I just recently got ahold of a copy (thanks to the wonders of ILL) of an article called The Porridge Debate: Grain, Nutrition, and Forgotten Food Preparation Techniques1. I had seen references to it in Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, but hadn’t actually read the article. In it, the author discusses how changes in grain processing techniques have made our modern porridge both less tasty and less nutritious. In traditional societies, in order to remove the husk from grains, the grain was moistened and then dried before being pounded in a grain stamp to loosen the hulls. This technique has several advantages over our modern grain milling. First, the wetting/drying process causes the grain to begin the saccharification process, which converts some of the starch to sugar and makes the grain taste sweeter. Once the moistened grain is dried, the husks are pounded off, which leaves the protein layer under the husk intact. Modern milling skips the saccharification, and the husks are milled off, which also removes the protein layer. This means that traditionally processed grain was both tastier and more nutritious.
Also, the repeated wetting, drying, and pounding meant that very little additional cooking was required to make the grain edible, which required less time and fuel for cooking.
So, grain porridge as a staple food is a lot more attractive when it tastes better, reduces the need for additional (meat based) protein sources, and takes less time and fuel to cook.
She also asserts that grain was most often eaten as porridge that was fermented (soured) overnight, or as a “sour soup” with root vegetables and legumes.
This was all pretty welcome news to me, since I’m a big fan of porridge, both soured and otherwise. Stone ground oats soured overnight with whey are delicious, and take very little time to cook, which makes them a great breakfast.
I have yet to try this with whole oats, so I’d be interested to see what that does to their cooking time. Hulless barley might be good to try also. Barley flour (coarsely ground) also makes a fine porridge, although I haven’t tried fermenting any yet.
So many grains, so little time…
1 Meyer-Renschhausen, Elisabeth. “The Porridge Debate: Grain, Nutrition, and Forgotten Food Preparation Techniques.” Food and Foodways 5.1 (1991) : 95-120.