ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

Behind the Taste and Health Quotient of Whole Grains

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Image: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, source Washington Post.

Truth be told, I was a little worried by the recipe testing I did for my story, "Whole New Ballgame for Whole Grains," in the WaPo. I was baking out of Kim Boyce's recently published Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours, which represents a kind of culinary watershed in whole grain baking, because she takes a dozen underused grains from amaranth to teff in entirely new directions. 

But Boyce, a former pastry chef at Spago and Campanile in Los Angeles, does not shy away from butter. Now I like butter, but in baking muffins, scones, pancakes and waffles steadily for about three weeks, I was eating a lot of the stuff. (Yes, it adds incomparable flavor to baked goods). I was also eating more sugar than I usually do, though Boyce relies on dark sweeteners like brown sugar and unsulphured molasses, though does not shy away from white sugar when needed. Here's the nutritional information for the rather large-size whole wheat chocolate chip cookie pictured above: 240 calories, 7 grams saturated fat. And yes, it tastes phenomenal.

Cookie So does this defeat one of the oft-stated purposes of whole grains, which is to boost the health quotient in your diet? As we know, whole grains add fiber, minerals, antioxidents and vitamins, most of which are lost in refined white flour.

I have two thoughts about this. Yes, the added saturated fat and sweeteners do reduce the health  of the baked good. On the other hand, they do end up higher on the health spectrum than a baked good made with white flour, butter and white sugar. And this is especially true of baked goods that you buy in the store, which I often find are far more loaded with sugar than these recipes

But, more importantly, consider the purpose of Boyce's exercise. She wasn't aiming to make a health cookie. As I wrote in the article, "Although purists might bristle at her use of white flour, butter and sugar, it's important to remember that Boyce is not aiming for low-fat and sugar-free. She is aiming for taste: a new kind of taste arising from these under-used grains." And that emphasis on taste may open the uninitiated to the flavors of these grains.

The bottom line -- these pastries are delicious, the kind of thing you'd make on the weekend or a special occasion. The carrot muffin would be a slam dunk on Mother's Day, for example. But there are healthier ways to get whole grains, through porridges and breads that  Boyce also dabbles with in the book. Another direction, try the risottos or salads or stews that Lorna Sass has in Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way. It also includes good basic information on cooking whole grains. 

I consume whole grains largely through breads, made with a mix of flours, water, salt and yeast or sourdough starter. But I often make barley risotto (high in soluble fiber) and usually have cooked whole grains in the refrigerator that can be easily added to a salad. I'm also starting to experiment with sprouted whole grains. And I'll be posting on a spelt pizza dough recipe so check back soon.

By the way, I was also thrilled that my friend Barry Estabrook (aka Politics of the Plate) was right next to me in the food section. He just won a well-deserved Beard Award for his story on slavery in Florida's tomato fields

- Samuel Fromartz