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    Wheat Berries: The Perfect Survival Food

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    Wheat Berries: The Perfect Survival Food

    Wheat berries are the entire edible part of wheat kernels which are essentially the seeds of wheat. Each kernel consists of the germ, the bran, and the endosperm.

    Wheat berries are exceptionally high in protein, B-vitamins and, minerals. They also have an exceptional shelf-life of up to 30 years if stored properly.

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    Wheat Berries Explained

    Wheat Berries Close Up

    The endosperm is about 83% of the kernel’s weight. It’s basically the stuff in the middle of a wheat kernel and contains the greatest share of iron, protein, carbohydrates, and soluble fiber, as well as B-vitamins such as riboflavin and niacin.

    Bran is about 14% of the kernel weight and contains a small amount of protein, trace minerals, and dietary fiber.

    Germ is about 2.5% of the kernel weight and contains a greater share of B-complex vitamins and trace minerals. Wheat germ is sometimes purchased separately for its dietary benefits.

    Collectively, these 3 parts of a wheat kernel or wheat berry make it one of the most nutritionally dense foods we can eat. Unfortunately, most of these nutrients are reduced or removed after heavy commercial milling and processing. The result is the flour we buy at the grocery store and while it still has nutritional value it’s a far cry from the nutrient density of a wheat berry.

    Wheat Berry Nutrition Facts

    (General nutrition information, for a quarter cup serving of wheat berries (48g) provided by the USDA).

    • Calories: 170
    • Fat: 1.5g
    • Sodium: 0g
    • Carbohydrates: 32g
    • Fiber: 4g
    • Sugars: 0g
    • Protein: 9g
    • Zinc: 2.3mg
    • Iron: 2.2mg
    • Magnesium: 60mg

    A Surprising Shelf-Life

    Whole wheat berries can be stored for 30 years if packaged and stored properly. The most popular package is a large Mylar bag that is hermetically sealed. Sealed 25-gallon pails are another option.

    The best storage location is a cool, dark space. Because of the long shelf-life and the high nutrient density of wheat berries they are a standard if not critical addition to any long-term food storage stockpile.

    They can be purchased at larger grocery stores or through Amazon but take note of the packaging if you are intending to store for the long-term. Amazon may offer the most options in terms of packaging and bulk orders.

    Wheat 101

    There are numerous varieties of wheat, some with exotic names like Einkorn, Kamut and Spelt, but on a basic level there are 6 general types:

    1. Hard red winter wheat grows in the fall, and is ready for harvest the following spring. Full-flavored hard red winter wheat is the primary grain used for whole grain and whole wheat blends as well as all-purpose flours, making it a great fit for rustic breads like sourdough.
    2. Soft red winter wheat maintains all the flavorful characteristics of the hard variety, but is far easier to mill and results in a finer “soft” texture that’s best for products like cookies, crackers, and cakes.
    3. Hard red spring wheat has a high gluten content making it ideal for breads and pastries like croissants and any dough that rely on a texture with some elasticity, like pizza dough. Hard red spring varieties are typically grown in the spring throughout the northern reaches of the U.S. and Canada and ready to harvest in the fall.
    4. Hard white wheat has a lighter in kernel color with a sweeter, more subtle flavor than hard red wheat. Hard white wheat is typically milled whole, preserving its moderate protein and nutrient content. This type of wheat is used to make tortillas, pan breads, and some noodles.
    5. Soft white wheat is the go-to grain for crumbly pastries and snack foods. Most cake and pastry flours are composed of soft white wheat—which is not denoted by season like the others. It has less protein and gluten than the red wheat’s but is ideal when baking powder or baking soda is the leavening agent.
    6. Durum wheat is sometimes known as “pasta wheat.” It’s the hardest of all the wheat strains.

    Recipes

    The obvious uses for wheat leads to flour and various baked goods. But there’s more to wheat berries than bread alone and we’ll cover a range of wheat berry recipes that will take you from breakfast to lunch to dinner and dessert.

    One thing to always remember before you use any variety of wheat berry for cooking is to rinse them in a strainer or in a large pot until the water runs clear. There’s also some advice to sort through the berries to make sure there are no small stones in the mix.

    Given the proximity to the ground that wheat grows and the large machines sometimes used for harvesting, there’s always a possibility that a stone will find its way into the harvest bin.

    Wheat Berry Flour

    Let’s start with the basics and get into making flour from wheat berries.

    All 6 types of wheat berry can be made into flour. A flour mill, either electric or hand-cranked, is your best bet.

    Wheat Berry Flour

    A food processor or blender can be used in a pinch but the standard result from either will be a coarser flour.

    Food Processor Up Close

    If you want a genuine flour with a powder like consistency an electric or hand-cranked mill is the best way to go. Use the grinding stones for a fine flour.

    Flour Mill With Stone Grinders

    If you want a coarse flour with your mill, use the metal grinding plates.

    Flour Mill With Metal Plates

    Freshly Milled Flour Has a Short Shelf-Life

    One thing to keep in mind is to only mill the flour you’re going to use in the next day or two. You can store any flour you mill but you have to remember, this is raw flour with all of the components of the kernel and it’s the wheat germ that often will spoil or turn rancid quickly.

    Don’t go into mass production assuming you can store your milled wheat berries for long periods. Mill your berries as you go and keep the whole berries for long-term storage.

    Red Versus White

    One other thing to always remember is the gluten content of different berries. Generally, red wheat berries have more gluten than white wheat berries. This is particularly important for any recipes using yeast.

    Yeast thrives on gluten and you’ll get a better result with red wheat berries when yeast is in the recipe. Save the white wheat berries for recipes that don’t call for yeast and use the red wheat berries for all of your breads. Speaking of bread…

    Cracked Wheat Berry Bread

    Cracked Wheat Berry Bread

    This is a classic and rustic bread recipe that combines both wheat berry flour and cracked wheat berries. You can crack the wheat berries by pulsing in a food processor or blender until you get small chunks of wheat or use a flour mill with the metal plates for a coarse grind. The chunks are softened after resting in 1 cup of boiling water before mixing and kneading.

    This recipe makes a one pound loaf. For a larger loaf, double the ingredients.

    Ingredients:

    • 1/2 cup (3.5 oz, 98g) cracked red winter wheat berries
    • 1 cup (8 oz, 240 ml) boiling water (to soften the cracked wheat berries)
    • 1/2 cup (4 oz 120 ml) warm water (for the dough)
    • 1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons, 7g) dry yeast
    • 2 cup (5 oz 140g) red winter wheat berry flour
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • 1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon of water for egg wash

    Directions:

    1. Combine the cracked wheat and boiling water and set aside until cooled and most of the water has been absorbed.
    2. In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl, combine the 1/2 cup of warm water with the yeast. Add 1/2 cup of wheat berry flour and mix to form a thick batter. Cover the bowl and let the batter rest for 30 minutes while the cracked wheat cools.
    3. With the mixer running on low, add the cooled cracked wheat along with the soaking water. Add the salt, honey and 1 cup of the wheat berry flour and continue to mix to combine.
    4. If using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook. Add the remaining cup of the wheat berry flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough gathers around the hook and cleans the sides of the bowl. (If working by hand mix in as much flour as you can then turn the dough out onto a floured surface and finish kneading in the flour by hand. Knead the dough for 2-3 minutes. Form the dough into a smooth ball).
    5. Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, turn once to coat the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 – 1 ½ hours. At this point the dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.
    6. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and gently knead for 5-10 seconds. Form the dough into a ball then roll the ends gently to form a circular shape. If you will be using a baking stone, set the loaf on a wooden peel sprinkled heavily with cornmeal. If you don't have a baking stone put the loaf on a sheet pan sprinkled heavily with cornmeal, lightly oiled with olive oil or lined with parchment paper.
    7. Cover the loaf with plastic wrap that has been lightly oiled or sprayed with baking spray to prevent it from sticking to the dough. Allow the loaf to rise about 1 – 1 1/2 hours until doubled in sized and the dough springs back slowly when poked. If the dough was cold from the refrigerator it may take longer to rise.
    8. Preheat the oven to 450°F, place a baking stone in the oven to preheat if you have one or place a pan on the bottom rack in the oven.
    9. Brush the surface of the bread with egg wash and slide the loaf onto the preheated baking stone in the oven or onto the baking sheet and place in the oven.
    10. Pour a cup of water into the preheated pan at the bottom of the oven.
    11. Bake until the loaf is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom (about 30 minutes).
    12. Cool and let rest on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

    Wheat Berry Salad

    Wheat Berry Salad

    You can add wheat berries to any kind of salad either as a topping or blending them into the dressing. It’s a great way to add a protein component to a vegetarian dish.

    Wheat Berry Balsamic Vinaigrette

    Ingredients:

    • ½ cup of wheat berries (any variety)
    • ½ cup of olive oil
    • ¼ cup or balsamic vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon of honey
    • 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
    • 1 shallot minced
    • 1 clove garlic minced
    • Salt and pepper to taste

    Directions:

    1. Soak the wheat berries in water for 2 hours in the fridge
    2. Whisk together all of the remaining ingredients in a bowl
    3. Add the wheat berries to the vinaigrette and let soak for 10 minutes

    Wheat Berry Salad Mix (or put together your own favorites)

    Ingredients:

    • 1 cup of broccoli florets
    • 1 cup of asparagus
    • 2 carrots sliced
    • 1 small onion sliced
    • ½ cup of whole pecans
    • ½ cup of raisins
    • ¼ cup of peanuts

    Directions:

    1. Slice the florets, asparagus and onions and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute and then shock in ice water
    2. Add the blanched vegetables to a bowl
    3. Pour wheat berry balsamic vinaigrette over the vegetables and toss
    4. Top the chopped ingredients with the raisins and the walnuts and serve

    Cream of Wheat Berry Cereal

    Cream of Wheat Berry Cereal

    This is a homemade version of the cream of wheat you buy in a box. You’ll notice it has a warm brown color as a opposed to the white color of commercially boxed cream of wheat. That’s because the whole wheat berries retain all of the ingredients in the kernel resulting in a more nutrient dense cereal.

    You’ll need to coarsely mill the wheat berries to start. You can do this automatically by using a food processor or blender. If using a mill, switch from the stone plates to the metal plates. The metal plates will give you the coarse grind you’re looking for rather than the fine flour you would get from the stone plates.

    Ingredients:

    • 4 cups of milk
    • 1 cup of coarse wheat from hard red wheat berries
    • 1 tablespoon of butter
    • Sugar or honey to taste

    Directions:

    1. Bring the milk to almost a boil
    2. Add the coarse wheat, butter & sugar
    3. Use a whisk to stir constantly until it reaches a thick consistency
    4. Add sweeter if you want and serve warm

    Wheat Berry Burgers

    Wheat Berry Burgers on Grill

    The high protein content of wheat berries makes them a natural for veggie burgers. This recipe combines some hummus (mashed chickpeas) to serve as a binder and plus up the protein. This recipe makes 6 burgers.

    Ingredients:

    • Olive oil
    • ½ small onion, chopped
    • ½ salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper
    • 2 cups cooked wheat berries, cooled
    • 1 sweet bell pepper diced
    • 2 tablespoons prepared hummus
    • 1 large egg

    Directions:

    1. Add 2 cups of whole red or white wheat berries to 6 cups of boiling water and reduce heat and simmer until berries have plumped and softened (about 30 to 90 minutes depending on the type of berry. White will be done sooner, red take longer).
    2. Drain the berries and set aside when plumped and softened.
    3. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a small skillet. Add onion, season with a pinch of salt and sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes; set aside to cool.
    4. Combine cooked onion, wheat berries, diced peppers, hummus, and egg in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Season with ¼ teaspoon each kosher salt and black pepper.
    5. Pulse until mixture is well combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times.
    6. Form mixture into 6 equal-sized patties (about ½ cup each). Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large skillet and cook for 5 minutes per side; transfer to a plate. You could also cook them on the grill or broil in the oven.

    Wheat Berry Pudding

    Wheat Berry Pudding

    If you like rice pudding you’ll love wheat berry pudding. It’s a similar concept and is great hot from the pot or cold out of the fridge for the next day. Maple syrup is used as a sweetener but you can substitute sugar or honey.

    Ingredients:

    • 1 cup wheat berries (any variety although soft, white wheat berries are best)
    • 2 tablespoons plus 3 cups low-fat milk, divided
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    • 1 strip orange zest, (1/2 by 2 inches)
    • Pinch of salt
    • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    Directions:

    1. Rinse the wheat berries. Place in a large heavy saucepan and add water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer, adding more water if necessary, until the wheat berries are tender, about 1 hour. Drain well.
    2. Place the wheat berries and 2 tablespoons milk in a food processor. Pulse, scraping down the sides as necessary, until most of the wheat berries are coarsely chopped (some may remain whole).
    3. Combine the chopped wheat berries, the remaining 3 cups milk, cinnamon stick, orange zest and salt in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often to prevent sticking, until the mixture is very thick, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat; discard the cinnamon stick and orange zest. Stir in maple syrup and vanilla.
    4. Serve warm or chilled, sprinkled with cinnamon or raisins if you like.

    And Yes, There’s More…

    Wheat Berry Biscuits

    Beyond the recipes we’ve covered are many other meal possibilities for wheat berries from sprouted wheat berries for salads and soups to cracked wheat biscuits, wheat berry pretzels, and even a wheat berry smoothie.

    The combination of protein and other nutrients plus its excellent shelf-life make wheat berries a solid staple that should be a part of any long-term food storage. Not only for everyday but that someday when it may be our only source of wheat. And by the way, you can plant them too in case you ever need to grow your own.

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