Re-educate Your Palette to Flavorful Whole Grains

August 13, 2013 in Foodland, Nutrition, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

Some years ago, I enjoyed a conversation with a school food service director from the city in which my family and I lived. I’ve never forgotten her explanation of the challenges she faced in taking advantage of using the whole foods available from the USDA surplus school nutrition commodity program. She explained that when she made applesauce from the apples available from USDA, the children said it tasted like apples – and they did not like that flavor. Of course, the children were used to the overwhelming sweetness of highly sweetened applesauce; which often contains 5 teaspoons of sugar per serving. And when she made anything with whole wheat, the children said it tasted like something, and that something was yucky. They wanted the sugar-sweetened or salt-laden impact of white flour products. The point is that real food has flavor, it is not just sweet or salty, or crispy from cooked fat; it has flavors that come from the hundreds of nutrients in the food item, some subtle, some boldly vital, filling and nourishing over a much longer time. If you’re used to real whole foods, that flavor delivery is not only nourishing, but is extremely enjoyable. For those whose palette is not deadened by the harsh impact of sugar, salt, and fat, the nourishing flavors of whole healthy foods become desirable as the palette comes back to life.  It does so as (highly processed food) are reduced and replaced with whole foods. Having said that, I think many people are still having difficulty moving toward whole grains and are missing both the nutrition and the nutty, bold, unapologetic flavor of whole grains.

We had our biannual family reunion last month; I was somewhat stunned with the volume of processed grains that were offered. Highly processed grain in crackers, rice, breads, pasta, rolls, snacks, and cereals. Whenever we eat outside our home, I’m struck by the frequent indifference toward whole grains. I’m amazed that so many people continue to buy the processed grains, as it appears that the message of the benefits of whole grains has been clearly delivered.  I guess I mostly wonder if people are just in the habit of purchasing processed products, or if they still don’t understand the benefit of using real whole food, as opposed to using the nutritionally impoverished or depleted processed grains. Lots of questions run through my mind; but the biggest are:

  • Is the public buying the concept that adding 5 nutrients (this is called “enriching” a white flour) to replace the seventeen-plus key nutrients that are removed during processing (not counting fiber) somehow makes processed grains equivalent to the whole grain?
  • Another question is the preparation of whole grains – does it scare people; are the family cooks worried about the potential for difficulty and/or longer cooking times?
  • Are people still having difficulty in identifying whole grains?

Yes, I’m wondering why the public is still eating so much processed white flour and rice. I know that so many of the public’s favorite foods are made from it; so processed grain products are a huge issue by themselves. If you’re in the mood for Goldfish crackers, it’s processed white flour in a profitable combination using cheap ingredients; it’s that simple. If you learn, the benefits of whole grains, you may want to consider committing to eating less processed foods. If you’ve been reading this blog for years, you know that I’ve written an abundance of material on the benefits of whole grains; it leads me to feeling perplexed about the seeming apathy of the public toward whole grains.

At our home, rice is almost always the ordinary inexpensive brown rice. We cook up a rice cooker batch and keep it in a plastic ware container; so when I’m ready to put the meal together, I put some refrigerated cooked rice into a covered bowl and microwave it. It takes about 3 or 4 minutes to have steaming hot brown rice. Once a week, the batch is cooked and so it’s ready to contribute to a fast meal. I share this because I believe that possibly some people haven’t switched to whole grain rice because it takes so much more time than processed white rice. I highly recommend making rice batch cooking as a worthy investment in a new habit. I know that there are more colors of rice than I could have ever imagined in my child raising years (red, black, purple, green, and yellow), during which time I served Uncle Ben’s Converted white rice. The parboiling of the converted rice saved some of the nutrients, but not the fiber and many of the nutrients. Moreover, quick white rice turns quickly into sugar in the bloodstream and does not last long to keep hunger pangs away. Plain but tasty brown rice has completely replaced all old white rice servings on our table.

Now, I also serve quinoa from time to time. It’s another whole grain, albeit a whole grain that delivers complete protein, with the nutrients and fiber of whole grains. It cooks quickly, so I’d have to say it’s only drawback is that the price is higher than many of the other whole grains.

It’s not a secret that the food processors have the ability to annoy me. The way that they use their well-developed skills of deceit in designing packages that project a pretense of whole grains, when in fact the item only has a very small portion of whole grains, is one of the issues that has long disturbed me. Knowing what the food processors do, you have a couple of options if you desire to eat whole grains; first, you can become expert in label reading or second, decrease or stop using highly processed grains.

There are many ways that you can assure yourself that you’re serving whole grains. In addition to brown rice and quinoa, use wheat berries. Wheat berries are nothing more than the entire whole-wheat grain, before grinding into flour. You can make many recipes using wheat berries. Wheat berries take about an hour to cook, so you can use the same batch cooking rice method as I described above. Keep in the fridge and heat when needed. Or if you don’t use them very often, you might want to freeze them, and defrost in the microwave when needed. You can crack them making bulgur or cracked wheat or you can grind them; then you know that no one has added or removed anything from your grain. You can use the cracked wheat or bulgur as a hot cereal, the same as you would oatmeal; or use it instead of rice, wild rice, quinoa or other grains in salads or other dishes.

Don’t forget pasta. Whole grain pastas are now quite excellent. They hold together much better than the early versions of whole grain pasta. Check the label carefully, however, some brands are not using whole grain exclusively. Look for the word, “whole.

Processed grains are the ones that should be doing the apologies; apologizing not only for the diminished nutrition, but also and especially for the loss of the fabulous flavor in whole grains. Once you become accustomed to whole grains, it is truly difficult to eat the profitable but flavor impoverished and nutritionally bankrupt white flour products.  It takes a bit of palette cleansing through turning away from the processed foods, coupled with repeated enjoyment of the whole grains, but it is worth it on at least three counts, flavors, nutritional power, and hunger reduction over longer times.