PRIMGHAR, Iowa — Kernza? I’d never heard of it until last November when I watched the PBS News Hour airing of “How New Grain Could Help Combat Climate Change.” I was motivated to find out more about this new grain named Kernza. Here is what I found:
The plant’s real name is intermediate wheatgrass. A distant relative of our annual wheat, it is a perennial plant that grows like grass on the prairie. Its roots grow deep into the soil allowing the plant to store nutrients, resist drought and reduce soil erosion. Kernza is not a strain or species of wheat, but a registered trade name owned by The Land Institute in Kansas. The result of 40 years of selective breeding by this non-profit research organization, Kernza was specifically developed to reduce the environmental impacts of conventional farming seen in agriculture today. According to The Land Institute, “Kernza is among the first of a range of new perennial crops in development that together are expected to build soil, improve wildlife habitat, protect water and provide abundant nutritious food.” They hoped new varieties of wheatgrass grains would, in the future, enable farmers to grow them profitably at scale bringing environmental benefits to modern farms and dinner tables.
Today there are about 1,000 acres of Kernza in commercial production, mostly in Midwestern states including Iowa. This is expected to increase to hundreds of thousands of acres in another few decades. But the future is near as Kernza grain has already made its way into the commercial supply chain in small niche markets. General Mills’ organic brand, Cascadian Farm, has produced sample boxes of Honey Toasted Kernza Cereal available to consumers on a limited basis. Patagonia Provisions produces Kernza craft beer called Long Root Ale sold mostly on the West Coast. Chefs in Minneapolis and San Francisco restaurants serve artisan breads and crackers made from Kernza flour.
I was finally able to get one of those sample boxes of Honey Toasted Kernza Cereal online at www.deeplyrootedforgood.com. To me, the cereal tastes even better than Kellogg’s Raisin Bran Flakes and substitutes deliciously in the original Raisin Bran Flakes muffins recipe. When I contacted the manager of Birchwood Café in Minneapolis, I was rewarded with some of their experimental artisan Kernza sourdough bread recipes. Their manager also kindly gave me the name of their flour supplier Baker’s Field & Flour. I was able to purchase 4-pound bags of Kernza whole grain flour online at www.squareup.com/store/bakersfieldflourandbread.
Now that I’ve confined myself to home during the coronavirus pandemic, I have plenty of time to experiment with my Kernza products. I’ve already made Raisin Bran Flakes muffins from the original Kellogg’s cereal recipe and adapted recipes for Applesauce Bran Flakes Muffins, Whole Wheat Strawberry Muffins and Banana Bran Flakes Muffins. Using Kernza whole grain flour I’ve made yeast bread, Pumpkin Spice Latte Cookies and Carrot Cake.
I hope to continue to support the development of these new environmentally friendly grains by using them in my home as much as possible. However, after this Kernza baking spree, I’m thinking I surely need to go on a diet first.
— Pat Kosters, Iowa Master Gardener, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
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