Ingredient Spotlight: Heirloom Grains

Cook, Ingredient Spotlight, Learn, Primers

Most cooks prize fresh, local and homegrown ingredients, such as sweet heirloom tomatoes from the farmers’ market and herbs picked right from your backyard. Why should grains be any different? Once you taste the delicious, nuanced flavors of heirloom grains, you can begin to think about wheat and flour in a new way.


These days, farmers are experimenting with growing ancient varieties of grains and milling them in small batches. The resulting flours are entirely distinct from the ones you find on supermarket shelves, with nutty aroma and rich flavor — like coffee beans, the grains should be ground just before using to create the freshest and most intense flours.


Whether you cook heirloom grains whole (in a pilaf or as an addition to soups and salads) or mill them into flours with unique flavor and texture, heirloom varieties simply taste better than modern wheat varieties, which are bred for yield rather than flavor.


Our grains from Blue Hill Farm are carefully selected for their flavor and grown organically on Mary-Howell and Klaas Martens’ 1,400-acre farm in Penn Yan, New York. Rather than rely on chemicals, Klaas utilizes crops rotations and careful soil management to ensure resistance to pests and disease and build flavor.


Wapsie Valley Corn has all the aromas of just-picked sweet corn, with kernels ranging from golden yellow to deep maroon. When ground, it makes a beautiful foundation for polenta, pancakes or baked goods. A combination of three flavorful grains – Emmer Wheat, Bavarian Spelt, and Oberkulmer Spelt – forms our spelt and emmer blend, which is as good for breakfast as it is for dessert. Coarsely grind the grains for a hearty hot cereal – or crack them and cook risotto-style.


Also known as farro, emmer wheat is an ancient grain with a sweet, nutty flavor. Substitute freshly ground emmer or our spelt and emmer blend for all-purpose flour to add new dimension to flatbreads, pastas, biscuits and crackers – or use it to boost the flavor of leavened breads.


Try all of our recipes featuring heirloom grains, created exclusively for Williams-Sonoma by Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill, and shop our specialty grain collection here.

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