Today I want to talk about the health benefits of wheat berries. Modern wheat has a different structure than ancient grains, so it makes a big difference which one you use.

health benefits of wheat berries

Chewy, nutty, and oddly addictive, wheat berries found in any grocery store or health food stores deserve to emerge from their “hippie/granola” niche. These unprocessed whole wheat kernels offer consumers a chance to use them in three different ways: to cook as a grain, like rice; to sprout them for salads and cooked greens, or to grind them into flour. Feel free to use most wheat and grain berries interchangeably when making cooked recipes and for sprouting. Their differences become crucial only when you grind them for baking.

Both red and white soft wheat berries contain less protein and more carbohydrates than hard wheat berries. Cook them at a ratio of 3 cups liquid for every 1 cup grain. Soak them overnight and cook for 1 hour, or leave un-soaked and cook them for 2 hours. Soft white wheat berries, once ground, make suitable flour for pastries, pancakes, and other sweet cooking and baking recipes. Soft wheat berries, either white or red, can be used for everything from a cold salad or a warm, sweetened breakfast alternative to oatmeal.

Both red and white hard wheat berries take longer to cook than soft wheat berries; experiment with cooking times to determine your preferred texture. In general, hard wheat berries are much chewier than their soft counterparts. As with soft berries, cook 1 cup of berries to 3 cups of liquid.

Higher in gluten than other wheat berries, red wheat berries make ideal pizza and whole-grain bread when a ground for flour. Commercial bread makers, in fact, use the hard red wheat variety almost exclusively in the manufacture of 100 percent whole-wheat bread. Hard white wheat berries, however, are no less nutritious. They offer the baker a rare opportunity to make fresh “white bread,” which is actually a whole-wheat bread that tastes somewhat sweeter than that made with red hard wheat berries.

Wheat berries offer numerous health benefits:

  • The bran part of the wheat kernel is high in fiber. A diet high in fiber can help with digestion and regular bowel movements. Fiber also helps in preventing constipation and can be beneficial in managing weight as it makes you feel fuller for a longer time.
  • Wheat berries are packed with essential nutrients such as vitamins (like B vitamins), minerals (like manganese, selenium, and phosphorus), and antioxidants. These nutrients are crucial for a variety of bodily functions and help in maintaining good health.
  • Consuming whole grains like wheat berries is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
  • The complex carbohydrates in wheat berries are broken down more slowly than refined grains, which helps to prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. This can be particularly beneficial for people with diabetes or those at risk of developing the condition.
  • The antioxidants and other bioactive compounds found in whole grains like wheat berries may reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as certain cancers and type 2 diabetes.
  • The fiber content in wheat berries can help in weight management by promoting satiety and reducing overall calorie intake as well as helping to lower cholesterol levels. Fiber also acts as a prebiotic, feeding the beneficial bacteria in your gut. This can help promote a healthy balance of gut flora, which is important for digestion and immune function.
  • Wheat berries contain a good amount of protein for a grain, which can be particularly beneficial for those following vegetarian or vegan diets.
  • The minerals like phosphorus and manganese present in wheat berries contribute to the maintenance and formation of healthy bones.

When incorporating wheat berries into your diet, it is important to remember moderation, especially if you are monitoring your carbohydrate intake. Additionally, people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid wheat berries as they contain gluten.

a jar with wheat berries in it next to other jars of grains

What are wheat berries?

Each wheat berry kernel consists of three parts:

  1. Bran: The outer shell that protects the seed. It’s high in fiber, which can aid in digestion and provide other health benefits.
  2. Germ: The embryo, which has the potential to sprout into a new plant. It’s packed with nutrients, including B vitamins, protein, healthy fats, and minerals.
  3. Endosperm: The largest part of the kernel, it provides energy to the germ. It is primarily composed of carbohydrates and also contains protein.

Wheat berries are small and slightly elongated, with a chewy texture and nutty flavor when cooked as in they are in this homemade cereal. They can vary in color from reddish-brown to tan, depending on the variety of wheat from which they are harvested.

Because they are in their most whole and natural state, wheat berries retain more nutrients than more processed forms of wheat, such as flour. They are often used in salads, soups, stews, and can be ground into whole-wheat flour for baking. We use ancient grain wheat berries in our home because the hybridization of wheat has added a lot more gluten and taken away some of the benefits. We keep the theory that the closer food is to how your great grandparents ate growing up, the better the food, or the close it is to the way God created it the better. We aim for a whole food diet that consists of real, healthy, unprocessed food.

Wheat berries are a versatile grain and can be used in a variety of culinary applications. They can be cooked by boiling or simmering in water or broth, similar to rice or other grains. Additionally, sprouted wheat berries are often used for their added nutritional benefits. Sprouting wheat gives it a number of benefits and reduces the anti nutrient properties that particularly modern wheat has. We’ll talk more about those a little later.

It’s important to note that wheat berries contain gluten, so they are not suitable for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities.

Is wheat healthy?

Wheat, particularly in its whole form, can be a healthy addition to the diet for most people. However, like any food, it should be consumed in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. Here are some factors that can influence the healthfulness of wheat:

  • Whole vs. Refined: Whole wheat contains the bran, germ, and endosperm, and is richer in nutrients and fiber compared to refined wheat, which has had the bran and germ removed. Whole wheat can have various health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, while refined wheat is less nutritious.
  • Nutrient Content: Whole wheat is a good source of essential nutrients including B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium. Additionally, it is high in fiber which can aid in digestion and help in managing weight.
  • Gluten Content: Wheat contains gluten, a protein that can cause adverse reactions in some individuals. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity should avoid wheat in all forms as it can cause a range of symptoms from gastrointestinal distress to more serious health issues.
  • Glycemic Index: Whole wheat has a lower glycemic index compared to refined wheat, meaning it causes a slower rise in blood sugar levels. This can be beneficial for managing blood sugar levels, particularly for individuals with diabetes.
  • Anti-Nutrients: Wheat contains phytates, which are considered anti-nutrients because they can bind to minerals and reduce their absorption. However, the impact of phytates on health is still a subject of research and they may also have some health benefits.

Einkorn wheat berries

Einkorn wheat berries come from Einkorn wheat, which is one of the earliest forms of cultivated wheat. The term “einkorn” is German for “one grain” because each spikelet on the plant contains only one grain, unlike modern wheat varieties which have multiple grains per spikelet. Einkorn is considered an ancient grain and is believed to have been first domesticated over 10,000 years ago.

Einkorn wheat berries have several distinctive characteristics and potential health benefits:

  1. Einkorn wheat is generally higher in protein and nutrients such as vitamins and minerals compared to modern wheat varieties. It is particularly rich in carotenoids, which are powerful antioxidants.
  2. Einkorn wheat contains gluten, but the gluten structure is different from that of modern wheat. Some individuals who are sensitive to modern wheat find that they can tolerate einkorn better, but it is still not suitable for people with celiac disease.
  3. Einkorn is a diploid wheat, meaning it has two sets of chromosomes. Modern wheat varieties typically have more complex chromosome structures, which some suggest may contribute to the increasing rates of gluten sensitivity.
  4. Some studies suggest that einkorn wheat may have a lower glycemic index compared to modern wheat, making it potentially more suitable for those managing blood sugar levels.
  5. Einkorn wheat berries have a rich, nutty flavor that is often considered more flavorful and complex compared to modern wheat.
  6. Einkorn wheat berries can be used in a variety of dishes, including salads, soups, and stews. They can also be milled into flour and used for baking bread and other products.
  7. Einkorn wheat is often more resilient and adaptable to diverse and harsh environmental conditions compared to modern wheat varieties. This can make it a more sustainable option in some areas.
  8. Einkorn wheat is also more likely to be glyphosate-free because most of it is grown in Italy where glyphosates are banned. Glyphosates are in chemical sprays such as Roundup.

Wheat berries vs farro

Wheat berries and farro are both whole grains that are often used in similar culinary applications. However, there are differences between the two in terms of origin, nutritional content, and texture. Here’s a comparison:

  1. Origin and Types:
    • Wheat Berries: These are whole wheat kernels and can come from various types of wheat, including hard red wheat and soft white wheat.
    • Farro: Farro refers to three ancient wheat species – einkorn (farro piccolo), emmer (farro medio), and spelt (farro grande). Emmer is the most commonly used type of farro.
  2. Nutritional Content:
    • Wheat Berries: Typically high in fiber, protein, and various vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. The exact nutritional content may vary depending on the variety of wheat.
    • Farro (particularly emmer): Similar to wheat berries in nutritional content but usually considered to have a slightly higher content of certain nutrients such as antioxidants. Farro is also high in fiber, and complex carbohydrates.
  3. Texture and Taste:
    • Wheat Berries: They have a chewy texture and a slightly nutty flavor. They retain their shape well when cooked.
    • Farro: Farro has a somewhat chewier texture compared to wheat berries and has a nuttier and earthier flavor. The grains are plumper and often considered to have a more complex taste.
  4. Cooking Time:
    • Wheat Berries: Generally take longer to cook, often requiring around 45 minutes to an hour of simmering.
    • Farro: Depending on the type of farro and whether it’s pearled (bran partially removed), semi-pearled, or whole, the cooking time can range from 15-40 minutes.
  5. Gluten Content:
    • Wheat Berries: Contain gluten and are not suitable for individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
    • Farro: Also contains gluten, so it is not suitable for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Like einkorn, emmer has a different gluten structure which some people find more tolerable than modern wheat, but it still contains gluten.
  6. Availability and Cost:
    • Wheat Berries: Generally more widely available and often less expensive than farro.
    • Farro: Might be slightly less common and could be a bit more expensive, especially if labeled as an “ancient grain.”

Both wheat berries and farro can be nutritious additions to a balanced diet and can be used interchangeably in many recipes.

whole grain pancakes on a plate garnished with berries and banana slices

What You Can Do With Wheat Berries

Whole wheat berries are hard, whole kernels of wheat that can be used in a variety of ways. Cooked wheat berries have a sweet, nutty flavor and a chewy crunchy texture and have essential amino acids. Organic wheat berries are high in fiber and protein and make a nutritious breakfast cereal full of healthy fats or a substitute for rice and potatoes. Wheat berries can also be sprouted and used in salads.

Combine 1 cup of berries with 3 cups of water in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil, and simmer for half an hour of cooking time. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for eight to 10 hours. Alternatively, you can cook the wheat berries in a slow cooker for two to three hours on high, turn off the heat, and let sit overnight. The wheat berries are now ready to use as hot cereal or in other recipes.

Reheat cooked wheat berries and add milk, fruit and nuts, brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup, and serve as a hot breakfast cereal that is similar to oatmeal.

Substitute 1/2 to 1 cup of cooked wheat berries for the bread crumbs in meatloaf or stuffed pepper recipes. You can also use them to replace rice or pasta in minestrone or other soups and stews. Toss cooked wheat berries with chopped onions, peppers, carrots, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar and chill to make a delicious salad or side dish. Vegetarians can use wheat berries as a meat substitute in chili recipes.

Sprouting Wheat Berries

Wheatberry sprouts, like alfalfa or other sprouts, can be a nutritious addition to salads, sandwiches, or stir-fries. To sprout wheat berries, place them in a jar and cover them with water. Soak overnight. Drain and rinse the berries, then return them to the jar, covering the opening with cheesecloth. Lay the jar on its side in a dark place for two to four days, rinsing and draining the berries once each day, until sprouts reach a length of 1 inch. Place the jar on a sunny windowsill for one day, then enjoy. That’s another one of the great health benefits of wheat berries.

For more ideas about things you can make with ancient grains, check these out: