Grains are packed with protein and easy to cook, making them the perfect candidate for a simple salad or side dish. By adding more whole grains to your diet, you also open up your cooking arsenal, bringing new flavours and textures to your meals (as well as additional health benefits). Here’s a guide to some of the most popular whole grains on the market, and how to use them.
So what makes a grain a “whole grain”?
Whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel (the germ, endosperm and bran). Refined grains are whole grains with the germ and bran removed, for example, white rice.
Corn is one of the most cultivated grain crops worldwide. And while we often think of corn as a sweet, summer vegetable, it’s actually a gluten-free, high-fibre whole grain. It’s processed in many different forms—from popcorn to cornmeal—however, keep in mind that not all corn products are whole grains (like flours or starches) so check the label when shopping.
A breakfast favourite of Canadians, oats are whole grains that can be quick cooking and high in fibre. Although there are many kinds available on the market, most have comparable nutritional profiles. Steel-cut oats have a longer cooking time, making them best for hearty oatmeals, while large-flaked oats retain their texture when cooked, making them a great choice for a crumble topping, while quick oats bake perfectly into muffins or breads.
While farro can often refer to spelt grains, it is also the Italian word for a grouping of wheat species that does include spelt, but also einkorn and emmer wheat. This whole grain is most popular in Mediterranean cuisine and featured in many traditional Italian dishes. With a nutty, pasta-like flavour and chewy texture, farro works well in soups, stews, casseroles and salads. Keep in mind that as with all other wheat species, farro contains gluten.
Hearty and high in protein, wheat berries are unprocessed wheat kernels with a nutty flavour and chewy texture. Requiring a slightly longer cooking time than most grains (they take 30 minutes to an hour of cooking depending on how old the grain is), wheat berries are a great addition to any salad, soup or stew.
Wheat kernels are precooked, dried and cracked to create this high-fibre grain. Often confused with cracked wheat (which, unlike bulgur, is not precooked) bulgur’s nutty flavour is perfect for savoury dishes. As a quick-cooking grain ready in just 15-20 minutes, bulgur is a great alternative to rice for weeknights—look for it in the bulk bins are your grocery store.
While technically a seed, quinoa is often treated as a grain. A favourite of vegetarian diets as it is a nutrient-dense, complete protein, this grain-like seed has a slight crunch and a mild nutty flavour that works in both hot and cold preparations. Quinoa can be found in white (gold), red and black varieties, which can be used interchangeably in recipes. Be sure to rinse quinoa before cooking as there is a bitter coating on the seed that should be rinsed away for best flavour.
Despite its name, wild rice is not actually rice but a whole grain that comes from a species of grass. Native to North America, these dark grains are cultivated in fresh water. With a slightly bitter and earthy flavour, wild rice works very well in salads or pilafs; you can also combine cooked wild rice with cooked brown rice for a more subtle flavour.
While buckwheat is treated like a grain, it’s really seed (but also high in protein). Despite its name, buckwheat is not actually related to wheat; its name is thought to have come from the pyramid-like shape of the groat. Typically, you’ll find buckwheat ground up into flour but you can also find groats available, however they tend to stick together when cooked. With a slightly grassy flavour and a trademark purple-gray colour, buckwheat flour is a great choice for crepes and pancakes.
Gluten-free buckwheat pancakes