Grains form the foundation of balanced meals, complementing ingredients with stronger flavors and providing an array of healthy vitamins and minerals. The most common grains in America are wheat, oats, and rice but there are many choices to choose from. Incorporating less-common grains, available at health food stores or the bulk section of grocery stores, will switch up the taste and texture of your dishes while delivering health benefits.
When shopping, it’s important to look for whole grains or products with “whole grain” in the label. Refined grains, such as white rice and white flour, contain simple rather than complex carbohydrates and less protein and fiber than their whole-grain counterparts.
Gluten-free amaranth is a seed, but because it has a similar cooking style and nutritional profile to other grains, the Whole Grains Council classifies it as a whole grain. Amaranth seeds contain fiber and protein, making them a great addition to vegetarian diets. With their earthy, nutty flavor and slightly chewy texture, amaranth seeds work well in porridges and puddings.
To prepare amaranth, combine one part seeds with six parts water. Bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes before rinsing, draining and serving.
Gluten-free barley has the highest fiber content of all whole grains, with about 32 grams per cup. Look for hulled barley rather than pearl barley, which is not a whole grain because its outer hull and bran have been removed. Add cooked barley to soups, stews and casseroles for a heartier meal, or use flaked barley in place of oatmeal.
To cook barley, combine one part barley with two and a half parts water. Bring to a boil and simmer in a covered pot for about 45 minutes.
Millet works well as a substitute for rice or quinoa. You might also find ground millet in gluten-free flour blends. One cup of cooked millet contains more than 6 grams of protein, so adding cooked millet to soups or stews is a great way to get your daily source of protein.
To prepare millet, combine one cup millet with two and a half cups water. Bring to a boil, simmer for 15 minutes and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Often marketed as an “ancient grain” because it’s more than 8,000 years old, spelt is a type of wheat. Whole spelt grains, called berries, have a nutty flavor similar to barley and can substitute for rice or pasta in most dishes. Ground spelt flour makes a more flavorful, delicate alternative to white flour, has more fiber and protein, and works well in recipes that don’t require a lot of mixing, such as pancakes and muffins.
To cook spelt, combine one part spelt berries with two and a half parts water. Bring to a boil, simmer for an hour and serve.
You’ll never know which grains you love if you don’t try those new to you. Less-common whole grains may be harder to find, but once you start using them, you’ll discover a new world of healthy staples.