Wheat is the most commonly consumed grain in the United States, yet wheat berries are surprisingly uncommon on American shopping lists. They are wheat at its most basic: the whole grain kernels with only the inedible husk removed. Wheat berries are the original source of all wheat products before any refinement occurs. For example, wheat flour comes from milled, ground wheat berries.
What Are Wheat Berries?
Wheat berries are the edible part of the wheat kernel, including the bran, the germ, and the endosperm, before the grain undergoes any processing. You can use this chewy, nutty, high-fiber whole grain like you would any other whole grain.
How to Cook Wheat Berries
Whole grain wheat berries are hard and thus, take a while to cook. To prepare wheat berries, cover them with plenty of water, bring it to a boil, and them simmer them in a covered pot for about an hour, or until they soften. For quicker cooking, soak wheat berries overnight first. You can also cook them in your crock pot or pressure cooker.
Use cooked wheat berries like you would rice or any other whole grain, in soups, salads, side dishes, or as a base for a stir-fry. You can stuff bell peppers with them or simmer them in milk for a breakfast porridge. If you have a home mill (or a Vitamix high-powered food processor), you can use wheat berries to make your own fresh wheat flour.
What Do They Taste Like?
The slightly sweet, nutty flavor of wheat berries works well in both sweet and savory dishes. Wheat berries absorb some of the flavor from any dressing or sauce you serve them in as well.
Wheat Berry Recipes
Wheat berries take a while to cook, but you can prepare a big batch and then add it to various dishes throughout the week.
Where to Buy Wheat Berries
Look for wheat berries in any grocery or natural foods store, either with the rice and beans or in the baking aisle with various cereal grains. You may find them in the ethnic foods aisle alongside other whole grains such as freekeh and bulgur. You can also purchase wheat berries online.
Bob's Red Mill is one popular brand that sells packaged wheat berries. They're not trendy like quinoa and other so-called ancient grains, so wheat berries generally cost considerably less.
Store uncooked wheat berries in an airtight container in a cool, dark pantry or in the refrigerator for extended storage. Because of their dense texture, cooked wheat berries store well in the freezer, if you want to prepare them in advance. Cook them as you normally would and allow them to cool completely, fluffing them occasionally with a fork to allow steam and moisture to release as they cool. Then transfer the cooled wheat berries to an airtight freezer-safe container and store them for up to three months. You can also keep them in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
Nutrition and Benefits
With the intact kernel, nearly all of the nutrients remain in wheat berries. They are high in fiber, iron, and protein as well as magnesium and vitamin E, and low in calories and fat. One serving of wheat berries (1/4 cup dry or 1 cup cooked) contains 160 calories, with a total fat count of less than 1 gram. Wheat berries deliver nearly 8 grams of protein per serving, and 20 percent of the recommended daily allowance for fiber. Wheat berries do contain gluten, however, and are not appropriate for anyone with celiac disease or an intolerance to gluten.
You may be able to choose from different varieties of wheat berries, including hard red wheat berries, hard white wheat berries, soft red wheat berries, and soft white wheat berries. Generally, the harder varieties contain more protein and the softer varieties more starch. They can generally be used interchangeably in recipes calling for whole wheat berries, but the flour produced from softer varieties is more suitable for pastries and cakes than bread. In addition, wheat berries sometimes get labeled as winter or spring, indicating the growing season.