The future, according to Tracy Singleton, is perennial. The owner of the Minneapolis-based Birchwood Cafe, Singleton has been touting the glories of Kernza, the first perennial grain in the world. Even though it’s still in the early stages of development as a new crop, its benefits are already clear: it requires no tilling, reduces erosion and requires very few fertilizers and pesticides.
But what happens when this grain lands on a plate? “It has a great taste and great flavor, that’s for sure,” says Don Wyse, a professor at University of Minnesota who, in cooperation with The Land Institute, has been working to bring Kernza to the marketplace. “It has the taste of a cereal, but the growing habits of a prairie grass.” That makes it good for the earth and pretty good for humans too: He points out that the grain has higher levels of folate, betaine, calcium, lutein, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, selenium and vitamin B6 than commercially grown wheat. “It’s a healthy food for a healthy landscape,” Wyse says.
Singleton, who calls it “the wheat of the future,” has featured Kernza products on her menu for more than five years. She’s part of a team of researchers, farmers, millers, processors and businesses who are planting, testing and trying out this grain in a number of settings. And while the sustainability story is a good one, it’s the taste that keeps customers coming back, she says. “Everyone loves our Kernza Carmelita bars,” she says.
How to store and use it
For bread baking success, it’s best to combine Kernza with regular wheat flour, since it has a lower gluten content. The bakers at San Francisco’s The Perennial, who have Kernza bread on their menu, suggest using ⅓ Kernza and ⅔ wheat flour.
“It has a nutty, very clean whole-wheat taste, with a hint of molasses,” says Birchwood Café’s chef de cuisine, Dan Schmidt. For fellow chefs, he points out that the grain must be stored in the refrigerator because of its high level of oils, which can lead to spoilage. “I like to treat it as a rye flour when thinking about proportions. It requires some experimentation with mixing procedures, like sponge or autolyze,” he says.
If all this sustainability is making you thirsty, consider the impact that this perennial grain is expected to make in the craft brewing market. Start by trying a frosty mug of Long Root Ale®, brewed by Patagonia in Portland, Oregon. It’s a pale ale made with organic two-row barley, organic yeast, organic Chinook, Mosaic and Crystal hops, and Kernza. Or visit Bang Brewing in St. Paul, Minnesota, for their Blonde Ale or IPA which Kernza brews.
Commercial expansion is expected to be ramping up in the next couple years, so this definitely is an ingredient you’ll be hearing more about. “General Mills is very interested in having it as part of their portfolio,” Wyse says. After funding a number of test plots and studies, General Mills has announced plans to launch a ready-to-eat cereal made from Kernza as part of its Cascadian Farm Organic line, sometime in 2019.
“Our café’s participation in the development of the Kernza supply chain allows us to actively engage in creating the change we want to see in the world,” Singleton says. “And when we share our story, we invite our customers to be a part of creating change, too.”
T. Marzetti® Tip
Customers who are interested in sustainable products like Kernza will want to know more about cleaner dressings for their salads, too. In fact, a recent survey by Mintel found that 84 percent of American consumers are seeking more natural, less processed foods.
Consider featuring Marzetti® Simply Dressed® salad dressings menu. They’re made without high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavors, soybean oil or gluten. Learn more here.