A Beginner’s Guide to Grains + Ways to Use Them

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Grains, especially the “whole” variety, provide numerous health benefits. And those who eat them regularly as part of a healthy diet (as recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture, might I add), may be at reduced risk for a number of chronic diseases.

5 Bowls of different healthy grains | Vitacost.com/Blog

But there are other great reasons to add grains to your plate (or, perhaps, bowl). They’re tasty, filling and available in several varieties—and many make a delicious addition to the hearty dishes you crave this time of year! Here’s a primer to aid in your grain selection:

1. Amaranth

How it tastes: sweet and nutty

Ways to use it: Amaranth is typically treated like a grain. However, it is actually a seed. Rich in protein and beneficial amino acids, amaranth can be prepared like popcorn, used to thicken soups and stews or combined with wheat flour to make quick breads, muffins, pancakes and pasta.

Try this recipe: Amaranth-lemon cookies

2. Barley

How it tastes: rich and nutty

Ways to use it: This highly nutritious, versatile grain is typically pre-soaked prior to cooking. Enjoy it as a breakfast cereal or flavorful pilaf, or serve it in slow-cooker soups, salads, stuffing, stir-fries and pudding.

Try this recipe: Red lentil, barley & vegetable stew

3. Buckwheat

How it tastes: nutty and earthy

Ways to use it: Don’t let its name fool you. Buckwheat isn’t actually wheat. Rather it’s the seed of a plant in the rhubarb family. Packed with fiber and protein, hearty buckwheat can be enjoyed as a main dish or used in soups, salads, homemade granola, burritos, wraps, veggie sides or hot porridge. In its toasted form, buckwheat is known as kasha and is often combined with noodles.

Try this recipe: Blueberry buckwheat pancakes

4. Bulgur

How it tastes: nutty and mild

Ways to use it: Known to many as “Middle Eastern pasta,” fast-cooking bulgur is full of fiber and protein. The main ingredient in classic tabouli salad, bulgur can also serve as a stand-in for rice in salad, stir-fry, stuffing or pilaf recipes, or be added to soups and meatballs.

Try this recipe: Herbed bulgur pilaf with tomatoes & peppers

5. Corn

How it tastes: sweet and mild

Ways to use it: Chances are, you’ve sampled—and savored—this popular grain. It can be dried and ground into a fine or coarse powder (also known as cornmeal and grits, respectively), made into a paste (polenta), tossed on the grill, roasted in the oven or used in countless recipes, including those for salsa, cornbread, corn fritters, corn dogs, corn pudding and corn chowder.

Try this recipe: Homemade corn tortillas

6. Emmer (Farro)

How it tastes: slightly sweet and nutty

Ways to use it: You likely haven’t heard of this Middle Eastern grain, but you’ll be glad you tried it. Add emmer to flour when making biscuits, crackers, flatbreads and pasta, or enjoy it whole in pilaf or a grain salad.

Try this recipe: Mediterranean farro salad

7. Kamut

How it tastes:  sweet, buttery and rich

Ways to use it: Also known as khorasan wheat, this ancient variety of protein-rich wheat, when pre-soaked, makes a great addition to salads. You can also enjoy kamut as a cereal, add it to soups, stews, stir fries and pilafs or grind it into a powder for use in your favorite baked goods.

Try this recipe: Kamut pilaf with mushrooms and leeks

8. Millet

How it tastes: nutty and mild

Ways to use it: Once a staple in China, iron-rich millet is now popular in many parts of the world. Eat this tasty grain in lieu of rice, or use it to enhance the flavor and texture of breads. Millet also makes a delicious addition to stuffing, puddings and pilafs.

Try this recipe: Orange-cranberry muffins with millet flour

9. Oats

How it tastes:sweet and nutty

Ways to use it: Among the most popular grains, oats are most commonly enjoyed in—you guessed it—oatmeal. But feel free to add them to recipes for bread, muffins, cookies, bars and all manner of baked goods. The three varieties—instant, rolled and steel-cut—are equally delicious!

Try this recipe: Pineapple stir-fry with oats

10. Quinoa

How it tastes: sweet and nutty

Ways to use it: Another grain-like seed, quinoa comes to us from a South African plant that resembles spinach. Boasting high protein and fiber content, and a light, fluffy texture when cooked, quinoa can be enjoyed on its own, used to top salad, substituted for tabbouleh or couscous or added to soup, stuffing, porridge or baked good recipes.

Try this recipe: Loaded vegetarian quinoa chili

11. Rice

How it tastes:sweet and mild (white), nutty and rich (brown)

Ways to use it: Rice is also among the most popular picks in the grain group. Serve it steamed, boiled or fried, enjoy it in pudding or roll it into grape leaves or sushi—and let’s not forget about rice milk and risotto!  

Try this recipe: Wild rice-stuffed mushrooms with fresh rosemary

12. Rye

How it tastes:slightly spicy and tangy

Ways to use it: You’ve probably tasted (or at least heard of) rye bread. This grain can also be used in other baked goods, such as brownies, and to add the sharp, distinctive flavor to rye whiskey.

Try this recipe: Whole-grain berry scones

13. Spelt

How it tastes:sweet and nutty

Ways to use it: Also known as hulled or dinkel wheat, spelt can be simmered and served as a hot breakfast cereal or soaked overnight and cooked in fresh water (until tender) for use in soups and salads. Spelt flour can be used to make breads, baked goods and pasta.

Try this recipe: Red pepper & hazelnut spelt-crust pizza

14. Wheat

How it tastes: slightly nutty and mild

Ways to use it: Believed to have originated in southwestern Asia, wheat is the major ingredient in most baked goods and pasta and is typically found in breakfast cereals. It is also common in baby food and beer, and makes a very effective thickener in sauces and soups.

Try this recipe: Whole wheat carrot-flax muffins