Eunice Farmilant is the author of The Natural Foods Sweet Tooth Cookbook: a unique collection of recipes that produce satisfying breads, pastries, snacks, desserts, and beverages without the aid of sugar, honey, maple products, or any concentrated sweets whatsoever. Ms. Farmilant has already shows that the natural sweetness of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains can be enhanced to yield delicious results and she's recently come up with some further methods which she describes in the following article.
Given the rising cost of sugar and increasing shortages of natural sweets such as honey, sorghum, and maple syrup, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it is to make your own sweetening agents.
In the course of my work on The Natural Foods Sweet Tooth Cookbook, I did a lot of kitchen alchemy in search of ways to create substitutes for honey and sugar. Since then I've learned a few new techniques and would like to pass them on to you. You'll find that a little effort produces some very interesting results . . . so interesting that I hope you'll be inspired to do some experiments of your own in this area.
Grain Sweetened Naturally: Sprouts for Sweetening
Wheat berries, whole barley, rye, and oats can all be germinated and the sprouts used to sweeten bread dough . . . or malted (roasted) for additional flavor and added to muffin, cookie, and cake batters. Soft winter wheat or pastry wheat yields a very sweet product. (A nutritional note: Sprouted wheat is highest of the above grains in protein content, oats lowest.)
To prepare grains for sprouting, simply rinse the kernels and soak them overnight in about double their volume of water . . . preferably spring water, or tap water that has been boiled and cooled. One cup of whole grain will give you around the same amount of crushed sprouts for breadmaking.
The following day, drain the cereal and spread it in shallow earthenware containers or place it in glass jars. The vessels should then be covered with damp cheesecloth or muslin and put in a dark place. I find that grains germinate much more easily than beans or other seeds and need to be rinsed only once a day (except in very hot weather, when you'll probably want to refresh them two or three times daily).
About the third day — when the sprouts are one to one and a half times as long as the grains — they're ready for further treatment . . . or for use "as is" to make an incredibly sweet tasting bread dough.
Wheat Sprout Bread Recipe
4 cups wheat berries (or a mixture of wheat and barley)
8 cups water
1 teaspoon sea salt or kelp powder
4 tablespoons sunflower or sesame seeds
1 cup flour, optional
Soak the wheat overnight in water, drain the berries, anti sprout them as described above. Then crush the sprouts in a grain mill to produce a creamy, paste-like dough. This is easier to handle if you wet your hands frequently . . . and it's important to wash the mill as soon as you've finished, or the mash will dry like glue and be almost impossible to remove.
The ground sprouts can be combined with the other ingredients in this recipe (omit the flour if you wish) or used to replace part of the flour and sweetening agent in other breadmaking directions. If you use the above formula, pat the dough into shapes about six inches in diameter and only about one inch thick for best results. Bake the bread at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for one and a half to two hours. Although the sprouts are rich in enzymes and have a slight leavening effect, the finished product will be dense and chewy.
To make slightly malted sprouts sprouts for use in bread batter, spread the germinated grain on a cookie sheet and roast it gently for about 15 minutes before grinding. This step reduces a vegetable taste which the cereal sometimes develops.
The process can be carried farther by roasting the sprouts in a very low oven (225 degrees to 250 degrees Fahrenheit) for about two hours or until they are very crisp and uniformly dark brown in color. The result is a rich, sweet-tasting crunchy snack food which can be thrown in with a favorite granola mixture or eaten as is. Alternatively, you can grind the sprouts in a grain mill or electric blender and use them to sweeten cereal batters.
The powdered malt also serves as a sweet grain coffee. Measure out one rounded teaspoonful for every six ounces of water, add a small amount of chicory and/or cinnamon and brew the drink 10 minutes.
The technique described above increases not only the sweetness but also the food value of cereals. According to a report of studies made at the USDA's Barley and Malt Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, the malting process causes considerable changes in protein and sugar composition. The proteins of malts are higher than those of the original grains in several essential amino acids . . . notably lysine — the main limiting amino acid of this food group — as well as arganine, aspartic acid, alanine, valine, isoleucine, and leucine. (As readers of Frances Moore Lappe's Diet For A Small Planet already know, the "essential" amino acids are not synthesized by the body and must be eaten regularly in the correct proportions. If a protein food is deficient in one of these components, the "limiting" amino acid will correspondingly reduce the utilization of all the others. — MOTHER.)
This method of increasing and/or enhancing the natural sugars in grain is a little trickier than the others but produces a much sweeter result. The most crucial points are the proper ratio of sprouts to cooked grain and careful control of the processing temperatures.
1-1/2 cups brown rice
4-1/2 to 5-1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons sprouted grain
Pressure-cook the rice with 4-1/2 cups of water for 45 minutes. Or, if you use the "regular" cooking method, start with 5-1/2 cups of liquid and cook the rice-water mixture for one hour after it comes to a boil. Then let the rice cool to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (you'll need an accurate candy thermometer to measure the temperature).
Crush the sprouts in a mortar, mix them with the rice, and continue cooking at 130 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for about five hours. This can be done in the oven, or on top of the stove in a double boiler or a plain saucepan placed on an asbestos pad.
When the cooking is finished, line a strainer with muslin or several thicknesses of cheesecloth and dump in the sticky rice. Strain the product into another pot. You'll have to gather the cloth into a sack and squeeze firmly to express the honey. The collected syrup can then be boiled down to a taffy if desired. It makes great candies.
Since corn is a seasonal item, you'll have to do your planning way ahead to enjoy this treat. Dry ears of sweet corn in a warm place . . . in the attic, or hanging in the sun. When the kernels are shriveled and hard, they're easy to remove from the cob. Store the dried grain in airtight jars. It can be eaten as is for another crunchy snack, or ground into flour and used to sweeten batter for breads, pancakes, etc.