Sunday, November 16, 2008

Healthy Habits: The Wonders of Wheat Germ

I know, I know. I realize that I seem like the quintessential health nut, extolling the virtues of wheat germ. However, that is not going to stop me from devoting a feature post to one of my most favorite ingredients. Read on to find out its myriad benefits.

A two tablespoon serving of wheat germ provides 50 kcalories, 1 gram of fat, and 4 grams of protein. In addition, you'll get hefty doses of vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant), folic acid (necessary for preventing birth defects), zinc (crucial to a healthy immune system), plus magnesium, thiamin, and phosphorous. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.

Kretschmer is my brand of choice, the one that comes in a glass jar with a red label. The company also produces a honey-toasted variety, which is equally delectable, although not as versatile in recipes. The nutritional stats are very similar. Something to note if/when you buy this miracle food: store it in the refrigerator. The germ of the wheat plant contains essential oils that may go rancid if kept at room temperature for too long. Play it safe and stash it in the fridge.

I use wheat germ in multiple ways (as evidenced by its large number of tags in the right-hand column of this page); some are sweet, while others are savory.
Most often, I use wheat germ as a healthier and less sugared alternative to granola; it provides a similar crunch and texture element. Try it mixed into yogurt (especially with pumpkin!--see below), sprinkled atop an evening smoothie, or poured over fresh or frozen fruit. Also, wheat germ makes a lovely complement to chopped nuts in any of the aforementioned snacks, so get chompin'.
In addition to snacking, wheat germ can play a starring role in your breakfast routine. It makes the perfect addition to hot oats, cold cereal, or overnight oatmeal. Consider pairing it with ground flax for a nutritional superstar duo.
I've experimented with wheat germ in baked goods as well. (Yes, I realize that these bran muffin tops look like hamburger patties).
If you're looking for a more savory way to enjoy wheat germ, try using it as a breading. One of my favorite it methods is to dredge pieces of tofu in a wheat germ-spiced mixture. Make sure the tofu is wet when you do this, otherwise consider using dijon mustard as a "sticking" agent. Bake them in the oven until slightly browned, and you've got a toasty batch of "tofu sticks" or "tofu fingers." For mock-fish sticks, include some kelp granules in the spice mixture; for mock-chicken fingers, use the dijon mustard method mentioned above. These sticks/fingers clearly are meant to be dipped, so feel free to use your favorite sauce as an accompaniment. My personal favorite is the Peanut Passion Sauce from ED&BV.
A final random (although tasty!) way to incorporate wheat germ into your diet is to use it as a salad topper. As a lover of all things crunchy, I like to add a little texture to my salads with the addition of nuts, soynuts, ...or wheat germ! I recommend pairing it with a sweet dressing, such as a berry-based concoction.
The possibilities for wheat germ dishes are limitless. For more ideas, check out Kretschmer's website.


jess said...

Who cares if you sound like a 'health nut'- i had no idea about most of the info regarding wheat germ and would never just pick it up at the store without knowing anything about it- thank you so much for informing us about it! It sounds like it has kind of a similar nutritional profile to nutritional yeast? Or maybe I'm totally off base. Can't wait to use wheat germ as a breading option- i found that your most interesting experiment and probably the most acceptable/relatable for omni family members.

Erica said...

This is a fabulous post. I love all of the usage ideas. Very nice work!

VeggieGirl said...

WONDERFUL!!! Too bad wheat germ isn't gluten-free :-(

Anonymous said...

The only way I thought I could use wheat germ was in baked goods! Thanks for all of the great ideas, I will have to try them!

Anonymous said...

Okay,'ve convinced me :) Does it have to be ground like flax seeds do or does it come all ready to go?

Those are all brilliant ideas to add it to!

Lacey Nicole said...

oooh i love the idea of breading tofu or "fish" sticks this way!!! i definitely want to do this:) i loooove toasty wheat germ:)

ChickPea said...

Jess: You're right it does have some of the same benefits that nutritional yeast does, although wheat germ has fiber and does not boast the B vitamins that nooch does. Please let me know how your family likes the wheat germ breading!
Erica: Thanks!
VeggieGirl: Aww, I wish they had a gluten-free substitute! Maybe someday.
Shelby: Yep, there's a whole world beyond wheat germ muffins.
ksgoodeats: Nope, no grinding required. You'll find the jars on the cereal aisle.
Lacey Nicole: Glad you like it!

allison said...

I just bought some kretschmers wheat germ today. It was not refridgerated at the store, just stored where all the oatmeal etc is in an aisle. It does say to refridgerate after opening....which I will do. But I am worried as it wasn't already refirdgerated in the store...when you buy yours is it just on the shelf? Also there is no expiration date on the long does it last in the fridge once opened?

magpie said...

Wheat germ is AWESOME. I put it in pancakes. I learned it from my dad.