Current nutrition recommendations say to “make half your grains whole,” but we wonder, why not just cut corners on the math and go all in?
Why Choose Whole Grains?
When grains are milled for refinement, the bran and germ of each kernel are separated and removed. This makes the grains more shelf stable but strips them of vital nutrients and the nutty flavor that distinguishes whole grains from refined grains.
- Texturally, whole grains may take some getting used to because you have to chew a bit more thoroughly, but we bet the flavor of these intact kernels and full-bodied flours will have you reaching for more.
- Some whole grains (like quinoa) are considered complete proteins (containing all 8 essential amino acids), once thought to only come from animal proteins or a combination of plant-based foods.
- Fiber swells. Typically, whole grains will help keep you feeling fuller longer – one reason why a bowl of oatmeal is such a smart breakfast choice.
- Many whole grains (thanks to the bran and germ) are loaded with B vitamins, magnesium, and other important nutrients.
Because whole grains include the bran and germ of the grain, they must be stored a bit more carefully than their refined counterparts. Store grains covered, in a cool, dry spot out of direct sunlight for no more than 3 months for flours and meals and 6 months for intact grains. Consider keeping any grains or flours you don’t plan to use immediately in the freezer for best results.
Whole Grains at Every Meal
Don’t think about whole grains as dinner-only meal elements – they can be enjoyed throughout the day.
- In addition to cooked cereals and porridges, consider slipping uncooked millet or plain cooked brown rice into your pancake or muffin batters.
- Add cooked whole grains to whisked eggs and sliced veggies for an elegant and filling frittata.
- Rolled oat-based granola is a breakfast staple – add rolled rye and barley to mix things up.
- Grain salads are lunchtime all-stars – lean on last night’s leftovers for mid-day mains that will fill you up until dinner.
- Pat cooked whole grains into “cakes” (see recipe above) for an easy, hand-held meal.
- The quick and easy classic, brown rice and beans, is a protein-packed and totally customizable lunch staple.
- Whole grains are side dish champions, happy to be tossed in a cool vinaigrette or treated to a hearty stir in a risotto-like preparation.
- Bulk up vegetable soups with a handful of filling whole grains.
- Stuff cooked whole grains into hollowed out bell peppers, summer squash or eggplant, then bake.
Desserts and Snacks
- Add raw or cooked oats to your usual fruit mixture for ultra-satisfying smoothies.
- Whole grains of the puffed variety can be formed in protein-rich snack bars. Try popping millet and amaranth in a dry skillet for adding to bars or sprinkling on yogurt.
- Transform brown rice into a classic dessert pudding with a few simple steps.
Cooking Whole Grains
Cooking whole grains takes a little practice to perfect, but dividing the grains into quick, medium and long cooking groups makes planning a breeze.
The terms berries, groats, flakes and cracked can be applied to all whole grains to denote the intact grain (berries), the hulled and crushed grain (groats or grits), the steamed and rolled grain (flakes) and the cracked whole grain. Keep your eyes peeled for different variations of your favorite whole grains.
(under 10 minutes)
Amaranth - This minute and slightly sticky grain is a good source of fiber and generally nutrient rich, with a high concentration of lysine, an essential amino acid.
Bulgur - This cracked, steamed wheat kernel can be simply soaked to rehydrate.
Buckwheat groats (called kasha when toasted) - The hulled and crushed buckwheat kernel, groats cook up quickly. Try stirring them into rolled oats before cooking.
Millet - This mild and very digestible grain is a favorite for folks on a wheat-free diet. It also has a good balance of essential amino acids and is delicious with sautéed vegetables and beans or when used to make risotto.
Popcorn - A movie night favorite, this supremely snackable whole grain can be popped on the stovetop (don’t forget a lid!) in just a few minutes.
Rolled Oats - This breakfast staple is incredibly versatile, plays wells with nuts, seeds and fruit – and will keep you going for hours!
Teff - This tiny ancient grain has a sweet and malty flavor.
Quinoa - This protein powerhouse is actually a small dried seed with a great nutty flavor.
(under 10-40 minutes)
Barley - Hulled barley is a nutritious addition to stews and soups.
Brown Rice - The entire rice kernel with only the outer, inedible husk removed, brown rice is pleasantly chewy.
Buckwheat - Triangular in shape, this whole grain imposter is actually the seed of an herb.
Steel Cut Oats - These are steamed and cut whole oat groats (a.k.a. hulled grains). They’re chewy and make for a particularly rustic and delicious hot cereal.
(over 40 minutes)
Farro - Sometimes labeled as emmer wheat, farro is rich in fiber. Its chewy texture makes it particularly satisfying.
Rye Berries - This high-protein grain is more slowly digested than other grains. Combine with beans for a particularly good match.
Spelt - Often mistaken for farro (and visa versa). It may be well tolerated by wheat sensitive folks, too. Use spelt just as you would wheat, and look for spelt flakes, too, which can be used like rolled oats.
Wheat Berries - These whole, unprocessed kernels are great cooked for pilafs or as a nutty addition to grain salads.
Wild Berries - Actually the seed of a marsh grass plant, this grain-like seed needs to be thoroughly cleaned before cooking and offers a striking contrast in grain-based sides and salads.
Whole Grain Flours
Flours offer an easy introduction into using whole grains. If you’re new to whole grain flours, simply experiment by substituting one quarter or half of the flour you’re used to with a whole grain flour. Keep in mind, all-purpose, pastry, cake and bread flours indicate the proportion of hard to soft wheat in the flour mixture and greatly affect the texture of the final product.
Premade breads that do not list “whole wheat flour” as an ingredient may contain refined flours.
Graham Flour - Hard whole wheat flour with a coarse and flaky outer bran layer and finely ground germ. Though its most famous use is in crackers, this flour adds texture to all baked goods.
Rye Flour - When added to baked goods, the results are moist and dense. Due to its low gluten content it’s often mixed with whole wheat flour to increase its rising ability.
Spelt Flour - This ancient grain is used as a wheat substitute. (Note: If substituting for wheat in a recipe, reduce the liquid by 25%.) Don’t over knead; the gluten here is sensitive.
Whole Durum Wheat Flour - From very high protein wheat, this flour has less starch than other wheat flours. Durum flour develops a tough dough that can stretch and expand, so it’s perfect for making whole grain pasta.
Whole Wheat Flour - Ground from the entire wheat berry, it has a full-bodied flavor and coarse texture. Whole wheat flour might need to be blended with other whole grain flours for a lighter final product.
Whole Wheat Pastry Flour - Ground from soft wheat berries, this flour absorbs less liquid in recipes. Perfect for quick breads and baked goods such as cookies, pancakes and muffins.
Always check packaging to confirm grains were milled in a gluten-free facility.
Amaranth Flour - This malty, nutty-flavored flour is best used as an accent flour in waffles, pancakes, cookies or muffins.
Blue Cornmeal - Blue cornmeal turns lavender when cooked. Use this gluten-free flour to make beautiful pancakes, muffins and corn tortillas.
Brown Rice - Finely textured and nutty, brown rice flour forms the foundation of many gluten-free flour blends.
Buckwheat Flour - Find buckwheat flour in tandem with wheat flour in pancakes, waffles, blintzes and blinis. Soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour, too.
Yellow Cornmeal - Rich and buttery, yellow cornmeal adds a golden hue and slight crunch to baked goods.
Oat Flour - An easy addition to pancake and muffin mixes, use oat flour as a binder for chewy granola bars, too.
Quinoa - This protein-rich creamy white flour can be a little tricky for baking. Try toasting it in a low oven before adding the flour to your favorite baked good recipes.
Teff Flour - Sweet malty flavor. Use in quick breads, pancakes, and waffles. In leavened breads, use 5 parts wheat flour to 1 part teff flour.