Browsing intact grains at the store can be overwhelming — especially if you’re looking at rows of bulk bins stocked with everything from Amaranth to Spelt.
We made this short and sweet guide to get you started.
Scan the info below to find one that sounds like a good fit based on the meals you eat, how much time you have to prep meals, and whether you like mild or strong flavors.
As a general rule, skip pre-seasoned or flavored grains (like boxed rice mixes or flavored oatmeal), which are likely to contain an excess of salt or sugar. And be mindful of serving size since grains are easy to overeat. One serving is ¼ cup uncooked or ½ cup cooked.
Eat a lot of white rice? Try brown rice.
From a nutrition standpoint, brown rice blows white rice out of the boiling water. With brown rice, only the hull of the rice kernel is removed, preserving most of the grain’s nutritional value. In contrast, when brown rice is “polished” to make white rice, most of its B vitamins, phosphorus, iron, dietary fiber, and essential fatty acids are removed (later in processing, B vitamins and iron are added back in).
Few people realize that brown rice comes in as many forms as white rice, including long- and short-grain, basmati, and jasmine. If you prefer sticky, starchy rice, go for short-grain. If you like loose, fluffy rice, go for long-grain. All types of brown rice have a mild, nutty flavor that blends well with other foods.
Cooking time: 35 – 45 minutes
Liquid-to-grain ratio: 2 1/4 cups water to 1 cup brown rice (makes 4 servings)
Directions: Combine rice and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer undisturbed for up to 45 minutes (follow package directions for exact time). Fluff with a fork and serve.
Brown rice too boring? Try kasha.
Kasha is the name for intact buckwheat grains (a.k.a. groats) that have been toasted to release their nutty flavor. Unlike the flour used to make buckwheat pancakes, kasha is minimally processed and remains high in heart-healthy flavonoids, magnesium, and essential amino acids. Its texture is similar to rice, making it a great substitute.
Cook time: 15 – 20 minutes
Liquid-to-grain ratio: 2 cups water to 1 cup kasha (makes 4 servings)
Directions: Combine kasha and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer undisturbed until tender.
Like your breakfast hot? Try oats or groats.
All oats at the store have been hulled and roasted. When processing stops there, fiber and nutrients remain largely intact. Minimally processed oats include oat groats (the most intact), steel-cut oats (cut into 2 or 3 pieces), rolled oats (steamed, flattened, and dried). More heavily processed quick-cooking or instant oats aren’t as nutritious.
Oat groats, steel-cut oats, and rolled oats boast excellent health benefits. The soluble and insoluble fiber in oats has been shown to help control blood sugar and promote weight loss.
Note that oats have a higher fat content than other grains and can go rancid more quickly. Buy only what you think you’ll eat in a month or so, and store in the fridge.
Cook time: groats 45-60 minutes, steel-cut 20-40 minutes, rolled 10 minutes
Liquid-to-grain ratio: 3 cups water to 1 cup groats or steel-cut oats; 2 cups water to 1 cup rolled oats (makes 4 servings)
Directions: For oat groats, combine groats with water in a pot, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer undisturbed for 45-60 minutes until tender. For steel-cut or rolled oats, combine with the appropriate amount of water in a pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for required time. Stir rolled oats often, steel-cut oats every 10 minutes or so.
Like hearty salads? Try quinoa.
Like kasha, quinoa can be used in any recipe in which you’d use rice. It also makes for a delicious warm or cold mix-in for salads. Beyond its chewy, satisfying texture and nutty flavor, quinoa is a “complete” protein — it contains all the essential fatty acids that your body needs. It also delivers healthy unsaturated fat as well as many other good-for-you vitamins and minerals.
Cook time: 15-20 minutes
Liquid-to-grain ratio: 2 cups water to 1 cup quinoa (makes 4 servings)
Directions: Before cooking quinoa, rinse it quickly in a fine-mesh strainer to remove any traces of its bitter coating. After rinsing, place quinoa in a covered pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer undisturbed for about 15 minutes, until the grains become translucent and the germ appears as a thin white ring around each grain. Fluff with a fork and serve.
Like soups and stews? Try barley.
Barley is a great choice for soups and stews because it holds its shape and texture extremely well, softening up in hot liquid, but not getting too mushy. Make sure to buy hulled barley (sometimes called dehulled barley), not pearl barley, which is more processed. Barley is high in fiber and has been shown to help regulate blood sugar after meals for up to 10 hours.
Cook time: An overnight soak plus 45 minutes
Liquid-to-grain ratio: 3 cups water to 1 cup barley (makes 4 servings)
Directions: Soak hulled barley overnight using a 2:1 ratio of water to grains, then drain and rinse. To cook, combine water and pre-soaked barley in a 3:1 ratio in an uncovered pot and bring to a boil (don’t add salt at this stage as it will prevent water from being fully absorbed). Reduce heat and simmer undisturbed for 45 minutes or until tender. Add cooked barley to homemade or store-bought soups and stews.
The Metabolic Effects of Oats Intake in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2015 Dec 10;7(12):10369-87. doi: 10.3390/nu7125536.
Short- and Long-Term Effects of Wholegrain Oat Intake on Weight Management and Glucolipid Metabolism in Overweight Type-2 Diabetics: A Randomized Control Trial. Nutrients. 2016 Sep 7;8(9). pii: E549. doi: 10.3390/nu8090549.