Bake for the river: Kernza in your kitchen

by Peter LaFontaine

You can eat Kernza as a whole grain like you'd eat rice or farro, or use Kernza flour for baking. (Photos: © Mette Nielsen)

For the first time ever, home bakers can get their oven mitts on Kernza flour, a delicious and river-friendly grain that gives us a peek at the bright future of agriculture. Thanks to our friends at Perennial Pantry, you can be among the first in history to bake or cook with Kernza in your home.

This May, buy Kernza grain or flour and join other trailblazers in sharing tips and photos. For the nerds among us, Perennial Pantry is partnering with The Land Institute and the Forever Green Initiative on a cool "citizen science" component so you can provide valuable feedback to the folks working to develop this grain.

But if you just want to make bread, beer, desserts, cereal or other tasty treats, you can. If you order this month, you'll even get some great recipes from Minneapolis chef (and James Beard Awardwinner) Beth Dooley.

Why Kernza is good for our river

Kernza tastes like a nuttier version of wheat, has a nice consistency and lends itself really well to baking and brewing. One of the perks of my job as FMR's agricultural policy manager has been getting to sample a range of Kernza-based foods and beers. Personally, I love the stuff.

I also love it because it holds such tremendous promise for the Mississippi River. Kernza is one of the clean-water crops we keep mentioning. Because it's a perennial plant, farmers don't need to till the soil as much, which reduces erosion and fuel usage. Because it has deep roots, it requires less fertilizer than other grains — and those same roots also keep the land from eroding and prevent pollutants from washing into the Mississippi.

In fact, compared to its cousin, wheat, Kernza can reduce nitrate leaching by more than 85%. With so many Minnesota community water systems facing dangerously elevated nitrate levels, planting more Kernza in targeted areas could make all the difference. 

Kernza and other new crop options like camelina oilseeds are lifelines to Minnesota farmers and rural communities that have struggled mightily with the falling returns on corn and soy. These new crops could also play a role in reducing the impacts of climate change.

Act now! (No really)

It's no exaggeration to say that we're at the threshold of an agricultural revolution, but it will take a concerted effort to get to that brighter future. Launching Kernza into everyday kitchens is an important step.

At the risk of sounding like one of those infomercials that flashes "Act Now! Supplies Are Limited!" in neon letters on the screen, I wouldn't wait too long because current supplies of Kernza are actually limited this year as farmers scale up production.

If you do purchase a bag or two of Kernza, send me an email at plafontaine@fmr.org. Friends of the Mississippi River has some fun culinary projects in the works and we'd love your participation!

 

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