Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Are Wheat Biscuits Better Than Hard Red Wheat?

For the past fifty years, prevailing wisdom has been that hard red winter wheat kernels are the ultimate survival staple. This was based on their record in the past of successfully staving off famine in many parts of the world. This unprocessed form requires someone to grind it, mill it into flour or otherwise do some pretty hefty processing to get it ready to eat.

I am phasing out my red wheat now, almost ten years after buying it, because I am not convinced this really is the best form of grain to store. It only seems like a good idea until you actually discover what is involved to make it palatable.

On the other hand, processed whole grain wheat biscuits, commonly used for cereals, seem to me to be the ultimate storage staple in reality. It's ready to eat. You wouldn't believe what it can be made into with nothing but water, a few cooking ingredients and a mixing bowl. The other day a woman made me a Weet-Bix date cake in just under thirty minutes and cooked it inside a 12 volt toaster oven! All she had in this thing was wheat biscuits, raisins, milk, molasses, some self-raising flour and a dash of oil!

I believe in it's endurance as a staple when packed in a mylar bag with oxy absorber because I recently cracked open an old drum and it had survived a decade better than oats and rice, with almost no discernible change in taste, smell or flavor. I poured some instant milk on it and sprinkled some old sugar on it and it was a very satisfying meal.

It comes off pretty superb in comparison with the wheat kernels in a bucket. The truth is, even though I have a grain grinder, both manual and electric, I'm just not sure I want to spend a couple hours grinding those kernels into flour each day that probably isn't much good for anything but mush with milk in the end. Not to mention the electrical power needed to run a 12 volt grinder for hours at a time.

Having had a decade of experience now to draw on, I have to say you could do a lot worse than to go out and buy a trailer bed of weet-bix. With one drum of sugar and two drums of powdered milk, there's your basic famine survival kit right there. This cereal has been processed into a light, fluffy flake that is a million times easier to work with than a grain kernel and if anything it seems to have had no impact at all on the shelf life.

Here in Australia it remains cheap, ubiquitous and has not gone up in price the way other food has. It comes off the retail shelf ready to go into storage and that alone is a huge recommendation for it.

I say these wheat biscuits could do twenty years easy if kept cool, dry and stored away from light. I'm certain there would be almost no degradation if they are in a mylar bag with an oxygen absorber.


Bread Baker said...

Ye lazy blasphemer!

The country living grain mill needs no electricity, just a strong arm. The lazy with electricity can also motorize it.

With wheat, I can make a wide variety of breads, tortillas, pasta, crackers, pancakes, cornbread (with other ingredients, particularly dried eggs, powdered milk, and stored dent corn), cookies, and other tasty foods. While my primary baking tool is my oven, I can also bake using a dutch oven (cast iron pot with lid) over either a wood or charcoal fire or using a solar oven. Wheat is a staple precisely because one can use it to make so many different dishes. While other foods may be easier to prepare, they also have problems with food fatigue and being different from what most people normally eat - both are problems that can cause people, particularly kids, not to eat during a crisis situation. Eat what you store; store what you eat. Preferably, store a variety of foods that you eat, particularly ones that give you menu flexibility.

The only negative is that this is slow food that takes time and labor -- the same reason why 99.5% of the sheep buy their bread at the grocery store. Post TEOTWAWKI, we will have a lot more time and fewer things that consume and waste our time (TV, most office work, computers, internet, long commutes).

Anonymous said...

Rice an exelent survival food, no grinding no baking
just boil until soft mix with nearly anything and consume
mash any leftovers to thicken stews
nothing better as a base staple!
weetbix bloody good as a morning feed but not every meal!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tex. I don't eat cereal for Brekky prefering fresh fruit. But Wheat-Bix will now be added to my prep's.

Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing your experience with a wannabe like moi

Wombat1965 said...

Tex, Some people make a point about how you should just go to the effort of griding grain...however, you would have to weigh up the energy (either electrical or muscle effort) you are putting into doing it.
I've had the cake you were talking sister-in-law makes it out on thier big property, absolutely fantastic and simple to make. They have a large basement (one of the very few Aussie houses I've seen with one) and have large stores of wheat flake type stuff. It is very dry in the first place, and oxy absorbers will only help make it last longer.

Chesterton said...

What do you figure the storage life of Weet-Bix (or other wheat cereals) is if left in their original packing materials? I currently don't have any place to store a drum of this stuff, so repackaging it in mylar would probably be more hassle than it's worth for me.

Think it would keep for at least a couple of years in the original package?

Texas Arcane said...

Yes. Absolutely. Just store in a cool, dry, dark place.

Anonymous said...

If you've got a trailer and a Sanitarium factory near you then you can get 200kg "bulka bags" of busted 'bix for ~70 cents a kilo. Perfectly good, just not perfectly formed. I used to get my brekky out of the cattle feed when I was using it (they didn't get milk on theirs...I put their milk on mine :D )

Problem as I see it is, once the grain is messed with it loses an enormous percentage of its nutrients and you're left with empty calories. The reason they store so well is that there's bugger-all left in there to go rancid. If you're looking for calories only then great. If you want nutrients also then store grain and use a bit of elbow grease.

Also, sorry to state the bleedin obvious, but you can't grow more weet bix by planting weet bix.


Anonymous said...

Hendo - "I used to get my brekky out of the cattle feed when I was using it (they didn't get milk on theirs...I put their milk on mine :D )"


Regarding nutrients. The way I see it is that everything we do in preping is a trade off. Limited resources and all that.....

Regarding storage. I bought one of those Sunbeam vacuum storage machines. I'm sure they'd go well. Another option would be the ziplock bags.


Chesterton said...

You can get nutrients from a ton of other foods, such as canned fruits and vegetables. Ziplock bags aren't a great idea. They're not air tight and rodents will easily be able to smell the food in them.

For truly long term storage, cans and sealed mylar bags kept in plastic or metal drums are the way to go, if you've got room for that sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

(The previous initial comment was directed at me, so I suppose the question was as well?)

Storage is the problem with such a large volume, of course. When you've got a few cattle they get through it quick enough so that you don't have to worry about anything much except keeping the rats out of it for a month or so (since rats don't go down well as brekky cereal, milk or no milk :D )

If you get 200 kilos of the busted bikkies they take up about a cubic metre, so you'd need at least 5 x 200 litre drums to store them and keep them rodent proof...another hundred bucks or so. CO2 from a gas bottle, dry ice or fermenting sugar-water in a coke bottle (or your beer fermenter if you happen to be a home brewer (may have to run it through table salt to dry it out before letting it into the storage vessel)) should stop it spoiling or growing weevils etc.

On a smaller scale, for a helluva long time, I've been mulling over the design for a hand-pumped vacuum sealer for ziplock bags. It's doable, but I've got a few VERY large projects to take care of before I get around to doing anything about it. So chances are it'll never happen.

I've got one of those sunbeam jobbies. Goes well with the little bit I've done with it.


Ice Cream Soldier said...


Don't dismiss rats as brekky(?) just yet. I found, in Viet Nam as an advisor to the Viet Namese Rangers, that when you are starving you eat what is available. Rats will survive virtually anything. I found them, and dogs, especially palatable in stir fry. Dogs do well in stew and thinly sliced in soups.

I promise you, when you are so hungry that you can't wait for your buddy (mate?) to die so you can eat that ham he calls his leg, rats and dogs will look pretty damned good. I know, I have been there. In Viet Nam they gave us extra pay to advise and live in the bush with the indigenous forces but you can't eat money and there are no stores.

Keep your dogs well fed and be sure to leave out some decomposing bits for the rats.

Rats: The other dark meat!

Anonymous said...

ICS: I'm pretty sure I ate rats when in Malaysia as a peacetime grunt 20 years ago. Some of those kebabs at 2am looked extremely dodgy and the only readily available sources of meat were monkey and rat. Didn't bother me any in that situation (I'll eat pretty much anything if it's prepared properly and hasn't been rotting for too long beforehand) but when you find a rat that's died of thirst after climbing into/pigging out on a bulka bag of weet bix it takes a pretty strong stomach to keep right on munching. I failed the test, I must admit. Definitely cattle food after that.

Also, the fact that ziplock bags apparently aren't reliably airtight would seem to be an excellent reason not to expend any more thought-time on planning the vacuum pump. Excellent. There are so many other things to do.

Still waiting for this bloody OS, Tex. ;D

Seriously, though, let me go on record as saying that when a proper version 1.0 comes out I reckon it's worth $100 of my money. $200 for a site license and unlimited updates. The scripting component clinched it.


PS: Tex: Can it possibly support newer hardware with windows-only drivers?

Texas Arcane said...

Sweating bullets here on a Sunday trying to catch up on some contracting work due tomorrow. When I get this out of the way I plan to spend a couple hours this week coming up on Vault OS to make something happen in April.

I would be curious to see (using Causeway Extender) if the program will run under Windows and can use the drivers in memory at that time. I have run it successfully under Windows 95 and 98 so far but have not tried it on XP. Obviously would be great if it did.

I wouldn't worry too much about finding an older machine and configuring it. It's not as hard as you might think at all. If it boots up into DOS and you put one line in the AUTOEXEC to load the network driver for the card you have in that machine you are ready to run Vault OS (with 4 megs of RAM). I want to keep it so simple that even a layman can run it on any old thing they have without knowing much about what it is they are doing.

PCMCIA cards for portables are usually easy to get working and Ethernet cards for PCs are now down to $10 brand new all over. Even the modern network cards usually include a DOS driver in there somewhere.

If you do have a hard drive or some more RAM, you can run that machine as a server, or a library or a mirror. It's going to be awesome.