesn’t already have dumplings or noodles. The wheat berries would be good as a substitute for pearled barley, but they would definitely be chewier since they have hulls and pearled barley doesn’t. A big advantage is that they wouldn’t get soggy.
It was pretty interesting to try all these different uses of wheat. It really is a versatile food.