Grains - part 3

There are several hundred of grains that are edible - some form staple diets of people in specific regions. Here we will discuss a few of them and their uses in brief.

Amaranth

The Aztecs, people belonging to specific ethnic groups of ancient central Mexico, considered the cereal grain amaranth as their main source of food and also used it extensively in their religious ceremonies. However, the cultivation of this grain nearly came to a complete end following the diktat of the Spanish conquers making the cultivation of the plant a punishable offence. Currently, farmers as well as all those who are concerned about nutrition are showing a growing interest in cultivating the amaranth plant owing to the fact that amaranth encloses the maximum amount of protein - about 15 to 18 per cent calories - compared to most other grains, which generally possess around eight to 15 per cent of calories. In addition, compared to many other grains, amaranth also encloses more methionine and lysine (amino acids). When it is used in combination with other food grains, amaranth may also supply an absolute equilibrium of amino acids. Apart from containing calcium, amaranth also encloses magnesium and additional iron in comparison to most of the other edible grains.

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The amaranth plant usually grows up to three to five feet in height and produces elongated bunches of red blossoms. On an average, each amaranth plan produces as many as 500,000 minute seeds, which possess a potent nutty taste. These seeds may be cooked as well as consumed in a number of ways. They may be consumed in the form of a grain or popped, sprouted or even pounded into flour. The amaranth flour has an assortment of hues - ranging from pale yellow to deep violet. However, most of the amaranth flour available commercially from health food stores has a buff (pale yellowish) hue.

The amaranth plant has numerous uses, for instance, you can prepare pasta with the flour of this grain. In addition, amaranth oil is extracted from the seeds of the plant. The green hued leaves as well as the stalk of amaranth (also known as pigweed) are edible after cooking. The leaves of amaranth plant have a flavour akin to that of spinach.

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Barley

The barley plant is annual and grows up to one to four feet in height. The plant is resilient enough to endure a variety of conditions it may confront during the growing season. This is the primary cause why barley has been cultivated as a food crop all through history and even to this day remains a staple in several countries, especially in Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. However, at present the bulk of barley is produced in the West and is generally fed to animals or utilized in producing beer or other fermented beverages. An enzyme present in malt prepared from barley actually converts the starch present in beer or other alcoholic beverages into sugar, which the yeast producing alcohol can feed on and, hence, ferment or distil, a procedure that results in the making of alcohol.

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Considering the health advantages owing to consumption of barley, the grain's resourcefulness as well as its pleasant, slightly nutty flavour and its exile from the kitchens of many countries is a factor that needs to be reconsidered. In effect, the barley seed has a hard husk enclosing the grain and it should be got rid of before the grain is fit for consumption. Barley possesses numerous nutrients - it is a major natural source of iron, phosphorus, magnesium, niacin as well as soluble fiber.

Normally, barley grains have an off-white hue, but its color may vary from purple to black. The nutritional content of barley largely depends on the manner in which the grain is processed and refined (milled). It may be noted that most of the nutrients enclosed by barley grains are concentrated close to the bran. Hence, when the barley grain undergoes extensive milling, it contains lesser nutrients.

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There are several sorts of barley available commercially in the market. Some of these types are discussed in brief below.

Flaked barley
The name of this barley product makes it evident that barley flakes are actually barley grains, which have been evened out. Barley flakes have a resemblance to that of rolled oats.
Pearled barley
Pearled barley is processed several times with a view to clean or get rid of the external husk as well as the bran. This variety of barely gets its name from the fact that the grains are similar in size to that of pearls and have an ivory hue. Owing to the multiple processing, this type of barley takes much less time to cook compared to other varieties of the barley grain.
Pot barley or Scotch barley
This variety of barely is roughly pounded and, like pearled barley, it too does not retain much of its nutrients as nearly the entire husk is taken away during the grounding/ pounding process.
Barley flour
Like wheat flour, barley flour too is barley grains that have been grounded into a fine powder. Barley flour has a darker color compared to the refined white flour and possesses a subtle, nut-like essence.
Hulled barley
In the case of hulled barley, just the external husk is taken away or removed and the product retains most of the bran. In effect, hulled barley is one of the most nourishing varieties of barley available.
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Generally, you will not find an assortment of barley products in most supermarkets. However, most supermarkets do sell prepared barley soups and pearled barley. On the other hand, you are more likely to find refined barley products at the different specialty food markets or health food stores.

Buckwheat

From the botanical perspective, buckwheat is basically a fruit and belongs to the plant family, which also includes rhubarb. Nevertheless, even buckwheat undergoes processing and it is prepared and eaten in the similar manner as different cereal grains, such as wheat, oats and rye. Food products prepared with buckwheat possess a potent, nutty taste and they are available in a number of varieties.

Buckwheat flours
The name of this buckwheat product provides ample hint of the fact that it is flour obtained by grounding the seeds of buckwheat. Whole buckwheat is milled to obtain supreme buckwheat flour, while hulled buckwheat seeds are milled to produce fancy buckwheat flour. Generally, buckwheat flour is used in making pancakes. However, buckwheat flours are also used for a number of other purposes.
Buckwheat groats
Groats may be described as crushed hulled kernels of buckwheat. In Europe, roasted groats are called kasha. In effect, kasha has been a staple diet in many European nations for several centuries.
Farinetta
Farinetta is a common product that is prepared using the bran of the buckwheat seeds.

From the viewpoint of nutrition, buckwheat possesses exceptional properties. In effect, buckwheat encloses more protein compared to several cereal grains like wheat, brown rice, oats and soy. This is the primary reason why buckwheat is supplemented with different cereal flours with a view to augment their nutritional value and buckwheat is frequently used in snack foods. Currently, scientists are studying rutin, a flavonoid present in the bran of buckwheat, to find if it can be used in controlling cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. In addition, it is believed that fagopyritols present in buckwheat may have a positive impact on the blood glucose levels in people enduring type 2 diabetes. It has been found that consuming buckwheat on a regular basis helps to lower blood pressure. Nevertheless, more research is required to ascertain these health benefits offered by buckwheat.

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