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Selecting and buying grains

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    Selecting and Buying Grains

    By Alan T. Hagan

    One of the most important decisions in planning your long term food storage is the kind of grains that you are going to store. Too many people do not give this adequate thought, and just buy however much wheat they think is necessary to meet their needs and leave it at that. Others rely upon pre-packaged decisions made for them by the storage food retailer that put together the food package that they've purchased. For many, either decision could be a major mistake.

    There are any number of food storage plans to be found by those who take the time to look. Many of them are based on the so called "Basic Four" of wheat, milk, honey and salt with whatever additional foods as the planner found to be desirable. Back in the thirties (I believe this is when that plan first got its start) that may have been okay, but we've learned a great deal since then. An unfortunate number of people in our society have developed allergies to one kind of food or another. One of the common food allergies is to wheat. Even more unfortunate is the fact that of those with an allergy to this most common of grains many of them are not even aware of it. They won't become aware of it until they try to live off wheat for a large part of their diet. This is a major reason to store what you eat and eat what you store so that unpleasant surprises such as this don't come up when it's too late to easily avoid them.

    A second reason to think about providing a variety of grains in your food storage is appetite fatigue. There are many people who think that providing variety in the diet is relatively unimportant and that if and when the time comes they'll eat what they've got and that will be that. For healthy, well adjusted adults under ordinary circumstances this might be possible without too much difficulty. However, the entire reason for having a long term food storage program is for when circumstances aren't ordinary. Times of crisis produce stress, possibly physical, but always mental. If you are suddenly forced to eat a diet that is both alien and monotonous, it is going to add just that much more stress on top of what you are already dealing with. If your planning includes the elderly, young children and infants they might just quit eating and become unable to survive.

    In his book, Making the Best of Basics, James Stevens mentions a study by Dr. Norman Wright, of the British Food Ministry, done after the Second World War in England and Europe, found that people were more likely to reject unfamiliar or distasteful foods during times of stress than under normal conditions. When it's wheat day in and day out, then it's going to start becoming distasteful pretty fast. Far better to have a variety of foods on hand to forestall appetite fatigue and, more importantly, to use those grains in your everyday diet so that you'll be accustomed to them.

    Below is a list of some common and uncommon grains presently available in the marketplace. Because it is by far the most commonly consumed grain in the United States I've put wheat at the head of the list.


    Wheat comes in a number of different varieties each with different characteristics that makes a particular one more suited for a given purpose than another one. The most common classifications for wheat varieties are spring or winter, hard or soft, red or white.

    The hard wheats have kernels that tend to be small, very hard and have a high gluten content. Gluten is the protein in grains that enables the dough made from them to trap the gasses produced by yeast fermentation and raise the bread. Low gluten wheat does not produce as good a loaf as high gluten wheat, though they can still be used for yeast breads if necessary. As a general rule, the hard varieties have more protein than the soft varieties.

    The soft varieties have kernels that tend to be larger, plumper and softer in texture than the hard wheats. Their gluten content is less and these are used in pastries, quick breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals.

    Winter wheats are planted in the fall, over winter in the field and are harvested the next summer. Spring wheats are planted in the early spring and are harvested in the fall. Red wheats comprise most of the hard varieties while white wheats comprise most of the soft. Recently, hard white wheats have been developed that are suitable for raised bread making. Some feel that the hard white varieties make a better tasting whole wheat bread than the hard red.

    The hard red varieties, either spring or winter, are the most commonly stored wheats. They should have a protein content of no less than 12%, with higher being desirable. The hard white spring wheats are still relatively new and are not yet widespread. They have excellent storage characteristics the same as the hard red wheats.


    Amaranth is not a true cereal at all, but is a relative of pigweeds and the ornamental flowers we know as cockscomb. It's grown not only for its seeds, but for its leaves that can be cooked and eaten as greens. The grain is high in protein particularly the amino acid lysine which is limited in the true cereal grains. The grains can be milled as is or the seeds can be toasted to provide more flavor. The flour lacks gluten so it's not suited for raised breads, but can be made into any of a number of flat breads. Some varieties can be popped much like popcorn, or it can be boiled and eaten as a cereal, used in soups, granolas, etc. Toasted or untoasted, it blends well with other grain flours.


    Barley is thought by some to be the first grain ever grown by man. It has short, stubby kernels with a hull that is difficult to remove. Excluding barley intended for malting or animal feed, most of this grain is consumed by humans in two forms. The most common is the white, highly processed "pearl" barley that has had most of its bran and germ milled off along with its hull. It is the least nutritious form of barley. The second form that it's found in is called "pot" or "hulled" barley and it has been subjected to the same milling process as pearled, but with few trips through the polisher. Because of this, it retains more of the nutritious germ and bran. Unless you are prepared to try to get the hulls off I don't recommend buying barley still in the hull. Barley can be milled into flour, but it's low gluten content will not make a good loaf of yeast bread. It can be combined with other flours that have sufficient gluten to make good raised bread or used in flat breads. Barley flour and flakes have a light nutty flavor that is enhanced by toasting. Whole barley is commonly used to add thickness to soups and stews.


    Buckwheat is another of those foods commonly considered to be a "grain", but that is not a true cereal. It is a close relative to the docks and sorrels. The "grain" itself is a dark, three cornered seed that resembles a tiny beechnut. It has a hard, fibrous hull that requires a special buckwheat huller to remove it. Here in the U.S., it is most often used in pancakes, biscuits and muffins. In eastern Europe and Russia it is known in its toasted form as kasha. In the Far East, it's often made into soba or noodles. It's also a good bee plant, producing a dark, strongly flavored honey. The flour is light or dark depending on how much of the hull has been removed before grinding. Dark flour is far superior nutritionally as you might expect, but it also much more strongly flavored. Buckwheat is one of those foods that has no middle ground in peoples opinions -- they either love it or they hate it. Like amaranth, it's high in lysine, an amino acid commonly lacking in the true cereal grains.


    Corn is the most commonly grown grain in the U.S., but it is mostly consumed indirectly as animal feed or even industrial feedstock rather than directly as food. Nevertheless, it comes in an amazing variety of forms and, like wheat, some of them are better suited for a particular purpose than others. The varieties intended to be eaten as fresh, sweet corn are very high in sugar content and do not dry or store well. The other varieties are the flint, dent, and popcorns. All of them keep well when they have been properly dried. To a certain extent, they're all interchangeable for purposes of grinding into meal or flour, but some make better meal than flour and vice versa. As a general rule of thumb, the flint varieties make better meal as they have a grittier texture than the dent corns which make better flour. If meal, hominy and grits are what you are most interested in, use the flint type. If you intend to make corn masa for tortillas and tamales, then the dent type is what you want. Popcorn is what you need if you want to pop it for snacks and it can also be ground into meal or flour. It seems to me that it makes a very good meal, but it's just a bit gritty for flour. Your mileage may vary.

    Popcorn is one form of whole grain that is available to nearly everyone if they know where to look. Since it's so popular as a snackfood, particularly in movie theaters and events like fairs and ball games, even the smallest of towns will generally have at least one business that sells it in twenty five or fifty pound bags. Since it's meant to be eaten it's safe for food. In order to have it pop well it must have a moisture level of approximately 10% meaning that it's not likely to have to be dried before it can be put into storage.

    Once you've decided between flint, dent or popcorn, you now have to decide upon it's color: there are yellow, white, blue, & red dried varieties. The yellow and white types are the most common by far with the blues and reds mostly being relegated to curiosities, though blue corn has been gaining in popularity these last few years. It should be kept in mind that white corn does not have the vitamin A content of yellow. Since vitamin A is one of the major limiting vitamins in long term food storage, any possible source of it should be utilized so for this reason I suggest storing yellow rather than white corn. Additionally, it should be kept in mind that much of the niacin content of corn is chemically bound up in a form that is not available for human nutrition unless it has been treated with an alkali. If grits, hominy or corn masa is not a part of your diet and you're storing corn, it is a very good idea to begin to develop a taste for some or all of these alkali treated forms of corn foods.


    Millet is an important staple grain in North China, and India, but it is little known as a food in the U.S, mostly being used as a bird feed. The grain kernels are very small, round, and usually ivory colored or yellow, though some varieties are darker. The lack of gluten and rather bland flavor may account for the anonymity of this grain here, but it's alkaline content is higher than other grains and makes it very easy to digest. It also has a higher iron content than any other grain, but amaranth. It swells a great deal when cooked and supplies more serving per pound than any other grains. When cooked like rice it makes an excellent breakfast cereal. Though it has little gluten of its own, it mixes well with other flours.


    Though the Scots and the Irish have made an entire cuisine from oats, they are still mostly thought of in this country as a bland breakfast food. They are seldom found as a whole grain, usually being sold processed in one form or another. Much like barley, oats are a difficult grain to get the hulls off of. Besides being eaten for breakfast, where they can be made very flavorful with a little creative thought, oats make an excellent thickener of soups and stews and as a filler of in meat loafs and casseroles. Probably the second most common use for oats in this country are in cookies and granolas.

    Listed below in order of desirability are the forms of oats most often found in this country. Rolled and cut oats retain both their bran and their germ.

    Whole Oats
    This is with the hulls still on. They are sold in seed stores and sometimes straight from the farmer that grew them. Unless you have some means of getting the hulls off, I don't recommend buying oats in this form. If you do buy from a seed supplier, make certain that they have not been treated with any chemicals that are toxic to humans.
    Oat Groats
    They are whole oats with the hulls removed. They are not often found in this form, but can sometimes be had from natural food stores and some storage food dealers. Oats are not the easiest thing to get a consistent grind from so producing your own oat flour takes a bit of experience.
    Steel Cut Oats
    These are oat groats that have been cut into chunks with steel blades. They're not rolled and look like coarse bits of grain. This form can be found in both natural food stores and many supermarkets.
    Rolled Oats
    These are also commonly called "old fashioned" or "thick cut" oats. To produce them, oat groats are steamed and then rolled to flatten. They can generally be found wherever oats are sold. They take longer to cook to suit than do the quick cooking oats, but they retain more flavor and nutrition. This is what most people will call to mind when oatmeal is discussed.
    Quick Cooking Rolled Oats
    These are just steamed oat groats that are rolled thinner than the regular or old fashioned kind so that they will cook faster. They can usually be found right next to the thicker rolled oats.
    Instant Rolled Oats
    These are the "just add hot water" or microwave type of oat cereals and are not at all suited for a long term food storage program. They do, however, have uses in "bug out" and 72 hour food kits for short term crises.

    Rice is the single most commonly consumed food grain in the world and the U.S. is the leading exporter of it though we actually only produce about 1% of the global supply.

    Much like wheat and corn, rice comes in a number of varieties, each with different characteristics. They are typically divided into classes by the length of the kernel grains; short, medium and long. Each of those can be processed to one extent or another and be found as brown, white, parboiled or converted and instant rices. Below is a short discussion of these various types and their relative differences.

    Short Grain Rice
    Short grain rice is a little softer and bit moister when it cooks and tends to stick together more than the longer rices. It has a sweeter, somewhat stronger flavor than that of long grain rice.
    Medium Grain Rice
    Medium grain rice is not very common in this country. It has flavor like that of short grain rice, but with a texture more of long grain rice.
    Long Grain Rice
    Long grain rice cooks up into a dryer, flakier dish than the shorter grains and the flavor tends to be blander.

    The processing that the rice receives further classifies it and the below is a list of them.

    Brown Rice
    This is whole grain rice with only the hull removed. It retains all of the nutrition to be found in rice and has a pleasant nutty flavor when boiled. From a nutrition standpoint it is by far the best of the rices to put into storage, but it has one flaw. The essential oil in the germ of the rice is very susceptible to oxidation and soon goes rancid. As a result, brown rice has a shelf life of only about six months from the date of purchase unless given special packaging or storage processing. Freezing or refrigeration will greatly extend its storage life. It's also possible to purchase brown rice from long term food suppliers specially packaged in air tight containers with an inert nitrogen atmosphere. Under that kind of packaging, if properly done, the storage life of brown rice can be extended for years. If you are not using special storage or packaging for your brown rice then it is important that you rotate your storage rice regularly to avoid spoilage.
    Converted Rice
    Converted rice starts as brown rice that undergoes a process that soaks and steams it until it is partially cooked. It is then dried and then polished to remove the bran and germ. The steaming process drives some of the vitamins and minerals from the outer layers into the white inner layers. This makes it more nutritious than polished white rice, but also makes it more expensive.
    White Rice
    This is raw rice that has had its outer layers milled off, taking with it about 10% of its protein, 85% of its fat and 70% of its mineral content. Because so much of the nutrition of the rice is lost, white rice sold in this country has to be enriched with vitamins to replace what was removed.


    Quinoa is yet another of the "grains" that is not a true cereal. It's botanical name is Chenopodium quinoa (Quinoa, pronounced "keen-wah"), and is a relative of the common weed Lambsquarter. The individual kernels are about 1.5-2 mm in size and are shaped rather like small flattened spheres, yellow in color. When quinoa is cooked, the germ of the grain coils into a small "tail" that lends a pleasant crunch. The sources that I've found on this exotic grain indicates that it should be thoroughly washed before cooking in order to prevent the cooked product from tasting bitter. There are several varieties of quinoa that have color ranging from near white to a dark brown. The larger white varieties are considered superior and are the most common found.


    Rye is a well known bread grain in this country, though not as popular as the various wheat breads. It has dark brown kernels that are longer and thinner than wheat, but it has less gluten. Bread made from this grain tends to be somewhat dense unless gluten is added (often in the form of a lot of wheat flour) with color that ranges from pale to dark brown. German pumpernickel that is made of unrefined rye flour and molasses is the blackest, densest form. It makes for excellent variety in the diet.

    What I am about to say in the following is for those who may be interested in buying field run rye straight from the producer or distributor before it has been cleaned. If you purchase your rye from a foodstore after it has been cleaned, it is not much of a concern.

    There is a fungal infection of grain that is called "ergot". It is attracted to rye more so than other grains, particularly if the growing conditions were damp where the rye was grown. This fungus causes a nervous disorder known as St. Anthony's fire. When eaten in large quantities the ergot alkaloids can cause constriction of the blood vessels, particularly in the extremities. The effects of ergot poisoning are cumulative and lead to numbness of the limbs and other, frequently serious symptoms.

    The fungal disease affects only the flowering parts of many members of the grass family. The fungus bodies are hard, spur like, purplish-black structures that replace the kernel in the grain head. The ergot bodies can vary in size from the length of the kernel to as much as several times as long. They don't crush as easily as smut bodies of other funguses. When they are cracked open, the inner broken faces can be off-white, yellow, or tan. The infected grain looks very different from ordinary, healthy rye grains and can be spotted easily. Ergot only rarely affects other grains. If you purchase field run rye, you should closely examine it first for the presence of ergot bodies. If you find more than a very few, pass up that grain and look elsewhere.


    Sorghum is probably more widely known in this country for the syrup that is made from the juice squeezed from the canes of one of its many varieties. Also widely called "milo", it is one of the principle cereal grains grown in Africa. Its seeds are somewhat round, a little smaller than peppercorns, with an overall brown color with a bit of red and yellow mixed in. There are varieties called "yellow endosperm sorghum" that have a better taste. Sorghum is a major feed grain in the southwestern part of the country and that is where the vast majority of the national milo production goes to. Like most of the other grains, sorghum is low in gluten, but the seeds can be milled into flour and mixed with higher gluten flours or made into flat breads, pancakes or cookies. In the Far East, it is cooked and eaten like rice while in Africa it is ground in meal for porridge.


    Triticale is a cross or hybrid between wheat and rye. This youngest grain combines the productivity of wheat with the ruggedness of rye and has a high nutrition value. Triticale kernels are gray brown, and oval shaped larger than wheat kernels and plumper than rye kernels. It will make a raised bread like wheat flour will, but the gluten is a bit weak so wheat flour is frequently added to strengthen it. Because of the delicate nature of its gluten, excessive kneading must be avoided. This grain can be used in much the same way that either wheat or rye is. Although it is the youngest of the grains, it's been around for some years now. For reasons that I've never understood, triticale has never achieved much popularity. Whether this is for reasons of agricultural production or public acceptance I don't know.

    Classic Southern defense: "But your Honor, he just NEEDED killin!