Great Grains and Seeds You're Not Eating

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on March 01, 2011

To get your 3 to 5 servings a day of whole grains, perhaps you already start your morning with a whole grain cereal and choose breads made with whole wheat flour. That’s great. But don’t stop there.

“There’s a whole world of grains you’ve probably never tried, all of them bursting with nutrition and distinctive flavors,” says Cynthia Harriman, director of the Whole Grains Council, a nonprofit group that promotes whole grains and seeds. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some suggestions.

This tiny seed, which has a slight peppery flavor, originated in South America. You can still find it there at street food stalls, popped like popcorn. Here in the U.S., amaranth is showing up in breads, cereals, and muffins. It’s also a delicious addition to pancakes.

Cooking tips: Use 1 3/4 cups of water for 1 cup of amaranth. Simmer for 25 minutes. Amaranth also comes in the form of flour, which can replace some of the white flour in your favorite recipes.

Because the hull and some of the bran of barley has to be removed to make it edible, it’s not strictly a whole grain. Still, it’s loaded with fiber and nutrients. Barley has a chewy texture and slightly sweet taste. It’s most commonly used in soups. But it’s also a good substitute for potatoes in beef or chicken stews.

Cooking tips: Use 3 cups of water per 1 cup of barley. Simmer for 90 minutes or until tender.

Kasha, soba noodles, and even French crepes are all traditionally made with buckwheat flour, made from seeds. Buckwheat pancakes are another familiar dish featuring this nutritious whole grain. For home cooks, buckwheat has the advantage of being quick and easy to prepare.

Cooking tips: Use 1.5 cups of water per 1 cup of buckwheat. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Made of wheat kernels that have been boiled, dried and cracked, bulgur has a sweet, nutty flavor. It’s a tasty alternative to rice in many dishes, including pilafs and stir-fries.

Cooking tips: Bulgur can be boiled for about 10 minutes or soaked in boiling water for 30 to 40 minutes. Use 2.5 cups of water to 1 cup of grains.

Very high in protein, millet is a tiny grain that’s widely used in India and Africa. Depending on how it is prepared, millet can have the texture of light fluffy rice or mashed potatoes. “Millet combines beautifully with quinoa, since both require the same amount of cooking,” says Scott Samuel, a chef and instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Cooking tips: 1.5 cups of water to 1 cup of grain. Simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes for a light, fluffy rice-like texture. For a dish with the consistency of mashed potatoes, stir frequently while the grains cook, adding water as needed.

Pronounced keen-wah, quinoa is a small round seed that cooks quickly. It’s perfect as a substitute for rice as a side dish or in soups and stews. Quinoa also combines well with other grains, especially millet.

Cooking tips: Rinse the grains to remove bitterness. Use 1.5 cups of water to 1 cup of quinoa. Simmer 25 to 30 minutes.

Also called milo, sorghum comes both as a whole grain and whole grain flour. The grain can be popped, like popcorn, or made into porridge. The flour can be substituted for wheat flour in recipes for muffins, cookies, and other baked goods.

Cooking tip: Sorghum grains can be lightly toasted to enhance their flavor. Use 2 cups of water to 1 cup of grain, adding more water if necessary as it cooks.

Also known as farro, this slightly sweet and earthy-flavored grain is a variety of wheat. You’ll find it in whole grain breads and cereals. Spelt is also available ground into flour.

Cooking tips: 1.5 cups of water to 1 cup of grain. Simmer 50 to 60 minutes. Spelt flour can be used as a substitute for wheat flour. Reduce water by 25%.

Used in Ethiopia to make flatbreads, this relative of millet is one of the smallest grains in the world. Very high in iron and calcium, teff has a sweet, malt-like flavor. It can be cooked for porridge or added to baked goods. Teff flour, which is gluten free, is also available.

Cooking tips: For cooking, use 4 cups of water for one cup of teff. Boil for 20 minutes or until tender. Because teff grains are so small, use less than you would other grains for porridge. Teff can also be added uncooked to baked goods.

Show Sources


Whole Grains Council.

Scott Samuel, chef/instructor, Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Wheat Foods Council.

National Sorghum Producers.

Whole Foods: “Whole Grains 101.”

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