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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Village Harvest Frozen Grains Are Quick, Healthy, and Don't Taste Like Ammonia

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2012 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge Wild mushroom ragout with bacon and Village Harvest's farro and red rice blend. - TAMARA PALMER
  • Tamara Palmer
  • Wild mushroom ragout with bacon and Village Harvest's farro and red rice blend.
We admit to a measure of skepticism of S.F.-based grain company Village Harvest's  new two-serving packs of frozen grains. Frozen, microwaveable rice is usually awful, and not just because it makes us feel really, really lazy.

Village Harvest, however, is marketing frozen whole grains beyond just brown rice, including quinoa and farro, and the company promises that its freezing process avoids the usual flavor-killing shortcuts. Village Harvest croyogenically suspends each individual grain at -300°F, instead of in a block at -40°F with the uses of gases such as ammonia. (Ew, ammonia!)

Turns out that Village Harvest is known for helping to mainstream grains such as basmati and jasmine rice, and is a subsidiary of Otis McAllister, a food import business that has introduced grains in general to a wider American audience since the late 19th century. So at least there was a good résumé there.

Still, when we held a sample box, we gave it a bit of a side-eye even though it came packed in awesomely foggy dry ice. Would this be something we'd actually buy with any regularity?

The first night, we microwaved a portion of the blend of brown rice and wild rice with black beans and corn and then tossed in some salsa, avocado, and chips. Not only were the grains firm with no trace of sliminess from thawed liquid, which had been our biggest concern, the black beans and corn didn't taste dry or dehydrated -- though the beans didn't look so amazing after being zapped.

Half a bag containing a blend of brown, red, and wild rice was poured straight from the freezer into a spicy purple passion soup of brightly hued kale and cauliflower, literally thrown in during the last 10 minutes. Even without thawing and additional cooking, they were a good element to the recipe that held great texture.

We left a bag of farro and red rice to thaw overnight in the refrigerator for the third night's experiment. We cooked and set aside a few pieces of bacon to crumble into a wok simmering with butter, shallots, garlic, white wine, and wild mushrooms. The grains went in at the very end just to blend and slightly warm up, yet the flavors melded together as if it were all cooked at the same time.

The price of one 2.5 serving bag -- usually  $3.49 to $4.49 -- could net around a pound of the ancient grain of your choice, so those cooking strictly by economics won't find this a value. But for those of us increasingly short on time and tired of wasting big pots of grains when we (always) make too much, this makes cost-effective sense. Better still, it tastes freshly cooked.

As it turns out, this is a line we'll return to as paying customers. We tested the products in different quick cooking situations and were pleased with all of the results.

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Tamara Palmer

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