Grains - part 5

Rye

Rye is a member of the plant family that also includes wheat and barley. Rye is native to Asia and Europe and the plant is normally luxuriant or bush-like at the base and grows up to a height of five to eight feet.

The rye plant thrives well in regions where the soil condition is extremely poor and the climatic conditions are excessively cool to cultivate wheat. The shape of the rye grains are akin to that of wheat - elongated, while the color of rye grains vary from beige to gray. Although the husk of rye grains is isolated while milling, the grains generally retain much of the germ as well as the bran that eventually augments the nutritional worth of food products prepared with rye. Rye grains can be consumed in several ways - they may be eaten as whole grain, rolled akin to oats or even cracked. However, the maximum use of grains is in the form of rye flour.

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Rye flour is prepared by grinding the grains and it is available in many dissimilar varieties. Most of the bran is got rid of in the variety called light rye flour, while another variety called the dark rye flour keeps hold of the bran as well as the germ. In effect, dark rye flour is an excellent natural source of folic acid, niacin, thiamine, magnesium and trace minerals. Traditionally, dark rye flour is used to prepare dark, potently sweetened German bread known as pumpernickel. In addition, rye is also used in making several alcoholic beverages, counting whiskey as well as a number of vodka varieties.

Similar majority of the food products prepared with cereal grains, rye also ought to be stored in sealed containers with a view to slow down its decay or decomposition.

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Wheat

Like millet, wheat is also one of the earliest crops cultivated and consumed by man. The countries that are major wheat producers include the United States, where the Great Plains are deemed to be the 'world's breadbasket', Canada, Western Europe, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Australia, Pakistan and India.

Wheat is an annually growing plant that grows up to a height of two to four feet, depending on the growing conditions as well as the variety of wheat that is being cultivated. The grains of wheat are enclosed by a bristly spike produced by the plant. Different from several other types of grains, it is often difficult to cultivate wheat. On the other hand, wheat is among the most familiar grains cultivated across the globe. The only grain which is an equal rival of wheat in terms of production is rice.

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It may be noted that the major portion of wheat cultivated across the world is consumed by humans, generally in bread form. The rich gluten content in wheat makes this grain especially made to order for use as bread. Owing to the high gluten content, wheat flour is the structure for nearly the entire baked foods as well as pasta. In addition, wheat is also extensively used in making whiskey and beer.

Primarily, there are three main varieties of wheat - hard, soft and durum.

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Hard wheat
The variety of wheat which has high protein content, approximately 10 per cent to 14 per cent, is known as hard wheat. Hard wheat also has a rich gluten content, which makes the flour prepared with it suppler and also especially appropriate for making yeast breads.
Soft wheat
The variety of wheat having low protein content, approximately six per cent to 10 per cent, is known as soft wheat. Generally, soft wheat is used to produce baked products that are 'softer', for instance cakes.
Durum wheat
This variety of wheat is considered to be the hardest type of the grain cultivated and contains the maximum amount of gluten. In spite of this, durum wheat is not used to make baked products. In its place, this variety of wheat is generally used to make semolina, the key ingredient of pasta.
In addition to the above mentioned types of wheat, this cereal grain is also graded depending on the season it is sown. For instance, as the name of this variety hints, spring wheat is sown during the spring, while winter wheat is cultivated in regions having more temperate winters and the seeds of this variety are sown during the latter part of fall. Literally speaking, several thousand food products are prepared with wheat flour, while bread and pasta are merely the basic items.
Nevertheless, products made with whole wheat possess the maximum nutritional value since they are not milled (processed and refines) as comprehensively, as the other products that are additionally refined. There are a number of whole wheat products, such as bulgur, cracked wheat, farina, wheat flakes and wheat berries, also known as groats. A brief discussion regarding each of these products is provided below.
Cracked wheat
As the name of this variety of wheat suggests, cracked wheat is actually the seed of the plant that has been split up into smaller bits. It is possible to crack the seeds roughly or finely.
Bulgur
In the Middle East, this variety of whole wheat product is a well-accepted ingredient is several dishes. Basically, bulgur is also a variety of cracked wheat, which has been steam-cooked and dehydrated. Owing to this process, bulgur does not need a great deal of time to cook as compared to other different whole wheat products. In the Middle East, people use bulgur to prepare a very popular cuisine of the region called 'tabbouleh'. In addition, they also use bulgur to make pilaf and cereal. Bulgur is obtainable in an assortment of grindings ranging from rough/ crude to fine.
Wheat flakes
This variety of whole wheat product is also called rolled wheat and is prepared by flattening the wheat seeds. They have an appearance akin to that of rolled oats, but they are somewhat larger and broader in size. While many may think that wheat flakes form a major ingredient in several cold breakfast cereals, in fact, this whole wheat product is never used in this type of cereals.
Farina
Farina is one whole wheat product that is preferred by many as a breakfast dish. Possibly, farina is better recognized as the 'Cream of Wheat'. This product is prepared using the wheat seeds' endosperm, which is subsequently milled (processed and refined) more delicately or finely. Farina has multiple uses and is very popular in specific regions. For instance, farina may be used in main dishes, dumplings and/ or desserts, especially in the Greek and Indian cuisines.
Groats or wheat berries
The wheat seeds available whole are also called groats or wheat berries. Since they are not milled extensively, groats or wheat berries are one of the most nutritious of food products prepared with wheat.
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Wild rice

Though wild rice bears the term rice, in reality it is not rice. Intimately related to rice genetically, wild rice is in fact an aquatic grain. Precisely speaking, wild rice is the seed of a swamp grass that is found growing in the Great Lakes region in the northern part of the United States. Wild rice is familiar for its essence that is akin to hazelnut, deep brown color and a fibrous quality or texture. The natives of America, who once fought for the control of the regions that grew wild rice in abundance, have harvested the aquatic grain for several centuries. In effect, these indigenous tribes of North America called this aquatic grain 'mahnomen', which literally translated into English denotes 'a valued endowment from the gods'.

Wild rice was domesticated for the first time in the 1950s following several endeavours to imitate the damp and murky environs in which the grass that produces wild rice grows most excellently. Currently, wild rice is commercially cultivated in the Upper Midwest as well as California. In most cases, wild rice is consumed as a whole grain. In addition, it may also be pounded into flour.

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