Tag Archives: grain

Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and palaeo-romanticism

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hariri is one of those grand, sweeping books that skips deftly between disciplines and gets you thinking in equal measure. Its title may recall Hawking’s Brief History of Time but a more salient comparison might be Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, Steel.

The book is subtitled ‘A Brief History of Humankind’, but it’s Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution that really interests me – not unsurprisingly given my interest in grain-based foods.

In my Anglo-centric education, the term “The Agricultural Revolution” was used to refer to the changes in British farming in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Harari is looking at a much bigger picture though: the Neolithic (new stone age) Agricultural Revolution. The period when Homo sapiens made the transition from hunter gatherers, foragers, to cultivators, agriculturalists.

The received wisdom is that learning to farm freed up humanity from the dirty primitivism of the forager lifestyle. Harari, thrillingly, turns this on its head. It wasn’t a liberation, he posits, but an enslavement. Most specifically an enslavement to Triticum, the wheat genus. This includes that dietary bogeyman modern wheat, as well durum and their forebears spelt, emmer and einkorn.

“Scholars once proclaimed that the agricultural revolution was a great leap forward for humanity,” he writes. “They told a tale of progress fuelled by human brain power. Evolution gradually produced even more intelligent people. Eventually, people were so smart that they were able to decipher nature’s secrets, enabling them to tame sheep and cultivate wheat. As soon as this happened, they cheerfully abandoned the gruelling, dangerous, and often spartan life of hunter-gatherers, settling down to enjoy the pleasant, satiated life of farmers.”

“That tale is a fantasy. There is no evidence that people became more intelligent with time… Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. … The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.”

Not being an accomplished archaeo-anthropologist, I can’t contest this. It’s certainly a compelling theory.

Feeding humanity
Humans – the whole Homo genus – had been hunter gatherers for about 2.5 million years. Then, around 12,000 years ago, it all changed: “The transition to agriculture began around 9500-8500 BC in the hill country of south-eastern Turkey, western Iran, and the Levant.” Wheat and goats came first, around 9000BC, then peas and lentils, then olive trees, horses and by around 3500BC, grapevines.

“Even today, with all our advanced technologies, more than 90 per cent of the calories that feed humanity [my italics] come from the handful of plants that our ancestors domesticated between 9500 and 3500BC – wheat, rice, maize, potatoes, millet and barley”. For all our culinary flamboyance and seeming diversity today, he writes that “If our minds are those of hunter-gatherers, our cuisine is that of ancient farmers.”

Unnatural selection
If you think of living things as repositories of DNA, which they are designed to simply pass on as much as possible, then Triticum, other food grains and farmed animals, have overcome the literal process of natural selection and been given huge, unnatural leg-ups by modern humans.

In a nice little exercise Hariri says, “Think for a moment about the Agricultural Revolution from the viewpoint of wheat. Ten thousand years ago wheat was just a wild grass, one of many, confined to a small range in the Middle East. Suddenly, within a few short millennia, it was growing all over the world. According to the basic evolutionary criteria… wheat has become one of the most successful plans in the history of the earth…. Worldwide, wheat covers about 2.25 million square kilometres of the globe’s surface, almost ten times the size of Britain. How did this grass turn from insignificant to ubiquitous?”

No turning back
How indeed? Well, by the aforementioned enslavement. “Wheat did it by manipulating Home sapiens to its advantage. This ape had been living a fairly comfortable life hunting and gathering… but then began to invest more and more effort into cultivating wheat. Within a couple of millennia, humans in many parts of the world were doing little from dawn till dusk.”

Homo sapiens shifted from a wandering lifestyle and an omnivorous diet to a hard-working settled lifestyle and a grain-based diet. “By 8500BC, the Middle East was peppered with permanent villages such as Jericho, whose inhabitants spent most of their time cultivating a few domesticated species,” he says. “The average person in Jericho of 8500BC lived a harder life than the average person in Jericho of 9500BC of 13,000 BC.”

We may have invented writing (in Sumeria and Egypt by around 2500BC, China by 1200BC, Central America 1000-500BC) and culture, but, he suggests, Homo sapiens has been trapped ever since, with the escalation of commitments of the early agriculturalists still echoed today in the habit of needing to work more to earn more to afford more.

It’s fascinating, but the theory does seem to have a certain inherent palaeo-romanticism. Indeed, many people who feel stressed or adrift or lost in the rush that is modern life, the idea of sitting around chatting with your tribe, spending a few hours foraging, then sitting around some more, before moving on to a new spot where you’ve previously had good fortune with the foodstuffs is potentially appealing. I certainly do, despite my love of grain-based foods.

Thing is, we’re somewhat committed now.

Palaeo-schmalaeo
Arguably people today do indeed try to act out palaeo-romantic fantasies, notably with the so-called “paleo diet”. It really bugs me. I’m sorry, but Stone Age man didn’t have a shopping bag filled with chia berries, and lemons, and avocado, and beef, quinoa and kaniwa, stevia powder and fresh tomatoes. All that stuff’s from different continents and different seasons and, indeed, mostly wasn’t even available as a foodstuff yet in the Stone Age. He would have had a load of starchy roots one day, stripped a tree of fruit another, ground up some wild grains another, then maybe had a pig-out on mammoth or giant elk or a giant flightless bird, depending on where he lived, the season, knowledge and luck.

Am I being too literal? Yes. But gah, food faddism drives me mad, especially so in the paleo case as it’s so much the product of a pampered, wealthy, western culture. Sure, I agree wholehearted that one should avoid industrially processed foods and artificial sweeteners and beef from drug-pumped cattle standing in their own faeces in concentrated feed lots. But really – what happens when all 7.3 billion (World population clock) of us want to live on beef and seafood and year-round avocado? A serious acceleration of the environment crisis, that’s what, as such diets are heavily predicated on an inefficient oil economy.

We could not feed humanity without staples: grains and legumes. There’s still a place for whole grains and legumes – the staples of the Agricultural Revolution – in a balanced, realistic, healthy, minimally industrial diet.

That said, if we do destroy our own civilisation with greed and overconsumption, maybe Homo sapiens will be able to go back to being hunter-gatherers after all (if if we survive at all). Something for your grand-children to look forward to perhaps?

9 Comments

Filed under Discussion

Silo, Brighton: ardent principles and excellent food

Silo entrance crop

Not living in Brighton, I’m sometimes a little late to the party when new venues open. Not too late though – Silo opened in early October and I made it there yesterday. Apparently Fran was going to send me this Guardian article a while back, but forgot. So thanks to Rosie Swaffer for a reminder via her blog.

This is really my kind of place, but perhaps because it’s so in line with the sorts of food issues I’m interested in – such as non-industrial food, which they call “pre-industrial” – it makes me particularly critical. When I sat waiting for my food, which was slow-ish for an urban weekday lunchtime, I nitpicked. But most of the nitpicking in my notepad feels irrelevant now. The main criticism that lingers is how they use jars for drinks. Jars are for storage, they have lips and awkward necks. For drinks you need glasses and cups. I don’t think providing the right piece of kit for activity in question is a big compromise to the venue’s ardent principles. After all, they do give you knives and forks, not twigs or bits of pipe.

Flipping jars

But yes, Silo is a very principled place. Its founder and chef, Douglas McMaster, has tried to create a venue that overcomes much of that most monstrous of crimes in modern life: our wastefulness.

We are a shocking species. The garbage, much of it plastics, we produce and liberally sprinkle all over the environment is shameful. Last night was Bonfire Night here in Lewes, and while it was spectacular, and a wonderful traditional celebration, early this morning the town looked like a landfill site, thick with single use food and drink packaging. It’s truly horrible. How many tonnes of crap did the fiery party produce?

Modern society squanders resources like they’re going out of fashion, and restaurants are no exception. Indeed, they’re particularly bad, with food generally a commodity that’s both over-packaged and overly energy reliant. So it’s not just physical waste, food involves vast amounts of wasted energy too. McMaster is trying to tackle all this head on. Interestingly, a photographic exhibition in Lewes railway station features another café-restaurant that has a zero-waste policy – but it’s in the US. Silo may well be Britain’s first. Bravo.

Silo’s intentions greet you as you enter in a chalked up “mission statement”. As much as I dislike this kind of American corporate terminology, I wholehearted agree with the message of this one.

Mision statement

Of course, good intentions are all very well, but a restaurant is always going to be about the food, and the taste. Luckily, Silo comes through ably on this front, or at least it did on the strength of the lunch I had.

I really like the menu – it’s not overlong, indicating an emphasis on what’s in season, or available locally, or available at a reasonable energy cost. McMaster makes a point of serving the food and engaging with clients, and as I had both a chunk of their delicious bread, made from grain ground on site, and a risotto, I asked him about the source of their grains, as rice isn’t exactly a British crop.

Bread, recycled plastic trencher

He says that while utilising local produce as much as possible is important, it’s not the only deciding factor: they weigh things up and have to be realistic. A risotto needs rice. Orzotto is all well and good, but barley (which does grow in Britain) doesn’t cut it when you want the qualities of rice. He also made the point that while you could source an orange grown in Cornwall, it may well have required a higher energy footprint to grow and transport than one grown in the more suitable climate of southern Spain.

Risotto

As for that risotto, it was made with brown rice, and featured mushrooms that, McMaster said, were fruited on premises, downstairs (presumably a cellar). Its earthy, meaty flavours were offset with a tart salsa verde (featuring what the waitress called cilantro – that’s coriander in British English) and a blob of curd cheese. The umami was intense, perhaps because this was a fermented rice risotto. McMaster explained the rice was soaked then a locally made miso-type paste  was added. I said the maker of the paste sounded like a local version of Sandor Ellix Katz, the American fermented foods guru, and McMaster concurred, and also said they hoped to get Katz in for an event.

Fermentation is a time-honoured means of both preserving foods and making them more digestible and it’s something McMaster is clearly keen on as the menu, which is broken down into daily dishes in six categories (salad, “Plant”, “Dairy”, “Fish”, “Meat” and “Wild”) also featured fermented ramson (wild garlic) which, in an amusing twist of syntax “may contain shot”. I think they meant the partridge it was served with.

While the food was brilliant the language on the menu was a tad iffy, even containing a dreaded grocer’s apostrophe. Another minor criticism – when I asked the very friendly and attentive waitress a few questions about where ingredients came from, she wasn’t sure. I would say that a venue where provenance is so important should brief the waiting staff a bit better.

Silo bread

Overall, this really was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. I despair sometimes, having lived in Rome then returned to small-town England. Getting great food in the former was easy, getting it in the latter is a challenge. Lewes is pretty rubbish for eating out but hopefully I can get to Silo whenever we visit Brighton. Tomorrow, perhaps. So much more to try on the menu, especially as it changes daily, depending on what’s readily available.

Talking of which, I drank  apple juice, made not just with English apples but apples from Stanmer Park, on the edge of Brighton. Earlier in the day I’d been in the supermarket trying to find apple juice made with English apples, which have been cascading off the trees here the past few months. There was none. I truly hope Silo succeeds, and also succeeds in taking its place in the dialogue that encourages a move away from this kind of absurdity, and a move away from the over-packaged, energy squandering, largely industrial, frequently toxic “food” we seem all too happy to accept in Britain.

Silo interior

Info:
39 Upper Gardner Street, Brighton BN1 4AN
silobrighton.com | twitter.com/Silo_Brighton | instagram.com/silobrighton
contact@silobrighton.com | 0330 3352368

3 Comments

Filed under Restaurants etc

Italian flour: types and terminology

A selection of flours

Today’s bread is being made with farina di farro biologica from the Coop supermarket’s own brand, farina integrale di segale di agricoltura biologica from the Il Frantoio brand, and “Setaccio” farina semi-integrale di grano tenero from Mulino Marino. There really is no shortage of types of flour (farina) to experiment with here in Italy, if you’re into baking and bread-making. In fact, there so many flour varieties and variables it can be boggling.

Over the 20 months or so I’ve lived in Italy I’ve used many of them, but I still get confused. Previously, for example, I wrote about the various types of grain (and flour) known as farro to try and clarify what they were – as they’re often, erroneously, just translated into English as “spelt”. Here I hope to clarify a little more the other types of grain and flour you might encounter in Italy, or be able to buy as imports in other parts of the world.

Anyway.

Italian words for grains and more

A caveat – these are standard Italian words. There are doubtless a gazillion local dialect words as well, but let’s stay on target.

The wheat family:

The word grano (plural grani) means grain, though it’s frequently used as a synonym for wheat.
Frumento is the more specific word for wheat. In the modern world, wheat generally means bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), which accounts for 95% of global production.
Farro is name given to three, older members of the wheat family, “heritage grains”. Briefly it can refer to:
Farro piccolo (“small”) or farro monococco (Triticum monococcum) – that is, domesticated einkorn wheat, also known as enkir.
Farro medio (“medium”) or farro dicocco (Triticum dicoccum, aka Triticum turgidum var. dicoccon) – that is, emmer.
Farro grande (“large”) or farro spelta (Triticum spelta, aka Triticum aestivum var. spelta ) – that is, spelt. (Also known as dinkel.)

Grano turanicum – a name for Khorosan wheat (Triticum turanicum), another ancient grain type.
Kamut – the trade name for Khorasan wheat (Triticum turanicum).
Manitoba – the Italian name for bread flours with a higher percentage of protein, like what we’d call strong bread flour in the UK. It may or may not be from Manitoba province in Canada. Indeed, according to a blurb on a pack of Ecor brand flour, Manitoba flour is also known as farina americana.
Saragolla – another one I’ve encountered, which is proving tricky to identify with any real certainty. One Italian source says it’s similar Khorasan wheat (Triticum turanicum, but refers to it as Triticum polonicum, Polish wheat.

I’ve also seen things labelled with grano antico, which isn’t very helpful, as it could refer to any one of these ancient wheat species.

two old grains

Non-wheat cereals:
Avena is oats. Fiocchi di avena are oatflakes, or porridge oats.
Orzo is barley.
Miglio is millet.
Riso is rice.
Segale is rye.

Wholegrain rye flour

And not forgetting the that poster boy of industrialised, ecosystem-destroying, logical-economics-manipulating monocrop agriculture: maize (Zea mays), or corn: mais in Italian, also granone (“big grain”), granturco, granoturco and various other dialect names.

Polenta is, of course, made from maize, which arrived in Europe from the Americas in the 15th century, replacing earlier gruels made of orzo or emmer. Polenta (cornmeal) comes in various degrees of coarseness, some quite gritty, some more floury. You can also buy amido di mais, which what we’d call cornflour in the UK, or (more descriptively) corn starch in the US.

Other non-cereal flours you may encounter could be made from:
Amaranto – amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus).
Castagna – chestnut (used for Pane di San Martino).
Saraceno – buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). Buckwheat isn’t a member of the grass family like the above grains. Instead, it’s a member of the Polygonaceae family and related to things like rhubarb.

There are see flours made from legumes such as:
Ceci – chickpea (Cicer arietinum).
Lenticchia – lentil (Lens culinaris).
Soia – soya, soybean (Glycine max).

Marino closer

Other useful terms:
amido – starch.
biga – type of low hydration, firm preferment, which can made with a sourdough starter or commercial yeast.
biologico – organic, organically farmed or produced.
chicco – grain (also bean, pellet, bead), eg chicco di grano, grain of wheat
crusca – bran.
germe – germ, eg germe di grano.
glutine – gluten.
integrale – wholegrain, eg farina di segale integrale.
lievito – yeast, raising agent.
lievito madre – “mother yeast”, meaning a natural leaven or sourdough culture.
lievitare – to rise, to raise, to grow (with a raising agent).
lievito naturale – natural leaven or sourdough.
macinata a pietra – stoneground. Always good, as it doesn’t damage the grain as much as modern milling with massive steel rollers, as such maintaining more nutrients and more flavour.
macinare – to mill (flour).
mulino – mill, eg uno mulino a vento is a windmill.
pagnotta – loaf.
pane – bread.
semi-integrale – semi-wholegrain. I’m not entirely sure what the preparation of such a flour involves – more sieving? Or blending?

Hard and soft

You’ll often see farina di grano duro and farina di grano tenero on packets of Italian flours. These translate as “hard wheat flour” and “soft wheat flour” (or, more literally, as “hard grain flour” and “tender grain flour”), but shouldn’t be confused with what we consider “hard” wheat in English, which is generally a higher protein bread flour.

Farina di grano duro is flour milled from the wheat species Triticum durum (aka Triticum turgidum var. durum), with durum and duro meaning “hard” in Latin and standard Italian respectively. Triticum durum is most commonly used for making pasta. It is the second most significant type of wheat grown globally, accounting for about 5% of production. It is ground into products of varying coarseness:
Farina di grano duro – the finest, most floury
Farina di semola – a slightly coarser flour
Semolina – the coarser middlings and yes, the stuff used for old-fashioned British puddings, (though the term is also used generically to refer to other wheat middlings).

Farina di grano tenero is flour milled from a subspecies of the wheat species Triticum aestivum, the most commonly cultivated strain of this useful grass. Also known as bread wheat. In Italy, it generally has a medium protein percentage, around 12%, though it can vary greatly. As with farina di grano duro, it is milled into products of varying degrees of coarseness, which is where the whole “00” thing comes into play. Read on…

Mulino Marino 00

Licensed to bake: the “00” system

When you see a flour graded as 00, it’s not a reference to a particular type of grain or species of wheat, it’s simply a reference to how finely the flour has been milled, and how much bran and germ has sieved out, and what sort of colour the flour is as a result.

The various types are: 00 (doppio zero, the finest grade), 0, 1, 2 (the coarsest grade, more akin to a meal). The coarsest grain is effectively integrale, that is, wholegrain.

Although 0 and 00 are commonly used for bread-baking, both are loosely interchangeable with British plain flour or US all-purpose flour. Indeed, if you look at the dark blue packet in the photo at the top of this page, the Barilla brand flour is labelled per tutte le preparazioni, which could be translated as “all-purpose”, and it’s a grano tenero 00.

The blurb on the side of a pack of ‘Ecor’ flour I mentioned above, also explains that il grado di raffinazione indica la quantità di farina ottenuta macinando 100kg di chicchi. Tanto più alto è questo indice tanto più grezza è la farina: the grade of refining indicates the quantity of flour obtained from grinding 100kg of grain. The higher the grade, the coarser the flour.”

Also, as the first table on this rather technical page indicates, the higher the grade, the higher the ash content and protein of the flour. Though these Italian flours are all still fairly low protein, between 9% and 12%, and different grains would give different results – that is, this table’s data has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

And the rest

I’ve probably missed all sorts of pertinent things, but can add them as and when I encounter them. For specific types of Italian bread and baked goods, I may mention them elsewhere on the site. In the meantime, if, like me, you’re into baking and an English-speaking learning Italian (there must be a few of us in that demographic out there), I hope this has been useful.

Pandi Sempre

Love this spiel “This flour recounts the (his)story of cereal crops. It’s composed of the most ancient grain, Enkir, of farro, and of a careful selection of soft wheats, all naturally stone-ground without the addition of additives or ‘improvers’. Thanks to its varied composition, it’s ideal for every use.”

82 Comments

Filed under Discussion, Flour & grain

Absurdly wholesome multigrain, multiseed bread

Multigrain, multiseed wholesome bread
I had a load of cooked farro grains left over, and needed some bread, so this came into being. It wasn’t an entirely happy experience. The dough was very moist and sticky, and I’ve really lost my moulding mojo recently, so there was a bit of a (one-man) scene in the kitchen. Then it didn’t really have much in the way of oven spring*, hence the slightly sad shape. BUT, and here’s the important thing, it tastes great.

It’s a ridiculously wholesome loaf that would make a spongey British “Granary” go and hang its head in shame. It’s firm, moist, with a good crust and eminently satisfying to bite. Great with cheese or for a peanut butter sarnie.

And yes, I might be a food blogger based Rome, but this isn’t a Roman bread. I made it up, in part inspired by Dan Lepard‘s Five-grain loaf (in The Handmade Loaf). As Mr Lepard spent a lot of time in Italy learning his trade, I suspect he took his inspiration for that loaf in part from Italian multicereali (multigrain) breads. So this is a distant cousin to, say, the wonderful multicereali that you can get from Roscioli, or the multicereali I got last week from the Testaccio Ex-Mattatoio farmers market, which the baker called Pane di brigante. He explained he called it that as his area, in the hills south of Rome, used to be full of brandits, brigands.

As I made it up on the fly, these quantities can’t pretend to be exact. You want a nice moisty dough, but don’t get yourself in a lather (like I did). If it feels too wet, add some more flour. And use whatever seeds you have to hand.

400g cooked spelt grains (Dry grain simmered in water until soft, then drained – reserving the cooking water. I used farro perlato.)

Mix in a large bowl:
300g white spelt flour. I used stoneground organic farina di farro bianco.
300g fine durum wheat flour. I used a stoneground organic farina di grano duro.
10g sea salt

Combine in another bowl:
15g fresh yeast, crumbled
100g leaven (100% hydration. I’ve done it with leavens fed on emmer, spelt or modern wheat)
50g honey
350g grain cooking water (tepid, not hot), made up with ordinary water if necessary

Combine in small bowl and add a little water (to soften):
20g linseed (broken up slighty with a pestle and mortar or in a coffee grinder)
20g  poppyseeds
20g  sunflower seeds
20g pumpkin seeds
20g sesame seeds

1 Make the dough by adding the ferment (yeast, water, leaven etc) to the flours and salt mix.
2 Mix well with a spatula or spoon, then turn out on to worksurface.
3 Knead until well combined.
4 Stretch the dough, add the grain and seeds.
5 Fold over the dough, then gently kneed again to combine the grain and seeds.
6 Adjust the dough if it’s too wet or indeed too dry by adding more flour or liquid accordingly.
7 Form into a ball, then leave to rest in a bowl covered with a moist tea towel.
8 After 10 minutes, give it another knead.
9 Rest another 10 minutes.
10 Give it another gentle knead.
11 Return to the bowl, cover and prove until doubled in volume.
12 Turn out the dough, and press it out to equalise the gas pockets. (We always called this “knocking back” in British baking, but that encourages unnecessary violence towards your tender dough.)
13 Weigh dough and divide into two equal portions, each around 850g.
14 Shape each portion into a ball, then leave to rest for 10 minutes, covered.
15 Shape as you like. I was planning batons, but after my tantrum I went with the easy option: tin loaves.
16 Preheat oven to 220C.
17 Prove again until ready to bake: the dough should be wobbly, plump and soft.
18 Brush with beaten egg, sprinkle with seeds. Cut along the length (my cut was pathetic).
19 Bake 20 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200C.
20 Remove from the tins then retun to the oven for another 10 minutes or so. (As the dough was damp, and contained the moist farro grains, I reasoned it could do with a little more time to bake through.)
21 Cool on a wire rack.
22 Enjoy.

(Part of the reason I’m pleased with this one is that it reminds me of the bread made by my friend and sometime cooking mentor Nadia, all the way over there in New Zealand. It looks quite similar to her bread, and even tastes similar despite the distance and different provenance of the ingredients. Arohanui to Nadia and all the Aotearoa whanau!)

Addendum
Making this again today, 6 February 2013, and noticed a few errors, now amended. I also thought it was about time I added bakers’ percentages. So here we go.

Note, the seeds are soaked in water to soften them slightly, but I think the amount is negligible so I’ve not factored it in.

Basic percentages (ie not factoring in the leaven composition)

Ingredient Weight Bakers’ percentage
Spelt grains 400g 67%
Flour 600g 100%
Salt 10g 1.7%
Fresh yeast 15g 2.5%
Leaven (at 100%) 100g 17%
Honey 50g 8.3%
Water 350g 58%
Linseeds 20g 3.3%
Poppyseeds 20g 3.3%
Sunflower seeds 20g 3.3%
Pumpkin seeds 20g 3.3%
Sesame seeds 20g 3.3%

Percentages factoring in the leaven composition (100g at 100%, ie add 50g to water weight, 50g to flour weight)

Ingredient Weight Bakers’ percentage
Spelt grains 400g 62%
Flour 650g 100%
Salt 10g 1.5%
Fresh yeast 15g 2.3%
Honey 50g 7.7%
Water 400g 62%
Linseeds 20g 3%
Poppyseeds 20g 3%
Sunflower seeds 20g 3%
Pumpkin seeds 20g 3%
Sesame seeds 20g 3%

It doesn’t seem like a very high hydration recipe, but bear in mind it contains a lot of cooked spelt grain: and this is very moist.

* Oven spring – the final burst of growth made by bread dough when it goes into the oven. It’s caused by the heat exciting the yeast, which gets all hyperactive, farts out more gas, causing the dough to rise rapidly. Then the yeast dies is killed, when it gets heated over around 60C. Boo hoo. And gets eaten. The horror!You can get better oven spring with steam (it moistens the dough, conducting the heat into it more efficiiently). However, getting reliable steam in a domestic oven is a bit hit and miss, despite what people suggest about pouring boiling water into trays anor using a mister-spray.

2 Comments

Filed under Breads, Recipes

What is “farro”? Wheat names in English and Italian

100% spelt loaf, sliced

This is my latest loaf. It’s made with 100 per cent farro biano flour. Farro is the Italian word for spelt. Or is it? This is something that’s been nagging me for a while.

Farro is a big part of various Italian regional cuisines. So, for example, there’s the classic Tuscan zuppa di farro e fagioli – spelt grain and bean soup. When I first tried to make zuppa di farro e fagioli, back when my poor Italian was even worse, it inevitably involved trying to work out what specific grain to buy. As well as having to try and work out the difference between farro perlato and farro decorticato (more on which later). This also led me to double-checking the assumption that farro is literally translatable as “spelt”.

I knew spelt was an ancient strain of wheat, that is a member of the Triticum genus of the Poaceae (or Gramineae) family of grasses, but it’s also known as dinkel wheat, and its proper scientific name is Triticum spelta. Okay, “Spelt wheat”, check. But when I checked “farro” on Italian Wikipedia it informed me that Italian uses the word to describe three species of wheat.

These are:
1 farro piccolo or farro monococco
2 farro medio or farro dicocco
3 farro grande or farro spelta

Oh dear. How confusing.

Now, I’m not a scientist, but I am interested in taxonomy and how it aids clarity and accuracy when, for example, discussing the production of a type of bread. When I first encountered these Latin names, I was mildly exasperated that when I buy the packets of farro flour, the packaging blurb doesn’t include the specific species. Normally, I like to buy stoneground organic flours from renowned or local producers. I have, for example, been buying my flour from Mulino Marino (though, yes, they’re in Piedmont, so not exactly local to Roma. I must find a supply of Lazio grains milled in Lazio) and their packets just say Farro bianco etc. Today, however, I noticed the Coop supermarket’s organic farro flour is labelled with “Farro spelta”, so I think it would be fair to assume that is Triticum spelta.

A little more investigation, meanwhile, reveals that farro piccolo, aka small farro, aka farro monococco, aka Triticum monococcum is the ancient wheat species we know in English as einkorn. Though, to add to the confusion, in English Einkorn can also refer to its wild cousin, Triticum boeoticum.

Checking Triticum dicoccum, meanwhile, reveals that Farro medio, aka medium farro, aka farro dicocco, is what we know in English as emmer (the name is related to the Hebrew for “mother”). Oh, and according to the Slow Food book ‘Pane, pizze e focacce’, it’s also known as spelta, just to add to the confusion, while Triticum spelta is also known as spelta maggiore. It’s an awned wheat, that is with most bristles on the ear. Apparently, when Italians refer to farro, it’s most commonly used to mean this grain. So it’s likely that in the abovementioned soup, for example, the grain will be Triticum dicoccum, emmer.

Oh, and while I’m at it with the ancient wheat species, another flour I encounter in Italy is KAMUT. This is a trade name for Khorasan wheat, aka Triticum turanicum. Khorosan is the name of a region in northeast Iran, just to the east of the ancient Fertile Crescent where so many of today’s most common food crops were first cultivated, notably grains.

Just when I think I’m achieving some clarity with this issue though, I have to return to the question of perlato and decorticato. Perlato literally means “pearly” and as such relates to pearl barley, a traditional ingredient in British cuisine, such as the lamb knuckle stews I hated so much as a kid. Pearled grain has in fact not just been hulled, or husked (that is de-hulled, de-husked), it’s also been polished to remove the bran. Farro perlato cooks down to fairly mushy in about 20 minutes. According to the handy glossary in Zuppe, the soup book from the Rome Sustainable Food Project, farro perlato is emmer.

Decortico literally means husked too, and English does have an equivalent word, decorticated. But the difference here is that it’s not been polished, and when farro decorticato is cooked, it takes longer to soften, and indeed retains more bite even after about 45 minutes. In Britain, we’d make the distinction between pearl barley and hulled barley. The other English name for these hulled grains is groats.

Phew.

Meanwhile, as wheat is the third biggest stable crop in the world, after maize and rice, I just want to mention a few more species.

The most commonly cultivated wheat is Triticum aestivum, known, unsurprisingly, as bread wheat or common wheat. It was first cultivated in the prehistoric period, though it’s been bred rapidly since the 1960s to increase the amount of endosperm, the starchy part of the grain, for white flours. Another major wheat species is Triticum durum, durum wheat, a descendent of emmer that is used for dried pasta, semolina and couscous. You can buy both semolina and durum flour here; the latter is what’s known as farina di grano duro: hard grain (wheat) flour. The hard here is not used in the same sense as in English: when we describe a flour as hard, we mean it’s high protein, high in gluten.

Right. That’s quite enough of all that. I’m not even going to touch the question of hexaploid, tetraploid and duploid wheats, or the matter of seasonable wheats. I’ll save those subjects of another day. Plus, I’ll also save a discussion of why I’m making the transition away from modern baking with modern wheat varieties for another post.

At least now I’m fairly confident that when I buy farro flour, it is indeed spelt: Triticum spelta. Though when I buy farro perlato, it’s quite likely to be emmer: Triticum dicoccum. Maybe.

Just to reiterate:
1 farro piccolo or farro monococco = einkorn (Triticum monococcum)
2 farro medio or farro dicocco or spelta = emmer (Triticum dicoccum, or Triticum turgidum var dicoccon)
3 farro grande or granfarro or farro spelta or spelta maggiore = spelt (Triticum spelta or Triticum aestivum var spelta)

13 Comments

Filed under Breads, Discussion, Flour & grain