Just like performing three posthumous miracles will get you sainted in Catholic circles, there is a litmus test to determine true health nuts. While this won’t get you a cathedral named in your honor (but neither will you have to be martyred, so there is that) you will get a metaphorical halo and intestines of burnished steel. What is this criteria upon which much righteous indignation is predicated? Whole grains of course! One’s willingness to replace all their favorite foodstuffs with 100% whole grains is how you separate the healthy wheat from the diabetes-courting chaff.
I jest. But only a little bit. I do believe that the number one get-healthy tip out there goes something like this: “Ditch all your ‘white’ foods and stock up on whole grains.” White rice becomes brown rice, white pasta becomes whole wheat pasta, white sugar becomes brown sugar. And of course white flour, the ultimate sinner, becomes whole wheat flour.
But what’s that you say? White flour tastes so much better than whole wheat flour? Next thing I know you’ll be telling me brown sugar isn’t really a health food! (You know it isn’t, right?)
I’m not knocking whole grains. I love them. I eat a ton of them. But when it comes to certain baked goods, I have discovered through much trial and (mostly) error that there are some you just can’t make with whole wheat flour. For instance, most chocolate things like brownies and chocolate cupcakes will hide a myriad of healthy additives – everything from whole wheat flour to grated zucchini to pinto beans disappears into that dark oblivion without a palatable trace. The problem comes when you need to cook things with a lighter texture. Like, say, angel food cake. This deceptively named dessert happens to be my very favorite treat when topped with fresh strawberries, toasted almonds and real whipped cream. But it also is made up of pretty much only three ingredients – white flour, white sugar and egg whites (themed cake!) – only one of which has any nutritional value. So of course I tried healthify it by swapping out the flour for whole wheat.
It was a culinary disaster such that angels everywhere hung their halos in shame. I wish I had a picture, it was that awful. (It was way worse than The Turd.)
So you will understand why during a recent trip to Costco this caught my eye:
I spent 20 minutes scrutinizing the package for clues as to what kind of Monsanto demon spawn had produced this anomaly. The ingredient list was no help; it just said “wheat.” The nutritional facts looked pretty close to whole wheat too. My only clue was the superlative laced brand name “Ultragrain.”
I bought it. (Incidentally, this was not the only impulse purchase I made that day. I also came home with a 2-lb tub of tabbouleh. Boy howdy do I love tabbouleh but not even I could eat 2 pounds of buckwheat laced with parsley, lemon and tomatoes and then slam dunked in olive oil before it went bad. Sigh.) When I got home, I pulled out my newly acquired mini-muffin pans (I love you mom!) and opened up my family recipe book to another dessert I have never been able to successfully healthify: poppy seed bread.
Sure you’d think that anything with the word “seed” in the title would be good for you but this bread is pretty much just glorified white almond cake with little black polka dots of poppy seeds for panache. I adore it. I measured out the flour:
The picture isn’t great (this is another reason why I am not a food blogger) but it is only a shade or two darker than regular white flour and the texture is almost the same. If I weren’t paying close attention – which I usually don’t when I cook (and I wonder why I’m so bad at it!) – I’d think it was white flour. After mixing in the rest of the ingredients and tasting the batter several times – nummy! – I baked them for 7 minutes and voila! – muffins:
I’m still not exactly sure what this stuff is. It tasted good and therefore I fear it. The Ultragrain website (yes, a flour has its own website) doesn’t really explain it – is it a special breed of wheat? genetically modified? – other than to say that “The Ultragrain milling process retains the fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients concentrated within the bran and germ, while yielding whole grain wheat flour with a taste, ultrasmooth texture and appearance more similar to traditional refined white flour.” So I guess they just grind it up smaller? I guess??
Any of you use this stuff? Is it as cool as it sounds or do you fear, like me, that it is Frankenfood? Do you swap out white flour for whole wheat in every recipe?
And for those of you that are interested, here’s my healthed-up-but-still-yummy
Poppy Seed Muffin recipe:
- 2 cups “Ultragrain” flour
- 1/2 cup sugar (note: I like my muffins only mildly sweet so I only used 1/3 c sugar but if you want a more traditional flavor, up it to 3/4 c)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sour cream (I used full fat dairy, oh yes I did!)
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside. Combine remaining ingredients; mix well. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fill greased or paper-lined mini-muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 400 degrees F for 7-10 minutes (12-15 for regular size muffins) or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.