- Amaranth is not a true grain. It is related to pigweed, also known as lamb’s-quarters, often found as a volunteer in your garden. It can be cooked and eaten as a cereal, popped like popcorn, and it can be ground into flour. Because it contains no gluten, it needs to be mixed with wheat flours for yeast-bread baking in similar amounts as soy flour (see below). Amaranth can be found in health food stores.
The length of a barley grain became the foundation of our linear measurement system. Three of them laid end to end equaled an Anglo-Saxon ynce (later inch). The weight of a barley “grain” eventually became the “gram,” the foundation of the metric system. It is the world's 4th largest crop, most of it fed to livestock.
Barley, a wild grass with a nutrition profile similar to other grasses, has a history that is as old, or even older, than wheat. It may have originated in China, or Ethiopia, or somewhere in between. Remnants have been found in a swath between North Africa all the way to Afghanistan. In ancient times, and even in modern historic times in Europe, barley played a much greater role than that of wheat. It was easier to grow in many places and was the grain for malting (beer and ale was consumed much the way we consume water today). But as people discovered the gluten-producing properties of wheat protein, and what it meant for a resulting bread, barley began to lose favor.
For the home bakers, most of barley's use comes from malt. Although other grains can be malted, long periods of experience and experimenting have led people to believe that barley produces the best result, both for flavor and for its “diastatic” properties.
- diastatic malt
Is My Malted Milkshake Really Just A Glass Of Beer? No. The classic malt flavor comes from non-diastatic malt, a malt powder that has been dried at temperatures high enough so the enzymes are destroyed and no longer active. This powder is used as a sweetener with its associated malt flavor.
Diastatic malt is grain that has been sprouted, slowly dried at relatively low temperatures and then ground into a powder. When grain begins to sprout, there is a rise in the level of enzyme activity in the grain that begins to break down the starch in the endosperm into simple sugars that the new seedling can feed on. This is primarily maltose ….thus the name “malt.” By allowing the grain to begin to sprout, then to dry and grind it, the enzymes are not destroyed. Once the enzymes are in some kind of wet medium, they become active again and continue to turn available starch to sugar. This sugar, intended for a new grain seedling, can also create a fine food for yeast, either bakers’ yeast or brewers' yeast. If you look on a bag of all-purpose flour, you'll see that there is a tiny amount of malt added. Wheat flour has its own enzymes, but often not enough to create a flour that will make good bread. So the level of enzyme activity is corrected by adding a bit of diastatic barley malt.
Malt for baking is dried slowly and at a very low heat. Malt for beer is dried somewhat differently, but to realize their close relationship, just think about how often beer or ale is used in baking.
For bakers, barley has some limited uses in other forms. Barley grits are cracked barley that is steamed like bulgur and can be eaten as a cereal or, like oatmeal, added to a bread dough. Barley flour is roasted barley that has been ground into a nutty-flavored flour. Like wheat flour it can be used for thickening. You can include it in any baked product by substituting it for some of the wheat flour. Because it is not gluten producing, you probably don’t want to use more than a couple of tablespoons per cup of wheat flour. Barley flour adds its own flavor to whatever you bake, and a lot of history. Malt syrup is made from malt berries that have sprouted and are thus full of “maltose,” the sugar that gives malt its name. It can be used in baking.
Buckwheat is not a grass like most of the other grains with which we bake. It’s actually related to rhubarb and burdock and grows as vigorously as the latter. It probably originated in China, although some claim Russia, and is a minor crop in the United States. Because it blooms continuously throughout the summer, it is a good bee crop and makes a unique honey.
Buckwheat flour is non-gluten producing and has an assertive flavor all its own that is somewhat of an acquired taste. It is used traditionally in the Far East in noodles; and in Russian pancakes (blini) particularly right before Lent when they are served with almost anything, caviar being traditional, but salmon, sour cream, jam, whatever tempts the baker.
- Millet has been in cultivation for several thousand years as a food crop, even though today we tend to think of it as something just “for the birds.” A native of Africa and Asia, millet has the ability to deal with arid climates and nutritionally deficient soils. But in addition to its ability to grow in pretty inhospitable places, millet has other benefits. It’s nutritionally similar to wheat but has a greater number of amino acids (the components in protein) than wheat and most of the other grains found in this country. Most millet grown today in the United States is used for animal and bird feed. But we can benefit from millet too. Think of it like rice or bulgur. Try adding some to your next loaf of bread; it’ll give it lovely gold flecks and some delightful crunch. Just as we’ve learned to share oats with horses, we need to learn to share millet with the birds!
- Quinoa (“keen-wah”) is native to this hemisphere and was a staple of (and considered sacred by) the Incas. It self-seeds, and it, too, grows in some pretty difficult places, in this case extremes of temperature and altitude. Though technically not a grain, Quinoa has more complete protein, iron, and vitamins B-1 and B-2 than the traditional grains that we consume, and can be a valuable addition to our culinary repertoires. When it’s cooked it looks like a collection of tiny “Saturns,” the planet with the rings around it (a selling point for children!). It, too, can be used as millet, bulgar, and rice. Whole quinoa as well as quinoa flour, available at health food stores, can be added like soy flour to any baked goods to enhance their nutritional value.
Rice is a grass that has adapted itself to almost every geographical area and climate the world makes available. Like wheat and corn, it feeds an enormous percentage of the world's population, more than half of it in fact, but it is still culturally eastern. More than 90% of the world's production is grown in Asia.
Rice flour is not a large part of our baking heritage although it is often added to short bread recipes (and other cookie recipes) to make a sandier texture. Rice protein is not gluten producing, so it doesn't make a typical yeast bread, of course. But it is a boon for people who have wheat (gluten) allergies as it can be combined with other ingredients to make fairly acceptable baked goods.
Soybeans, as most of us know by now, are a wonder plant. For humans, soybeans provide a myriad of beneficial functions. Unlike most other beans, they contain all the amino acids that make up complete proteins, similar to that found in meat, fowl, or fish. They are also high in calcium (a hedge against osteoporosis), iron, Vitamin A and the B Vitamins. In addition, and unlike animal proteins, soybeans contain no cholesterol and very little saturated fat.
Of particular interest to bakers are soy milk and soy flour. In baking, as a milk substitute, you can replace 1 cup of regular milk or water with an equal amount of soymilk. Your recipe will have the flavor of the soymilk. To make a soy “buttermilk,” use 1 cup of soymilk plus a tablespoon of vinegar. Because it adds moisture to baked products, soy flour can also be used as a cholesterol-free egg substitute in selected recipes, such as bread and cookies. It won't give your baked goods the same wonderful flavor and texture as a real egg. Try replacing an egg with 1 tablespoon of soy flour and 1 tablespoon water. (Before you get carried away however, remember that eggs have nutritional value of their own and that it's not so much the cholesterol you eat that matters, as the saturated fat.).
Soy flour is ground from roasted soybeans and is available either as full-fat soy flour, which contains the natural oils that are found in the soybean, or defatted soy flour, which has the oils removed during processing. Because the important nutrients in soybeans are not found in the oil, defatted soy flour is more nutritionally concentrated. Soy flour does increase moistness in baked products and gives them a longer shelf life. So, in addition to its nutritional benefits, it has others as well. Full-fat soy flour, like any whole grain, will become rancid, so if this is the flour you wish to use, we suggest buying it in small quantities and either using it quickly or storing it in the freezer.Like baked products that contain honey, baked products containing soy flour tend to brown more quickly, so either lower your oven temperature by 25°F or shorten the baking time. In fried foods, like doughnuts, soy flour reduces the amount of fat that is absorbed by the dough.
Like most flours, soy flour tends to settle in a container, so always stir or sift it before measuring. Because the protein in soy flour is not gluten-producing, it works best when it is combined with wheat flour. A general rule when using soy flour in yeast breads, is to replace about 15% of wheat flour with soy. This can be done by sprinkling 2 tablespoons of soy flour in a measuring cup and filling the remainder with wheat flour. If you want to accentuate the flavor of the soy flour in your bread, toast it on a baking sheet in a medium oven for a few minutes, stirring it occasionally, before you add it to your recipe.
Because quick breads don’t depend on the gluten-producing properties of wheat flour, soy flour works particularly well in them, as well as in muffins, pancakes, waffles, brownies and other bars. You can use up to 1/4 cup soy for every 3/4 cup wheat flour (1 ounce to 3 ounces). Do not expect the same flavor, however.
- Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye, relatively new on the market. The thinking that stimulated the effort behind it is that it would have some of the hardiness of rye combined with the high yield potential and baking characteristics of wheat. Triticale is a slightly better source of “complete protein” than is wheat, so in combination with wheat it can increase the nutritional value of many baked goods. It is recommended that you use it in conjunction with wheat flour in making bread. Triticale is also available in health food stores in flake form.