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‘Rice of the prairies’ receives thumbs up

What cooks like brown rice, pops like corn, has a strong nutrition profile and can be raised on the Canadian prairies? The answer is cavena nuda which likely doesn’t clear up the riddle unless you know this translates into “naked oats,” a grain that is relatively new as a cereal crop on the prairies. While it has been crossbred from oats and basically grows in the same soil and weather conditions, it is used more like rice and therefore is called “rice of the prairies.”

The questions on everyone’s mind at this point are how is it different from regular oats and why bother to introduce it to your tables? As the name indicates, cavena nuda is naturally both hulless and hairless which means the slight protective hull cavena has simply drops off during harvest to be worked back into the soil. Without hulls, cavena needs far less storage space than regular oats and since it doesn’t need to be hauled away for dehulling or heat-treatment to decrease the risk of rancidity-it has a natural waxy coating to prevent this-the so-called carbon footprint for producing this new variety of oats is much less than for regular oats.

While consumers should take the environment into consideration when they choose foods for their diets, they should also be concerned about nutritive content to promote all-around health. When cavena is compared to white rice, there is no doubt, cavena wins hands down. When put alongside regular oats or other cereal grains, cavena holds its own, showing similar nutritional qualities with a few outstanding ones. It is said to be “gluten-free” although it may have a very low gluten content; thus the grain is a great boon to those who deal with celiac.

High levels of fibre

As is true of other grains, cavena has high levels of beta glucan (dietary fibre) which can help with lowering serum cholesterol levels, and a “low glycemic level” which basically tells us that grains are a source of complex carbohydrates which assist in maintaining blood sugar levels. Cavena, like other grains, is a good source of easily digestible protein, is low in saturated fatty acids and contains a whole range of B vitamins. It is a good source of iron (5.7 g per serving compared to 4.6 g for regular oats).

I venture to say that it might take awhile to convince consumers that oats can be used for more than porridge at breakfast. In fact, cavena nuda can be eaten like rice, thus its nickname “rice of the prairies.” For one cup of grain, add two or three cups water and cook for 45 minutes (similar to brown rice). The result is a chewy product that has a nutty flavour, not quite rice, not quite oats, but very edible. Use it in soups, stirfrys and casseroles.

One unique characteristic of cavena is it can be popped in a skillet (with a minimum of vegetable oil or butter), then flavoured and eaten as a snack or used to garnish soups or salads.

Cavena Nuda may be purchased at health food stores and some supermarkets.