Wheat is one of the most important cereal crops in the world, and by far the most consumed grain in the United States. Too few people enjoy it in its true whole-grain state, instead opting for the refined and highly processed breads, cakes, cookies and crackers that make up a large portion of the American diet. Wheat in one of these three whole or cracked forms is a far better choice:
- Wheat berries - raw kernels of wheat that have been stripped of their inedible outermost hull only - are the least processed form of wheat and come in many varieties: hard or soft, winter or spring, and red or white.
- Cracked wheat is made by milling raw wheat berries into smaller pieces, a process that reduces cooking time but still preserves the nutrient- and fiber-rich bran and germ layers.
- Bulgur is pre-cooked: wheat berries are parboiled, dried then broken into pieces. This makes a quicker-cooking grain with a nuttier flavor that is featured in popular Middle-Eastern dishes such as tabbouleh and kibbeh.
Wheat is naturally rich in folate, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, iron, vitamin E and many B vitamins, almost all of which are lost in refined flour products. All forms of wheat contain large amounts of gluten and are unsuitable for those with celiac disease or wheat intolerance.
Cooking time: Wheat berries; 90-120 minutes; cracked wheat, 20-25 minutes; bulgur, 10-15 minutes
Liquid per cup of grain: Wheat berries, 3 cups; cracked wheat and bulgur, 2 cups
How to cook wheat berries, bulgur or cracked wheat: For wheat berries, combine in a pot with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for at least 90 minutes, until grains are tender. Cooking time may vary slightly depending on the intended use (for example, firmer, al dente wheat berries are nice in salads, but for a breakfast porridge, you will want them a bit softer). Cracked wheat and bulgur take significantly less time to cook than their unmilled counterpart. Combine either one in a pot with two cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for appropriate amount of time (up to 25 minutes for cracked wheat and up to 15 minutes for bulgur). For all varieties, fluff with a fork before serving.