How to interpret wholegrain label jargon and a summer spelt recipe

by admin on August 4, 2008 · 12 comments

Summery herb, salmon and spelt salad

There’s a recipe this week, for a delicious cooling summer salad with herbs, salmon cucumber and spelt.  But first a digression into the world of wholegrains and spelt, with a couple of labelling tricks for savvy shoppers to be on the look out for.

There is a surprising amount of nutrition hocus-pocus on the web and in magazines about spelt. Apparently it is “easier to digest” and “better for you than wheat”. The digestive claims could have some substance to them (for one group of the population) if spelt was gluten free.  In reality if you have coeliac disease with its accompanying immune response to gluten then spelt is not suitable for you; it is not gluten-free.

For those of us who don’t have coeliac disease, is spelt better for you?  So hard to say with any great conviction!  Every grain has its subtle distinguishing features (a little more protein here, a bit more of this mineral). While spelt bread “with bits in” has been shown to be low GI like most other similar breads, there still don’t seem to be any reliable results for spelt itself regarding glycaemic index.

The big selling point for spelt therefore (in addition to the lovely nutty taste) is all of that wholegrain goodness with its associated fibre and cardioprotective benefits.  Something to be found in all wholegrain products, even those made from spelt’s much maligned cousin, wheat.  But as is so often the case with food, you need to look carefully at the label to be sure that you are getting what you think you you are.

Is your wholegrain still whole?
Certain ingredients just have an aura of healthy goodness surrounding them don’t they?  Spelt is one of those; nobody says nasty things about spelt in the same way they do wheat.  Spelt is a whole grain, right?  Well kind of.  Spelt is a wholegrain if it is a left as a wholegrain, but can be milled and processed until it is no longer “whole” just like any other grain can.  I put my hand up to falling for this one; upon closer inspection at home my newly purchased spelt wholegrains were actually not whole at all but semi-pearled; somewhere between wholegrain and refined.

It pays to read the label closely on “wholegrain” products.  Look out for terminology such as pearled, polished, multi-grain; these products are generally not wholegrain.  Flaked, cracked and ground may or may not be made using the whole grain.


How much of a wholegrain serving will you get from your bread?
Shopping for wholegrain bread is incredibly complicated these days. There are many products that look brown and good for you and bursting with wholegrains but that in reality contain very little that is wholegrain or good for you.  Marion Nestle succinctly summarises all of her careful research into the state of modern breadmaking with these simple tips for label reading:

Look for “100 percent on the label, whole wheat flour as the first ingredient, 2 grams of fiber per ounce” (Marion Nestle, What to Eat).  An ounce is about 30 grams to metric types – about the weight of a slice of bread.

All grain processing isn’t necessarily bad; without any processing at all the majority of grains would be too irritating to the gut to be digestible and would contain such large quantities of a group of compounds called phytates that our bodies would be able to absorb little or no minerals from the grains.  As with everything, there’s a balance to be had. I was very happy with my semi-pearled spelt but will remember to check more carefully for a wholegrain product next time.

dill, parsley and chive dressingThis herb, salmon and spelt salad recipe is just as at home as an offering for a summer party as for a cooling packed lunch during the summer.  There are easy modifications for vegans and those who do not eat fish (much of the chopping and cooking remains the same so I suspect it wouldn’t be too much work to make two different versions for barbecue or potluck):

  • Vegans can substitute silken soy for the dairy in the dressing (between this and the spelt there would be a reasonable serving of protein in the dish).
  • For a non-fish option use chopped hard boiled eggs in place of the salmon
  • Consider boosting the vegetable content and reduce the grain content a
    little if you are making this for a packed lunch and won’t be having
    any other vegetables at your mealtime.  Try blanced asparagus or peas
    (frozen peas would be just fine).

Recipe for Summery herb, salmon and spelt salad

Serves 4 to 6 people. The dill really makes this dish so don’t be tempted to skip it but the other herbs can happily swap for whatever is green and fresh.

2 salmon fillets
Sprig each of dill and parsley
3 black peppercorns
Half an onion (whole)
200g uncooked spelt (preferably wholegrain)
Half a cucumber, deseeded and chopped into small pieces

Yogurt and herb dressing
3 tbsp thick yogurt
1 Tbsp half fat creme fraiche
2 Tbsp parsley, finely chopped
2 Tbsp dill, finely chopped
1 Tbsp chives, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

Put the spelt on cook according to the packed instructions.  Once the spelt is cooked rinse it under cold water immediately to prevent it from cooking further.

Place the salmon into a deep frying pan with the peppercorns, onion and sprigs of herbs.  Add cold water until the salmon is just covered.  Poach the salmon fillets by keeping heating until they are just below simmering point for five minutes.  Remove the salmon from the pan and allow to cool.

Mix the yogurt, crème fraiche and herbs together to form a dressing.

In a large bowl flake the salmon (taking care to remove any bones you encounter) and add the cucumber and cooked, cooled spelt. 

Add the dressing to the salmon, spelt and cucumber mix and season to taste.

Serve cold.

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