Wheat Berries

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wheat berries

If you’ve never heard of wheat berries, you’re not alone. When I mentioned to a few people that I wanted to write about them, I received some quizzical looks. So, for anyone not familiar with this whole grain, let me end the suspense: wheat berries are simply individual kernels of wheat. They are what King Arthur and other grain companies mill to produce baking flours, from whole wheat to cake and all-purpose. And, just as there are many different types of wheat, there are just as many types of wheat berries, with their color ranging from light tan to a reddish brown. But the most important thing about wheat berries, at least as far as this post is concerned, is that they are scrumptious.

Other than a short stint in the 70s, when the health-food craze hit the United States, wheat berries have been mostly ignored in this country. This is a shame, as these plump and hearty grains are really worth experiencing. With a slightly nutty flavor and a mild chewy consistency, they are wonderful in soups, stews and salads.

My desire to cook wheat berries was born out of a decadent weekend away eating gooey homemade macaroni and cheese, King Ranch casserole, and plenty of breakfast sausage and bacon. After indulging, I craved something moderate and almost ascetic for my next dinner. But because I was starving when I shopped, I also yearned for something hearty and substantial. All this made me reach for a bag of wheat berries at the grocery store, along with, I’m embarrassed to admit, some andouille sausage. So much for an austere lifestyle.

Now before I detail how ridiculously healthy wheat berries are, let me reiterate that they are delightful to eat. Too often, people associate healthy foods with bland or disagreeable flavors (which I think has more to do with under seasoning and overcooking, but that’s another story). Yet regardless of nutrition, wheat berries and other whole grains are worth eating simply because they have more complex and nuanced flavors than your standard jasmine or basmati rice. Yes, they’re also healthier, but I’m no martyr (remember, I’m the one who bought andouille sausage for my minimalist meal): my real reason for eating wheat berries is because they have so much flavor.

Okay, here’s the health info. According to a smarty pants nutritional study at Harvard, there is a “connection between eating whole grains and better health.” Eating wheat berries and other whole grains lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. These grains additionally offer modest protection against colorectal cancer and also just keep everything moving along nicely — yes, that is exactly what I mean. They are full of fiber, protein and iron. Oh, and did I mention they’re really yummy? What more do you need?

Following are a few wheat berry recipes. The first two I’ve made and loved, and the rest are recipes I hope to try soon. But you don’t have to have a specific wheat berry recipe to try this amazing grain. Just use it in place of brown or white rice for your next meal.

If you have a good wheat berry recipe, please share it in the comments section as I’m looking to expand my repertoire.

cooked wheat berries

Cooking Wheat Berries
Wheat berries are great plain, but because you need to cook this grain before you can include it other recipes, you’ll need to cook them ahead of time even if you’re adding them to soups, salads or stews. Here are some basic instructions for cooking light wheat berries (which are more common than the darker red variety). If you purchase darker red wheat berries, you may need to soak them overnight, but just follow the package directions to be on the safe side.

Makes: 2 cups

Ingredients:
1 cup wheat berries
3 cups water
1 tsp salt

Preparation:

1. Place all ingredients in a medium covered pot.
2. Bring water to a boil and then simmer for 45 minutes to one hour or until done.
3. Drain off any excess water.

Note: One day when I needed to leave the house for a bit, I simmered the wheat berries for a half hour and then turned off the heat and left the pot covered. By the time I returned to the house, the wheat berries were fully cooked and ready to use.

popped wheat berries

Popped Wheat Berries

One fun way to eat wheat berries is to pop them like popcorn. They’re small, so the grains mostly just crack rather than pop, but after seasoning with some sea salt, they are nonetheless downright lip-smackingly tasty to nibble on. They are also a great addition to salads.

Unlike pop corn kernals, you need to first partially cook wheat berries to soften them before placing them in a hot pan. I usually just add extra wheat berries to a pot that I’m making and then pull them out after about 15 minutes of simmering (leaving the remainder to thoroughly cook through according to the instructions above).

Makes: 1/2 cup popped wheat berries

Ingredients:
1/2 cup partially-cooked wheat berries (simmered for 15 minutes only)
1 tsp vegetable or olive oil
Salt to taste

Preparation:

1. Dry wheat berries on a dish towel or with paper towels to pat off the extra moisture from boiling.
2. Place berries in a dry pan on high heat (cast iron works great, but any steel or iron pan that is not non-stick will work well). The grains will now continue to dry in the pan. Be sure to continually shake or stir the grains so as not to burn them.
3. Once all the moisture seems to have evaporated (about 1-2 minutes), add in the oil and continue to shake the pan while the grains begin to pop. Once the wheat berries are mostly popped, remove them from the pan and season with salt.
4. Eat as a snack or as a topping for salads.

wheat berries with sausage and asparagus

Wheat Berries Sautéed with Andouille Sausage, Asparagus and Almonds

This dish is like an eclectic group of friends. They’re all unique apart, but together they work. Spicy andouille wants to be the star and steal all the attention, but her steady and charming friend wheat berries keeps her balanced, while fun-loving asparagus adds a loveable charm to the group. Meanwhile, nutty almond is cracking jokes. I agree that this analogy is a bit lame, but still, this is how this dish tastes.

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:
2 cups cooked wheat berries
4 andouille sausage links
1/2 cup chopped raw almonds
4 scallions (the white and green parts)
6-8 asparagus stalks with the ends trimmed off and cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
1 tsp olive oil

Preparation:

1. Chop sausage into 1/2-inch pieces and cook in a medium-sized pan until thoroughly browned. Remove and place in a bowl.
2. Saute scallions in the same pan, adding a bit of olive oil if needed (although the sausage grease will most likely be sufficient). Remove from the pan when slightly crisp, placing in the same bowl as the sausage.
3. Brown almonds in the pan and then set in the sausage bowl.
4. Add oil to the pan and then saute asparagus for 2 minutes or until al dente.
5. Add cooked sausage and scallions, along with the browned almonds to the asparagus in the pan and then add in the cooked wheat berries. Mix thoroughly, season with salt and pepper, and serve.

bowl of wheat berries

Other Wheat Berry Recipes

Wheat Berries with Sesame, Soy Sauce and Scallions
Wheat Berry Breakfast Bowl
Wheat Berry Pudding

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Category: health and nutrition, recipes

About the Author ()

I am a writer, editor, mother of twins, and enthusiastic home cook. I was raised by an Italian-American mother who, in the 1970s, grew her own basil (because she couldn’t find any in the local grocery stores), zucchini (for those delicious flowers), and tomatoes (because the ones in the store tasted like “a potato”). My mom taught us to love all kinds of food and revere high-quality ingredients. I am now trying to follow in my mother’s footsteps and am on a mission to help my daughters become adventurous eaters who have a healthy respect for seasonal food raised locally. My daughters and I grow vegetables and go to the farmers’ market. We also love to shop at Piedmont Grocery and Trader Joe’s. When I’m not hanging out with my daughters or cooking, I like to contribute to cookbooks (including Williams-Sonoma’s Food Made Fast and Foods of the World series), work as an editor, and write about food for Bay Area Bites and Denise's Kitchen. My food inspirations are M.F.K Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters — three fabulous women who encompass everything I love about food.
  • http://flavorboulevard.com Mai (Flavor Boulevard)

    Wow this is the first time I heard of this delight. Where can I find it? Do they sell it at Whole Foods and whatnot?

  • http://deniseskitchen.wordpress.com/ Denise Santoro Lincoln

    Hi Mai — Yes. They sell it at Whole Foods. You can buy it as a grain there, or even as a pre-made salad in their deli department. Bob’s Red Mill also has it by the bag and it’s usually available at markets that sell that brand.

  • http://flavorboulevard.com Mai (Flavor Boulevard)

    Thank you Denise. I’ll get a bag when I go to the store this weekend.

  • http://www.5minutejoomla.com Stormy

    I’m actually transitioning to raw foods and I make rejuvalac every week using wheat berries. Sprout wheat, add water, let ferment for 2 days and then pour off the water into a container and refrigerate. The leftover wheat berries go into a food processor with dates and/or raw nuts, then scooped into small patties into the dehydrator for 100% whole grain cookies.

    Never even occurred to me to cook them. ;)

  • http://deniseskitchen.wordpress.com/ Denise Santoro Lincoln

    Hi Stormy — I like the idea of using them as a base for patties and mixing them with dried fruit and nuts, although I would probably saute mine in olive oil. Thanks for the tip!

  • http://smilinggreenmom.com smilinggreenmom

    This post is so fantastic! I have been wondering what these were for sure – and especially how to cook them! I love Kamut Khorasan Wheat and was reading about their wheat berries somewhere and had no clue what they were. We love Kamut and now I am so happy to know this and maybe even try the “popcorn” berries :)

  • http://marcsala.blogspot.com/ Marc

    I have been cooking with wheat berries for a little while, ever since I saw them for sale at local farmers markets (I have purchased them from Massa Organics and Full Belly Farm; Eatwell might also sell them). Three of my favorite uses of wheat berries are in porridge, in soup, and in a lentil salad.

    To use them in porridge, I combine whole wheat berries, steel cut oats, a little bit of polenta, and various other whole grains into the crock of a slow cooker. I add a good amount of water, then I hook up the slow cooker to run for about 4 hours over night (I use a suitably-rated timer switch). The next morning I add chopped dried fruit, various rolled grains (rolled oats, rolled rye, etc.), and some sweetener, stir it, and let it sit for 20 minutes or so to soften the rolled grains and fruit. I serve it topped with chopped walnuts and possibly apple butter.

    They are good with green lentils, herbs, and a bright dressing. I wrote a sketch of a recipe for warm lentil and wheat berry salad on my blog: http://marcsala.blogspot.com/2007/04/odds-and-ends-cauliflower-slabs-wheat.html

    Wheat berries can be used as a substitute for barley in mushroom-barley soup, but will need to be partially pre-cooked before being added to the soup, as they take longer to cook than pearl barley (which has lost most of its hull during processing). Here’s one way to make such a soup: http://marcsala.blogspot.com/2008/11/wheat-berry-and-mushroom-soup.html

  • http://deniseskitchen.wordpress.com/ Denise Santoro Lincoln

    Hi Marc — thanks for the recipes. These all sound wonderful and I think I’ll have to try them soon. I really appreciate your passing them along.

    Hi smilinggreenmom — yes, try them popped. My kids thought the popping process was fun and then we all sat down to nibble on them afterward.

  • Jan

    This is an awesome wheatberry salad recipe (from Weight Watchers, but anyone would like it).

    1 cup(s) uncooked wheat berries
    3 medium scallion(s), thinly sliced
    1/2 cup(s) dried cranberries
    4 Tbsp Naturally Fresh Fat-Free Raspberry Vinaigrette Salad Dressing, or other brand
    3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
    1 Tbsp mint leaves, fresh, chopped

    Immerse wheat berries in cold water, cover and refrigerate overnight.

    Drain wheat berries, add fresh water to cover and simmer until tender, about 2 hours. Drain and cool.

    Add remaining ingredients to wheat berries and toss well. Yields about 1/2 cup per serving.

  • http://militantcarnivore.com MilitantCarnivore

    Thanks for all of the great wheatberry ideas—I’m always looking for more. I just came up with an apple and wheatberry gratin which I think makes a pretty good brunch dish. I also love making popped wheatberries; I think they make a great soup garnish.

  • http://deniseskitchen.wordpress.com/ Denise Santoro Lincoln

    Hi Jan — thanks for the recipe!

    Hi Militant Carnivore — do you bake the cooked wheat berries with the apples? What else do you put in butter? brown sugar? using the popped wheat berries as a garnish for soup sounds like a great idea. Thanks for the ideas.

  • Racheal R

    This is a Wheat Berry Tabbouleh recipe from the Better Homes and Garden cookbook, its super delicious chilled by itself (my roommates and I devour it by the spoonfull) or on some toast for warmer light treat.

    2 3/4 cups cooked wheat berry
    3/4 cup diced tomato
    3/4 cup chopped cucumber
    1/2 cup snipped fresh parsley
    1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
    1 Tbs snipped fresh mint
    3 Tbs olive oil
    3 Tbs lemon juice
    1/4 tsp salt

    Combine ingredients Wheat berry- Mint in a bowl. In a mason jar, combine remaining ingredients, shake well, pour over berries, toss and chill :)

  • Ms.Art

    I had them in a salad at the De Young and have been hooked ever since! I cooked them in my rice cooker and put them in everything, and have lately been enjoying them with yogurt for breakfast. Thanks for sharing your recipes!

  • Betty Soapmaker

    Hi! Thanks for the great recipes. I am curious to try!
    Are wheatberries the same thing as farro? Please help!

    Thanks!

  • http://deniseskitchen.wordpress.com/ Denise Santoro Lincoln

    Hi Betty — I hope you like the recipes! As for the difference between farro and wheat berries, that’s a tricky question and the answer is dependent on who you talk to. Some say there’s is an enormous difference while others say they are one and the same. As for me, I see them as two strains of the wheat kernal family (sort of like the difference between a Tuscan cantaloup and a regular cantaloup – both are from the same melon family but each is a different strain). I hear farro has less gluten so it’s easier for gluten averse people to eat. Here’s a discussion on the topic at Food52.com — http://www.food52.com/foodpickle/3649-what-s-the-difference-between-farro-and-wheatberries

  • http://soapandpaperfactory.blogspot.com/ Betty Soapmaker

    Ahhh! Ok. I will have to try both!

    I saw a package of imported Italian farro at Whole Foods for $10 (for a 1 lb bag). Then I went to the bulk section and found identical-looking wheat berries for less than $3/lb. So I bought the latter.

    I’ve never had either, but I’m very curious!

    Thanks for your help!

  • Nyungi

    I tried this recipe and the wheat berries were nowhere near cooked enough, either at the 15 minute popping stage (they didn’t pop) or at the fully cooked stage. It was really chewy.

  • Cathy C

    Thanks for all the great info & recipes using wheat berries. I just bought some, knew they are good for you, but was unsure how to prepare them. Can you make them ahead & refrig & use as needed?

  • http://deniseskitchen.wordpress.com/ Denise Santoro Lincoln

    Hi Cathy — You can treat wheat berries much like other grains when making them ahead of time, which is to say you can store them in the fridge for a few days but it’s best to freeze them if you need more time. Good luck!

  • http://deniseskitchen.wordpress.com/ Denise Santoro Lincoln

    Hi Nyungi — wheat berries are pretty chewy (much more so than rice or other smaller grains). That said, they are not overly chewy. Also, I’m not sure why yours didn’t pop. Did you simmer then in water for about 15 minutes before heating in a hot skillet?

  • Erin Hare

    I add about 3 tbs of cooked wheat berries to my whole grain bread along with millet, flax seed, and raw pumpkin seeds (which I just realized I forgot to pick up at the store this morning!). I use a bread machine and just sub all the ingredients from a regular white loaf for whole wheat flour, my whole grains and seeds, and honey instead of sugar :) It’s really good. I do add a bit of vital wheat gluten so that the bread comes out soft and gorgeous!