Cooking Tips

Wheat Germ — a nutty ingredient?

I was asked to demonstrate some healthy snacks at a recent Healthy Living Expo. One of them was a Walnut & Dried Cherry Bar, a delicious and healthy alternative to store-bought bars. One of the ingredients in this recipe was wheat germ. I wondered how many of you use wheat germ or know much about it. That is why I decided to dedicate this Cooking Tip to the subject of Wheat Germ.

If you read my series on Healthy Cooking earlier this year, you may recall one of the Tips in that series was on Healthy Breads. In that Tip, l discussed the three different parts of the wheat kernel. There is the bran, the germ and the endosperm. When the wheat is refined, the bran and the germ are removed. By doing this, they are removing most of the fiber and a significant portion of the nutrients. Wheat germ is a product that is entirely just that – the germ portion of the wheat kernel – although some brands may enrich it with some additional vitamins.

According to the Mayo Clinic, wheat germ is “an excellent source of thiamin and a good source of folate, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. The germ also contains protein, fiber and some fat.”

Although the stores will mostly carry toasted wheat germ, there is also a untoasted version. Toasting is done to prolong shelf life.

The toasted version has a taste that is nutty and a bit toasty. It can be added to many recipes in order to add the nutrients and fiber that the germ contains. Try adding it to breads, muffins, casseroles, meatloaf, granola bars, yogurt, smoothies and so much more.

Because of the oil content, it should be stored in the refrigerator to prolong its shelf life and preserve freshness.

There is a train of thought that we should avoid wheat germ for various reasons. First is that fact that wheat germ is not a “whole” product. To be considered whole wheat, the product must contain all three parts – bran, germ and endosperm. The germ is just one part. They recommend using whole wheat flour rather than just the germ. However, many recipes add wheat germ in addition to whole wheat flour due to the nutty and toasty flavor.

Another concern raised is the fatty acid profile of the wheat germ. It is about approximately 60% polyunsaturated, most of which is of the omega-6 type. Recall my Tip on Fats for more information.

It is also felt that wheat germ is difficult to digest due to the way it is prepared. Thus, the argument is that even though it is full of nutrients, it does you no good if you can’t digest and absorb those nutrients.” Experts say that the toasted version is more easily digested.

Wheat germ is also high in oxalate, a compound that can cause kidney stones in some people if they eat too much. Some people also develop diarrhea from the consumption of wheat germ.

If you want to give wheat germ a try, you should be able to find it in your larger supermarket or, of course, online. Although not the only brands, the two most common are Bob’s Red Mill and Kretschmer. Do you use wheat germ? Do you like it? If you like nutty and toasty flavors, you will probably enjoy wheat germ.