Major kernels

Not all products that state so on their package are truly whole grain. Here is what whole grain really means.

Whole grain kernels (photo credit: MCT)
Whole grain kernels
(photo credit: MCT)
After my introduction to hand-ground whole wheat bread at age 13 by my Gemara teacher, I cajoled my parents into buying me a hand-cranked flour mill as a bar-mitzva present and set about grinding my own flour and baking wholewheat bread. Only while sweating over the wheat kernels as they tediously ground did I begin to grasp the complexity of our basic food, the staff of life – bread. This hands-on experience prompted me to delve further into its secrets, a study that has continued to this day.
Of the five major grains that are commonly ground into flour (wheat, rye, spelt, barley and oats), wheat is most commonly used due to its high concentration of gluten, a protein that gives bread its unique structure and texture. Most bread today is made from wheat flour, while the other grains remain marginal or specialty markets.
Despite their slightly different chemical composition, the major grains have a similar physical structure. They are all covered by a hard outer skin called the pericarp. At the base of each kernel we find the germ and the central portion, which make up the majority of the grain’s volume, called the endosperm.
The pericarp is a protective layer preserving the inner components of the grain, facilitating lengthy storage periods. When it is ground, the pericarp is fragmented into small pieces commonly known as bran. Bran has a very important function in the digestive system, providing dietary fiber which slows the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream, like a slow-release valve. This is very important for diabetics, for example, as it slows the rate of sugar absorption into the blood (glycemic index). For the rest of us, it provides an extended feeling of fullness and prevents overeating.
The germ is the nerve center, or nucleus, of the grain. You have probably heard of wheat germ, the germ from the wheat kernel. It is from this point that the kernel sprouts when planted and contains the highest concentration of vitamins (especially B-complex), minerals and oils. It is definitely the healthiest part of the grain but also the most problematic, logistically speaking, because unless refrigerated (after being ground and exposed to oxygen), it quickly becomes rancid. For this reason, is it vital to store whole-grain flour in the refrigerator.
The endosperm makes up the majority of the kernel and consists mainly of starch, with a small quantity (less than 15 percent) of protein.
When the grains are milled in modern industrial mills, the various portions of the kernel are separated by sifting. The most common type of flour, white flour, contains only finely ground endosperm. Commercial whole-grain flour has a small portion of bran added back into the white flour, but less than the natural ratio in the original kernel. The germ is omitted in commercial whole-grain flour altogether because it requires refrigeration. True whole-grain flour, containing all the portions of the kernel in their original, natural ratios, can usually be found only in health stores and needs to be refrigerated.
Since the Industrial Revolution, white flour has become the most widespread type of flour. The omission of the germ and the bran allows manufacturers to extend shelf life and provide more aerated, puffed-up baked goods. The bran in the flour acts like 1,000 little “knives” that cut and damage the fragile gluten structure and result in a lower bread volume. Ethnic and religious prejudices have also contributed to the predominance of white flour, equating whiteness with “purity.”
Unfortunately, by removing the bran and/or the germ from the flour and producing bread, the world staple, from that flour, we are depriving the masses of basic, vital nutrients and dietary fiber in their diets. This has resulted in a decline in world health and an increase in obesity. The value of whole-grain flour was recognized as far back as Maimonides, who recommended that all bread be made only with it.
Recently there has been a growing return to whole-grain products as health awareness increases. However, because the public is largely uninformed, many so-called whole-grain products proliferate that are not truly whole grain, such as including a small amount of bran but no germ. For many, simply seeing the words “whole grain” on a label satisfies their conscience. It is important to delve a little deeper (hopefully this article will help) to weed out the “wheat” from the “chaff” and find reliable vendors who sell authentic whole-grain products if you really want to improve your health.
100% Whole-Wheat Bread
✔ 3¼ cups whole wheat flour ✔ 1¼ cups water ✔ 1½ tsp. instant powdered yeast ✔ 2 tsp. salt
Mix all ingredients until fully incorporated and let stand for 15 minutes. Knead for 15 minutes, stopping for breaks in the middle. Shape into oval loaf and place in loaf pan. Leave to rise for 2 hours. Bake in 240º oven for 35 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack.
For a more complex flavor, add 2 Tbsp honey.
Master baker Les Saidel, originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Ginot Shomron with his wife, Sheryl, and four children. He is the owner of Saidels Bakery (, specializing in hand-made, organic health breads and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health.