How To Cook Tender, Chewy Wheat Berries on the Stovetop

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Wheat berries are a versatile whole grain, full of vitamins and fiber, with a sweet, nutty taste and a delightful chewy texture.  They can take a fair amount of time to cook (up to 50 minutes or more), so making a big batch in the beginning of the week and storing it in the refrigerator is both a smart idea and a great  beginning to many quick, healthy meals throughout the week

Read on for more about wheat berries and an easy method for turning them into a delicious and healthy refrigerator staple.

Wheat Berry Salad with Blood Oranges, Feta & Red Onion Vinaigrette

Are wheat berries the same as farro? Or spelt?
One of the most confusing things about wheat berries is that they are easily mixed up with other whole grains like farro and spelt.  This is understandable because they are all varieties of wheat, and since they are composed of the bran, germ, and endosperm, they look the same, too.

Wheat berries are common wheat (Triticum aestivum) and can often be found in the bulk section of natural foods stores.  I purchased my wheat berries for this post at Whole Foods for $1.99 per pound, a significantly lower price point than farro, which is often imported and can run as high as $15 per pound. The bin was labeled hard red winter wheat.  Be sure to get the whole variety and not the pearled which has been milled to remove the outer bran — this is a process that makes wheat berries quicker to cook but removes much of the fiber.

Do wheat berries need to be soaked?
A few (older) recipes recommend that you soak wheat berries before cooking in order to speed up the cooking time.  I experimented and discovered that it didn't make that much difference.  Sure, the pre-soaked wheat berries (soaked overnight for about 10 hours) cooked faster, but only by 10 minutes. I would say it's not worth the bother.

But do season them!
I have found that it really helps to toss warm wheat berries with at least a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt just after draining.  If your recipe calls for other ingredients in the dressing such as lemon or vinegar and garlic, add those as well. The grains will soak up this all this goodness and really pop with flavor when chewed.

Another trick I learned is to toast the berries for a few minutes before cooking to encourage their nuttiness.  (I got this from Camino, a restaurant in Oakland, California.  More information here.)  Spread them out on a sheet pan and toast in a preheated 375°F oven for about 10 minutes, just until they brown a little.  This step is totally optional but a nice thing to do if you have the time.

Be flexible
The recipe below is based on cooking hard red winter wheat berries.  The specific kind of wheat berry you buy, as well as how old it is, will influence the cooking time.  Start checking your berries at about 30 minutes and keep checking every five minutes after that until they reach a tender, yet chewy consistency.  If you have pearled or semi-pearled varieties, it will definitely be less time.  Start checking those at 15-20 minutes.

How To Cook Tender, Chewy Wheat Berries

Approximately 3 cups

What You Need

Ingredients
1 cup wheat berries
Salt
Olive oil (optional)

Equipment
Measuring cups
Baking tray (optional)
2-quart sauce pan with lid
Strainer
Bowl for tossing (optional)

Instructions

  1. Toast the wheat berries (optional). Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Spread the wheat berries on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until lightly colored and aromatic.
  2. Cook on the stovetop.  Transfer the wheat berries into a sauce pan and add 3 cups of water and a big pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cover the pan.
  3. Check for doneness.  At about 30 minutes, start checking for doneness by scooping out a few berries and carefully tasting after they've cooled a bit.  They should be chewy but not tough. If not quite done, continue cooking and check the wheat berries every 5 minutes. You may need to cook them up to 25 minutes longer depending on the exact variety of wheat berry you purchased and their age.
  4. Drain.  Drain the berries in the strainer and transfer to a bowl.  Toss with a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt.
  5. Store in refrigerator.  If not using right away, store the cooked wheat berries in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week.  Gently reheat in a frying pan over low heat until hot, or serve at room temperature.

Recipe Notes

  • Check the pot on occasion to be sure there is enough water.  Add more hot water as needed.
  • Farro is another wheat grain very similar to wheat berries. It is cooks just like wheat berries, but will require a shorter cooking time.  Start checking at 30 minutes.  Farro can be used interchangeably in recipes calling for wheat berries.

This post was requested by WendyMR for Reader Request Week 2013.

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(Images: Dana Velden)

Per serving, based on 2 servings. (% daily value)
Calories
278
Fat
1.3 g (2%)
Saturated
0.2 g (1.2%)
Carbs
62.4 g (20.8%)
Fiber
10.5 g (42%)
Sugars
0.3 g
Protein
8.7 g (17.4%)
Sodium
1.7 mg (0.1%)

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