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How to choose, store  and cook ancient wheats

bowl wood with  Spelt

bowl of wood with Spelt

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Although the farros (einkorn, emmer and spelt) and Kamut each have a distinctive flavor and texture, they can substitute for each other or for wheat berries, says Maria Speck, author of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals (Ten Speed Press, 2011).

“We’re actually talking about nuances on the level of wine flavors,” says Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills.

Processing also affects flavor and texture. The grains may be sold pearled (with the outer husk polished off), semi-pearled (partly husked), bulgurized (soaked, cooked, dried and broken), cracked or as a whole grain. The more processed grains are, the less time they take to cook; the more whole, the more nutrients and flavor they retain.

With pearling, says Chuck Watson of Nature’s Earthly Delights, “You lose some of the fiber, but it does make it more convenient for the consumer.”

Pearled farro (emmer) is becoming widely available in the Italian or grain aisles of local supermarkets and warehouse stores; other formats may require mail order. Nature’s Earthly Delights will introduce boxed “farrotto” mixes this summer.

Many natural foods stores and some supermarkets stock spelt and Kamut, often as bulk whole grains. While some einkorn-based products can be found at retail, the whole grain is available mainly by mail order.

It’s best to store whole grains in a cool place away from light. If you don’t use them quickly, store them in the refrigerator or freezer to keep them from becoming rancid, advises Chef Nicole Pederson of C-House restaurant, 166 E. Superior.

Most experts advocating soaking hull-on grains before cooking. “It helps them cook more quickly and evenly,” Pederson says.

“The grain plumps up,” says Speck, who suggests covering whole grains with cold water and soaking at room temperature for between eight and 24 hours. Or, bring to a boil, turn off the heat and let stand for at least one hour. Then drain. Speck says drained, soaked grains can be refrigerated for several days. Cooked grains can be refrigerated or frozen.

Soaking isn’t necessary with pearled farro; just give it a quick rinse in a colander. Then simmer the grains in water or stock like rice, or toast in a skillet and prepare like pilaf or risotto. Pearled farro will take about 15 minutes; soaked whole grains cook in about 40 minutes.

Leah Zeldes

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