Every week, it seems, some food marketer hawks another “new” grain-based superfood. The hype is half right. High in fibre, these healthy whole grains are super, but there’s nothing new about them. In fact, historians believe we’ve been eating them for about 10,000 years.
And as anyone who’s choked down undercooked quinoa will tell you, prep matters. Here are six healthy whole grains you should get to know, and strategic tips on cooking them so you’ll enjoy every bite.
What It Is: This seed, a South America native, is grown high in the Andes. Quinoa is gluten-free and also has all nine of the essential amino acids, so it’s a plant-based complete protein.
How It Tastes: Properly cooked, quinoa has a texture that “pops.” Its flavour is nutty and earthy. If you’re making tabbouleh, try using quinoa instead of the traditional bulgur.
Cook It: 12 to 15 minutes
Per 1/2 cup cooked: 111 calories, 4g protein, 20g carbs (3g fibre), 2g fat
What It Is: Teff hails from Ethiopia, where it’s long been a culinary staple. This tiny poppy-seed-size grain is an excellent source of essential minerals, such as manganese, iron, and zinc.
How It Tastes: The flavour depends on the colour. Lighter teff will have a milder taste—almost like chickpeas. Darker teff tastes more roasty. It’s great for adding bulk (and fibre) to meatballs.
Cook It: 12 to 20 minutes
Per 1/2 cup cooked: 127 calories, 5g protein, 25g carbs (4g fibre), 1g fat
What It Is: Farmers reap durum wheat before it’s fully mature, sun-dry the seeds, and burn away the hulls. Freekeh can have more than double the protein and quadruple the fibre of brown rice.
How It Tastes: Freekeh has a fire-roasted flavour and a texture that is dense and chewy, like brown rice. Cooked freekeh makes a great parfait base for Greek yoghurt and fresh berries.
Cook It: 20 minutes (cracked)
Per 1/2 cup cooked: 170 calories, 7g protein, 33g carbs (8g fibre), 2g fat
What It Is: This hearty stuff has been around since the Roman Empire. Farro is nutritionally similar to quinoa and is a good source of fibre, protein, and calcium. Hail Caesar!
How It Tastes: The texture is similar to that of brown rice, but the grain size is larger. Along with that comes a more pronounced nutty flavour. It’s awesome when added to chilli, stew, or soup.
What It Is: Spelt and farro are nearly the same in appearance. But spelt’s tougher bran layer makes it better for grain-based salads, while farro is better for risotto and stews.
How It Tastes: Spelt has a dense, chewy texture and the barest hint of sweetness. Freestyle a salad: Combine it with dried fruit, toasted nuts, and fresh herbs, plus oil, salt, and pepper.
Cook It: About 45 minutes
Per 1/2 cup cooked: 123 calories, 5g protein, 26g carbs (4g fibre), 1g fat
What It Is: You know it as the super grain from the 1970s, but it still deserves to be on your table today. Processors remove the inedible outer hull but keep the nutritious bran and germ intact.
How It Tastes: Compared with white rice, brown rice is denser, chewier, and nuttier. Mixed with some butter, salt, and pepper, it’s the perfect simple side dish with meat and fish.
Cook It: 40 to 50 minutes
Per 1/2 cup cooked: 124 calories, 3g protein, 26g carbs (2g fibre), 1g fat
3 Ways To Cook Better Grains
Don’t Rinse: Washing these healthy whole grains won’t hurt texture or flavour, but it won’t improve them either. Possible exception: quinoa. It’s usually sold pre-rinsed, but check the package just in case.
Be Imprecise: Different grains call for different amounts of cooking liquid. Easy fix: In a pot, cover dry grain with two inches of water. When it’s done, dump it into a fine-mesh strainer to drain excess liquid.
Check Doneness: Taste it from the pot. The grain should feel slightly chewy, not crispy or crunchy. Quinoa gives you a cue: When it’s fully cooked, a curlicue pulls from each grain.
By James Briscione