Beyond Quinoa: 9 Grains You Might Not Know, but Should
By now you’re probably pretty familiar with the ancient South American grain quinoa. You’ve enjoyed it in countless salads and rice bowls. Maybe you’ve even used it to make delicious little cakes or a hearty flavorful chili. Quinoa has become such a part of your healthy lifestyle that you might be getting sick of the once unheard-of grain. If so, you’ve come to the right place! There’s a whole wide world of ancient grains out there. These little-known delights are just as nutritious, easy to cook with, and as versatile as quinoa. Ready to expand your culinary horizons? Here are nine grains you might not know, but should.
Bulgur is a type of wheat grain that been cracked and partially cooked. Although it is not gluten-free, it’s high in fiber, low in fat, and cooks quickly, in just 10 to 12 minutes. It can be used just like couscous and quinoa. If you’ve had tabbouleh salad, you’ve had bulgur. It’s the grain that’s used to make this parsley-packed Middle Eastern salad.
Farro is an ancient strain of wheat that is known for its satisfying chew. It was the standard daily ration of the Roman legions, so it’s normally associated with Italian cuisine. Farro comes pearled and semi-pearled and can be used to make risotto instead of arborio rice. Farro is packed with fiber, minerals, and cyanogenic glucosides, which is an immune system boosting carb. Like brown rice, farro takes a little longer to cook.
If you’ve tried the meal delivery service Blue Apron, you might have recently cooked with feekeh. It’s a popular grain that the company uses often in its recipes. In Arabic, the word freekah means ‘to rub,’ and that refers to the process by which the grain is made. Young green wheat is picked, parched, roasted, and rubbed—the resulting grain is freekeh. It’s not gluten-free, has a flavor similar to bulgur, and cooks quickly in less than 20 minutes.
Until recently, millet was used to feed birds and stuff bean bag chairs. Thanks to the gluten-free craze, more home cooks are beginning to experiment with the overlooked grain. Millet is a very tiny ancient seed that grows tall like grass, and then it forms ears like corn. It’s most commonly found in the pearl form, has a nutty flavor, and is packed with fiber, iron, B vitamins, and magnesium. In some countries millet is ground and used to make flatbreads, such as a Ethiopian injera and Indian roti, and in Eastern Africa, they use millet to make beer.
There are over 60 different types of amaranth, a tiny grain is packed with protein and is native to Peru, although Mexico claims it for its own. It’s gluten-free and has a wonderful earthy nutty taste. Amaranth is a relative of quinoa, and it can be puffed and popped, simmered, and stewed. It’s very small, so it can be used like polenta to thicken soups or serve as a base to a saucy braised meat dish.
Kamut is not gluten-free, but it is high in protein and low in fat. It’s name refers to a specific type of wheat, khorasan, and it’s rumored to have been a staple on Noah’s ark. Kamut holds its shape while cooking and has a chewy, toothsome texture, and rich nutty flavor. It looks like fat light-brown rice kernels.
You may have heard of sorghum: In the form of a syrup, it’s a sweetener used frequently in Southern cuisine. However, it comes form a cereal grain that grows like corn and is native to Africa, where it has grown for 4000 years. Sorghum can be used for a lot more than sweetening, especially when in it’s grain form. It’s gluten-free and can be ground into a flour. Sorghum looks and tastes like Israeli couscous but can be popped like popcorn. It’s a round and chewy grain perfect for salads and stews.
Spelt is an ancient species of wheat that has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor. It’s higher in protein than common wheat and has the same shape and size as orzo. Spelt comes in two forms: as berries and ground into flour. It’s a scrumptious grain that’s high in gluten because it is a type of wheat. It’s quick and easy to cook and can be turned into risotto or used in a hearty salad.
Barley is a versatile cereal grain with a chewy texture and nutty flavor. It comes in two forms: hulled and pearl. Pearled barley cooks faster than hulled barley because it has been polished and part of the outer layer has been removed. Use it to make a pilaf or a grain salad or in a soup preparation. Pearl barley will release starch when it’s cooked, so it adds a natural creaminess to certain soups and stews. It contains gluten.
Have you tried any of these grains? What did you make?