What’s the deal with whole grains? To get technical about it, the definition of a whole grain is any cereal grain that contains the cereal germ, endosperm, and bran. Whole grains contain much more nutrition since nothing is “stripped” away from the grain--refined grains, in contrast, only retain the endosperm.
If you live a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle, then whole grains in some form may be a significant part of your diet. Whole grains have come a long way in the past few years—we have a lot more options than whole wheat now!—and people are rediscovering and appreciating the use of ancient grains in their meals. Whether you’re gluten-free or not, ancient grains such as teff, millet, and einkorn can be incorporated easily into your diet. Move over white rice, there’s a new carbohydrate in town!
Below you’ll find a brief description of 6 healthy whole grains, how to use them, what they taste like, and how to cook them.
Gluten-Free Whole Grains
Why you should give it a try: Millet is high in fiber and protein--it contains all amino acids, making it a “complete” protein too. It’s great to use as a side dish just like you would any other carbohydrate, such as rice. Try adding millet to your salad or use as a cold “pasta” dish with your favorite dressing and vegetables, as it keeps well warm or cold.
Taste & Texture: Millet is incredibly delicious! It’s light, fluffy, slightly nutty, and great at soaking up any flavors you pair with it.
How to Prepare: Use 2 ½ cups of water or broth for every 1 cup of dry millet. Simply boil the liquid, add the millet, and simmer for 25 minutes until soft. Fluff with a fork before serving.
Use It In: Sweet Potato and Millet Falafel
Why you should give it a try: Amaranth is another gluten-free grain (although technically it’s a seed!) that’s high in fiber, protein, and a great source of carbohydrates. Amaranth also contains zinc, manganese, copper, and iron.
Taste & Texture: Earthy, nutty, and very soft in texture. Amaranth is unique in that it can be made in several ways: fluffed and used like rice (like quinoa and millet), cooked for longer periods of time to resemble grits, and even popped like popcorn in a dry heated pot!
How to Prepare: Use 3 cups of water or broth for every 1 cup of amaranth. Boil the water, add the amaranth, simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes until soft, then fluff with a fork. Cook longer and add more water to develop a grit-like texture. To pop your amaranth, add dry amaranth to a large pot and shake/stir continuously until all the amaranth has popped (be careful, it burns quickly).
Use It In: Cinnamon Apple Pear Amaranth Porridge from Nutrition Stripped
Why you should give it a try: Teff is another ancient whole grain that’s been used for centuries in cooking. The grains of teff are incredibly small, but they’re a nutrition powerhouse. Teff contains calcium, iron, protein, and fiber.
Taste & Texture: Slighty sweet and nutty. Use in porridges, stews, as a pilaf or side dish. Teff flour can be used in baked goods, like breads, muffins, and cookies.
How to Prepare: Use 2-3 cups of water or broth for every 1 cup of dry teff (depending on how chewy you want it). Simply boil the liquid and teff for 20-25 minutes until tender--the end result is similar to thick and sticky polenta.
Use It In: Gluten-Free Pumpkin Loaf from Henry Happened
Why you should give it a try: Buckwheat, despite its name, is actually another delicious gluten-free grain. With all the fiber, protein, and minerals contains in these little seeds, it’s super nutritious. Like amaranth, buckwheat isn’t actually a cereal grain--it’s a fruit seed high in manganese, copper, iron, and magnesium.
Taste & Texture: Buckwheat is slightly sweet, nutty and chewy. Use in porridges, raw and soaked overnight, sprouted for granola, pilaf, or use buckwheat flour for baked goods.
How to Prepare: Rinse the buckwheat well. Use 2 cups of water or broth for every 1 cup of dry buckwheat. Boil for about 25 minutes or until tender.
Use It In: Buckwheat Hemp Banana Pancakes from Spabettie
Whole Grains That Contain Gluten
Why you should give it a try: Einkorn is an ancient wheat mostly grown in Europe that contains more phosphorus, vitamin B6, and potassium than regular wheat. Einkorn is a “pure” form of wheat, as it contains all the nutrition from harvesting without processing the hull away from the grain.
Taste & Texture: When cooked, einkorn has a nutty flavor and chewy texture. Einkorn flour can be used to make bread, muffins, cakes, and other baked goods.
How to Prepare: Use 5 cups of water or broth for every 1 cup of dry einkorn. Simmer for 25-30 minutes until tender.
Note: Some individuals suffering from wheat intolerances or sensitivities may consume einkorn without any negative side effects, but that’s not always the case. It’s different for every individual, so it’s best to play it safe.
Use It In: Homemade Fig Newtons from Healthy Green Kitchen
Why you should give it a try: Spelt is an ancient grain rich in fiber, protein, and minerals such as iron and manganese. Spelt berries are great to add to salads (they work especially well with kale!), used in soups, stews, or as a side dish like rice would be used. Spelt is also sold and used as a flour to make baked goods such as breads, cakes, pancakes, muffins, and much more.
Taste & Texture: Sweet, nutty, chewy, and the grains stay fluffy after cooking, unlike other grains, which can loose their “al dente” texture when cooked for too long.
How to Prepare: Use 3 cups of water or broth for every 1 cup of spelt. Cook for 1 ½ hours at a simmer or until the kernels have become tender. If you enjoy a chewier texture, cut down the water to 2 cups!
Use It In: Blissful Blueberry Banana Spelt Muffins from Oh She Glows