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 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 35, November 2005   
Matching Wine and CerealsMatching Wine and Cereals  Contents 
Issue 34, October 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 36, December 2005

Matching Wine and Cereals

Among the most ancient foods known by humans, fundamental ingredients of the famous Mediterranean diet, cereals can be used in countless ways in cooking and are good allies of wine

 If we take a look at the past, to the origins of human nutrition history, cereals - in their humble and ancient shape - have always been present since the very beginning of humanity. Their nutritional importance has always been high even in later times: in every place of the world cereals have always played - and keep on playing - a fundamental role for the survival of human beings. Humble in their shape and in their nature, but big for what they can express with their small grains. Cereals keep intact their incredible richness still today, in these modern times of we civilized and evolved men who base our nutrition on disputable healthy nutritional values - but however well supported by marketing, fashion and frenzy of the society of which we all are responsible - in which the humble image of cereal does not have the important place it would deserve instead. With time, cereals have become an uncommon food and scarcely considered - even because of their humble fame - common in the nutrition of the lower social classes, of those people who, maybe, are still capable of being wondered in front of the simplicity of little but big things.

 With the exception of rice - which still today is highly considered in the gastronomies of the world - cereals are less and less used for the nutrition of western people, whereas they still play an important role in people of the rest of the world. Despite the campaigns for the support of cereals by institutions and the world of medicine - so many times they emphasized the importance of a correct nutrition in which should be present cereals as well - this category of food hardly have a place in nutritional customs, saved in the form of processed and more attractive foods in which are used other ingredients as well. Nevertheless, the cooking tradition and the culture of every country of the world is so rich of tasty recipes and preparations based on cereals that - this is the case to say - they would make happy even the most sophisticated and refined gourmands. For example, how many tasty and colored soups can be made with cereals? If we count - for example - the recipes of typical soups in the Italian cooking tradition, we can count tens of them.


An Ancient Food in a Modern World

 Cereals are herbaceous plants belonging to the family of gramineae, of which the main representatives are wheat, rye, oat, barley, rice, sorghum and corn. Despite its name can make think differently, buckwheat is not a cereal because it belongs to the family of polygonaceae. Since ancient times, the most frequent use of cereals was represented by the production of flour with which - after having been properly kneaded and shaped - were being obtained other foods, such as bread. Cereals are also consumed as whole grains - after having been properly processed in order to remove any non edible part - for the preparation of soups and salads. Thanks to their high content in starches, cereals are also used for the production of fermented beverages thanks to the action of yeasts which transform sugar into alcohol, such as in case of beer, the most common beverage belonging to this family and mainly produced with barley.

A cereal soup can be matched to rose
wines as well
A cereal soup can be matched to rose wines as well

 Cereals, besides playing a fundamental role in human nutrition since thousands of years, also have the important record for having originated agriculture, with which humans could ensure themselves a better and richer stock of food. Spontaneous gramineae - the species to which cereals belong to - could be easily harvested in the impervious areas in which they usually grew, and soon after their cultivation was organized in specific areas, therefore beginning agriculture and the development of whole civilizations. Maybe it was also because of their high adaptability in different soils and environments, as well as their countless nutritional uses, which allowed a fast and vast spreading of cereals, as their cultivation was pretty simple and did not require the use of particular techniques. Soon after, to the cultivation of cereals followed the one of legumes: a combination which is still found in every country of the world and still today - it is enough to think about the renowned Mediterranean diet - are the base of the cooking culture in these countries. Cereals, just like legumes, also offered another important advantage: they could be kept with relative simplicity and ensured a rich and abundant support for daily survival.

 Today, the most common varieties of cereals are wheat, spelt, corn, barley, rice, oat, millet and rye. All these varieties are used for human and animal nutrition, both in form of flour as well as whole grains. The most common cereal, mainly used in form of flour, is wheat. Original from the Southwestern Asia, wheat is a cereal belonging to the triticum genre, all being derived from triticum monococcum, that is small spelt. Wheat is classified as durum wheat (triticum durum) - from which is produced a flour called semolina, mainly used for the preparation of pasta - and common wheat (triticum vulgare), whose flour is used in bakery, pastry cooking and for the preparation of pasta. The use of the whole wheat grain is now pretty limited, sometimes used as an ingredient in some soups. The most important element of the triticum family, is spelt, one of the most important cereals in the past, which was even used as money in trades.

 Spelt - whose origin is believed to be the area of Palestine - was the most important cereal for ancient Romans and Etruscans, a tradition which is still alive today in the lands once inhabited by these two people. The most common varieties of spelt are small spelt (triticum monococcum), common spelt (triticum dicoccum) and big spelt (spelta triticum). Despite its cultivation is more difficult than wheat, spelt was recently revaluated after having faced a long time of oblivion, and today - as it was in the past - spelt is used for the preparation of tasty soups and, sometimes, as a flour as well. Corn is a cereal originated in Central America, known in two varieties: white corn and yellow corn. Of the two, the yellow variety is more common and both the varieties are mainly used in form of flour, however it is also common the consumption of the grains. Corn flour is typically used in Italy for the preparation of polenta and desserts.


 Barley - among the most ancient and common cereals of the world - is known by humans since the stone and bronze age and it still plays an important role in human and animal nutrition. Barley is consumed both as in form of grains as well as in form of flour, moreover, the toasted and ground grain is used for the preparation of the so called barley coffee, a beverage still common today. Barley contains a high quantity of proteins - among the highest of all cereals - and its most classical use is for the preparation of soups. Moreover with barley sprouts is being obtained malt, from which is produced by fermentation beer and by distillation whisky and vodka. Rice - after wheat - is the most common cereal in the world, virtually present in every country, represents one of the main and most important sources for the survival of millions of human beings. The most common varieties of rice for human nutrition are oryza sativa japonica, typical in western countries, and oryza sativa indica, very common in Asian countries.

 The use of rice is extremely vast and its usage is not limited to nutritional purposes only. According to a nutritional point of view, rice is used both as in form of grains as well as in form of flour, it is also used in pastry cooking. Although today it is mainly used for animal nutrition, in past times oat was very used by humans for their nutrition. The most typical use of oat is in form of flour for the preparation of bread and biscuits, as well as in form of flakes for the preparation of soups, rarely, in form of grains. Very common in the countries of Northern Europe and in particular in Germany, rye is a cereal originating from Southwestern Asia whose cultivation is dated back to thousands of years ago. Because of the hardness of its grains, rye is mainly used as a flour for the production of bread, whereas from its fermented grains are being produced some distillates, such as rye whisky and vodka. Millet, once very common in Europe for the nutrition of humans, is now mainly consumed in Asia and in Africa. Whole grains are used for the preparation of soups, whereas millet flour is used for the production of bread and polenta.


Cooking With Cereals

 The use of cereals in cooking - or better to say, in the preparation of foods - is very vast and rich as they can be cooked in many ways and they can even be used as side dishes for other foods. Cereals are widely used in form of flour, both in bakery and pastry cooking, as well as a thickener for sauces and condiments because of their high content in starch. Cereal flours - properly boiled in water, milk or broth - can be used for the preparation of dishes, such as polenta or flour soups. Cereals are mainly used in form of whole grains for the preparation of soups, to which are usually added other ingredients in order to enrich their taste. In the preparation of soups are frequently used many varieties of cereals, therefore increasing the nutritional value of the dish as well as improving its taste. Moreover, cereals are good side dishes and make an excellent base for salads, boiled or steamed, then properly drained and seasoned with oil - as well as by adding other ingredients - can be used as appetizers.

 The cooking of cereals varies according to the variety and type. In general terms, for the preparation of soups are used dry cereal grains: it is in fact pretty uncommon to use fresh cereals, with the exception of corn. Cereals are usually boiled, frequently steamed - which have the advantage of keeping a higher quantity of nutritional principles - both by using a pressure cooker as well as by using a basket. Cooking times vary according to the type of cereal and - in particular - the hardness of the grain, the content in starches and proteins. Before cooking, it is advised to rinse cereals - with the only exception being represented by rice - in order to remove dust and any possible debris. It is preferable to avoid the soaking of refined cereals before cooking, with the exception of rye and oat. Soaking is advised for every whole cereal, with the exception of rice and millet. It is also advised to use - whenever possible and according to the recipe - whole cereals instead of the refined ones. In fact, whole cereals contain a higher quantity of fibers, useful for the bowl, which in our modern diet - mainly made of refined food and therefore having little quantities of fibers - can be very useful. In case are being used whole cereals, it is good to remember they require longer cooking times than refined cereals.


Matching Cereals and Wine

 Cereals can be used for the preparation of rich and complex recipes, such as certain coups, as well as simpler preparations in case they are served as side dishes. Cereals - consumed after being simply boiled - because of the high content in starch, have a basically sweet taste. This organoleptic quality would suggest the use of white or rose wines, as well as slightly sparkling wines or sparkling wines. This choice is usually appropriate, however it should be remembered cereals are rarely consumed after having being boiled and without adding any other ingredient. The most simple form of consumption - to be carefully evaluated - is represented by salads, where boiled and drained cereals make the main ingredient and to which are added, in lesser quantity, other ingredients. In this specific case seems to be appropriate the matching with a crisp and young white wine, as well as a sparkling wine produced with the Charmat method.

 The matching gets more complicated in case of soups, because - in general terms - these dishes are richer and more robust, in particular for the richness of ingredients used in the preparation. In soups - besides cereals - can also be added the most diverse ingredients, such as meat, fish, mushrooms and vegetables: factors which will be scrupulously evaluated and that will determine the matching. In soups is also good to consider the use of tomato that - with its basically acid taste - will require the matching with a white wine with a good body and roundness, or a full bodied rose wines, as well as an average bodied red wine. Soups with no tomatoes can also be matched with white and rose wines, as well as with sparkling wines, even classic methods. A tasty dish prepared with corn flour - both white and yellow - is polenta. Typical in the regions of Northern Italy, polenta is usually prepared with pretty rich, complex and succulent sauces and condiments, generally made of braised meat, as well as game. Polenta - a dish which can also be considered robust according to the condiment - can be well matched to full bodied red wines, whose astringency will be useful in balancing the high succulence caused by the condiments.


 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 35, November 2005   
Matching Wine and CerealsMatching Wine and Cereals  Contents 
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