Talk on Cereals

By Ivan Baker
Persephone was a maiden fair, as well she might be whose mother was a goddess. But she strayed one day, so runs the myth, and Pluto carried her off to his underground kingdom. And here she was tempted, if we remember aright, to taste of a pomegranate and eat six of the seeds, for which trivial reason she was thenceforth made to spend six mouth of each year in Pluto’s realm. Meanwhile Ceres, her mother, goddess of the cereals, grieving after her, neglected her plants until her daughter’s return, when new herbage sprang again from the Wintry earth; hence Summer and Winter. Lord Leighton painted it prettily enough, and the canvas –a very large one –hangs in the municipal gallery at Leeds.
Grasses
Cereals are grasses whose seeds we find good to eat. Whether our cereals were evolved from their corresponding wild grasses or from originals now extinct, we know not. Certain it is that man learned to like them in the early morning of civilization and has discovered no satisfactory substitute for the corn in Egypt, nor the rice of China, nor Scotch oatmeal porridge. And what with lusty wholemeal bread, what with crusty rolls and crisp biscuits, not to mention good currant duff and barley malt for distillers, the cereal grains seem likely to remain popular to the end of the chapter. Of sustenance and strength the cereals are potent, indeed unrivalled sources, as entire races of cereal eaters bear witness. And now food chemistry, unlocking the tiny grains, reveals the secret, the concentrated wealth of nutritive elements needful to the growing plant, and, incidentally, needful to man.
The edible grain consists of the germ, forming 1.5 per cent, and the endosperm, with its coverings, amounting to 98.5 per cent of the entire seed –a storehouse, neither more nor less, of nourishment for the young plant of the coming generation. Analysis of the cereals shows a balanced content of the known nutritive elements; fat, protein, carbohydrate, mineral matter and vitamins, with a ration of water. As to the proteins, they are present at an average rate of ten to twelve per cent, but it is important to remember that for body building purposes proteins vary considerably in value.
This variation applies to the entire range of proteins (their number is great) and has endangered the term “biological value” as an index to their ultimate worth when used by the body. Thus, milk proteins have a higher biological value than wheat proteins, which means that tissue growth and maintenance are provided for by a lesser amount of the former than of the latter. Similarly, a protein rejoicing in the name of Zein and prepared from maize is utterly bereft of biological value. This state of affairs is due to the absence of two of the essential amino acids; it may be said in passing that proteins are highly complex substances consisting of various amino acids with Greek-sounding names, united in a bewildering variety of ways. There is more method in this than meets the casual eye, for each of these acids, in each special relationship, is required sooner or lateer for the elaboration of our own flesh cells.
It is, therefore, not surprising than an exclusive diet of maize meal gives rise to specific disease for which a diet containing the richer proteins of eggs and milk is an unfailing remedy. And “milk bread,” egg sandwich, and “bread and cheese” bear nice testimony to our instinctive preference for a balanced diet.
Energy-yielding carbohydrate is present in cereals to an average extent of 65 per cent. This is chiefly in the form of starch, though a little sugar occurs too; and it is not without interest that enormous quantities of glucose are prepared by the chemical conversion of the starch in Indian corn. “Corn oil,” too, is an important commercial product derived from the same source. The fat content of cereals in general, however, is widely variable, those growing in northerly latitudes, for example, oats, being richest in fat, as if Nature conferred upon them extra protection against cold, while the rice of the tropical areas is almost deficient in it.
Oil from Maize
Maize would seem to prove the rule by exception, being, as we have seen, a good source of oil; it is also the foundation of the favorite American popcorn, and is said to give that glossiness of hair and sleekness of form to those peoples whose habitual food if forms. It is readily obtainable at all Italian stores in the form of “polenta” or “golden mea,” and is simply prepared by cooking in a closed pan or porringer with plenty of water until a mush is formed. This is delicious with cream or syrup, and when cold may be fried to make an attractive breakfast or supper dish. In America the mush is packed in round tins, the log being sliced when set to from neat slices of frying.
In respect of the all-important mineral matter, cereals are well supplied, calcium and phosphoric acid being chief representatives of the class. Regrettably, some doubt exists as to whether these minerals are finally available for the body’s use, and as to whether phosphorus in this form does not actually render the calcium unavailable. But since milk (and cheese) has large amount of available calcium and phosphorus, and sicne porridge with rich creamy milk is most acceptable in March, the case is perhaps not so tragic a one after all.
Cereals are Slimming
At this point it will be clear that cereals, with their preponderance of energy-giving carbohydrates, constitute an ideal slimming diet, provided, of course, that they are taken alone. The success of the regime has often been proven, and disposes of the popular error that cereals, as such, are “fattening.” Rice pudding enriched with eggs and milk for growing schoolboys is another matter; so are corn flakes with cream, bread well buttered, and toast soaked in beaten eggs then fried to a golden brown. The value of cereals taken solo for adipose conditions is heightened by their balanced content of nutritive elements, and the presence of certain vitamins, notably vitamin B, of which rice bran, and the germ of cereals are very useful sources.
Of cereals used by the Western races wheat is far and away the most important. It has been found in prehistoric lake dwelling, and was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians and Chinese. The Romans introduced it to Britain, as they did so many other commodities and customs. What grain went to the making of those storied cakes King Alfred neglected in the swineherd’s cottage is a debatable point; it was probably whole barley, bruised in a crude pestle and mortar –the earliest form of milling. The quern or hand mill succeeded it, and was followed in turn by stone mill. Except in a few old-fashioned establishments, this is now replaced by steel rollers.
Modern inventions are able to reduce the bran to a marvelous state of fineness, a highly important consideration, for a goodly store of nutriment formerly lost in the fastnesses of the bran cells is now released. An important function of bran, however, is its action as “ballast” in the stomach, adding further to the well-known “staying power” of wholemeal bread. This would seem a little at variance with the experience of those who find wholemeal bread “irritating.” But such cases are often associated with chronic constipation, and call for complete readjustment of dietetic habit. On the other hand, many stubborn cases of constipation have been permanently remedied simply by the adoption of whomeal bread as a regular article of diet..
Most cooks know the value of wholemeal bread and crumbs as contributors of substance, nutriment, flavor and digestibility to pudding and similar dishes. The pleasant notion of toasting brown bread, however, is not so widespread as it deserves to be, the same being true of rusks, twice-baked and pulled bread made of wholemeal bread. For the latter, simply slice or “tear” the loaf, and bake in a slow oven until very crisp. Store in tins, serve with soups, stews, cheese, butter, etc.
Barley is rich in mineral matter, but this applied to whole or “pot barley,” which is richer flavored and a more valuable food than “pearl” barley, the latter being deprived of the husk and the polished, processes which rob the grain of healthful and nutritive properties. The natural form was undoubtedly used when barley meal and grain formed part of the wages of English laborers; they made bread of some portion of their meal, not a very elegant bread, for barley is poor in gluten, and makes but a poor dough; the addition of an equal amount of wheaten flour, however, yields a wholesome loaf of attractive flavor.
Rye Grain Poorer in Food Value
Somewhat poorer than wheat, rye forms the daily bread of vast populations. It flourishes on soils less rich than those required for wheat and yields a correspondingly poorer bread of moist, dense character. Those who have acquired a taste for it find it not only agreeable of flavor, but satisfying and sustaining, as do millions of peasants and others in Germany, Russia, Poland and other countries. There are numerous “fancy” rye breads, but, as in the case of wheat, the whole cereal is much to be preferred, especially when a rye product is adopted for regular use. Ryvita, prepared from crushed whole rye, is an excellent example, doubly valuable because of its crisp form. Taken freely with green salads it quickly banishes most of the ill-effects arising from sluggish bowels and liver.
Whole rice shares many of the healing virtues common to cereals in general, as well as being light of digestion, and quickly productive of bodily energy. The proverbial “handful” of rice upon which Eastern races are said to live is mostly whole rice, and in the case of those who desire the greatest good from it, it is seldom mixed with other foods. In the end, it is the simple regime which heals.