“100% of the original kernel- all of the bran, germ, and endosperm- must be present to qualify as a whole grain.” -Whole Grains Council
Why whole grains? Most bread and other baked goods are made from refined flour, which is the starchy endosperm of the three main components of wheat. Sometimes the bran and germ are added back afterward. Grains that have been refined and reassembled and grains with the three main components still intact are digested differently.
Most of us know barley as a grain used in making beer, malted beverages, or used in cooking soups. Barley is a good source of iron, niacin and vitamin B-6 and an adequate source of magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. It also has a great fiber content, providing both soluble and insoluble fiber. Barley has a mild nutty sweetness and a malty flavor and can be cooked on its own or added to robust baking goods.
Durum is mostly used in making pasta because of its high content of gluten. It is the hardest of all wheat and has a higher protein content than other types of wheat. Semolina flour comes from the endosperm of the durum wheat.
Einkorn, translated as “one corn” from German, grows with only one grain on a stem. It is the oldest grain and is the only grain that has never been hybridized. High in Thiamin, essential dietary and trace minerals, einkorn is a great source of protein, iron, dietary fiber and many B vitamins. Although einkorn does contain gluten, it is a gluten that lacks the high molecular weight proteins that many people have trouble digesting. Note, if you do have Celiac Disease, this may not be an alternative for you.
Emmer was one of the first grains domesticated in the near east. It comes under the classification of “farro”. Farro includes three hulled kinds of wheat: einkorn, spelt, and emmer. Recently, farro has gained popularity for its nutritional value of fiber, protein, and magnesium. It has a hearty, flavorful taste and a slightly chewy texture. Emmer combines well with legumes to make a complete protein.
Kamut is an ancient Egyptian word for “wheat”. This grain is low in gluten but higher in protein than normal wheat and richer in magnesium, zinc, and vitamin E. The low amount of gluten makes kamut easier to tolerate for many wheat sensitive people. Kamut combines well with other wheat grains to produce a loaf of bread with a chewy texture and a rich, buttery flavor.
Rye is a hardy grain that is grown in colder regions because of its ability to withstand cold, floods, and drought. It can also be grown successfully in poor soil. A few benefits of rye include improved bowel health, due to the rich source of dietary fiber and weight management. On its own, rye bread will be very heavy and dense when combined with wheat it can make a delightfully hearty loaf.
Spelt is an ancient wheat grain, closely related to Durum, but has a thicker hull which makes it more resistant to insects and is therefore grown without pesticides. What also makes this grain unusual is that the kernel retains almost all its nutritional value. Thus, it does not get depleted even after being processed. It is a good source of dietary fiber, thiamine, niacin, iron, and potassium. Although it contains gluten, spelt is easier to digest, so it is more tolerable for many wheat sensitive people.
Triticale is a manmade grain from 50% wheat and 50% rye, high in protein. The goal in creating this hybrid was to have the benefits of wheat and the hardy tolerance of the rye. As far as taste and texture, it will be a close representation of wheat and rye.
Wheat Berries, Hard White
As one of the oldest grains to be harvested, wheat is highly nutritious, providing complex carbohydrates, soluble and insoluble fiber. Other nutrients include minerals such as iron and magnesium, B vitamins and protein. Hard white wheat can be an excellent option when you want the benefit of whole wheat with a substantial gluten content. The result will produce a light-colored bread such as French bread and pizza crust.
Wheat Berries, Hard Red
The larger amount of protein in hard red wheat is the biggest difference in nutritional content between hard red and soft white wheat. Hard Red wheat is considered the “classic” whole wheat because it gives the bread a rich brown color and a nutty flavor. This is the best choice for robust bread, grainy tortillas, and earthy crackers.
Wheat, Soft White
Soft white wheat is best for baking pastries, being the origin of flours like cake flour and pastry flour. It is lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates than the Hard Wheat varieties. Soft white wheat is also considered to be the grain of choice for sprouting.
Amaranth is a nutritious ancient grain that is naturally gluten-free and rich in protein. It is referred to as “complete” because it contains lysine which is an amino acid that is missing in many grains. It’s also high in calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. It has a nutty, slightly spicy flavor and a gelatinous texture. Amaranth could be cooked like any other grain into a hot cereal but will become sticky when cooked.
Despite the name, buckwheat is not a type of wheat or a grass. Not considered by some to be a true grain, it relates more to sorrel and rhubarb. Buckwheat has many health benefits, including soluble fiber which helps slow down the rate of glucose absorption. It is helpful to overall colon health and is higher in levels of zinc, copper, and manganese than other cereal grains. Although it is commonly used as a cereal, buckwheat is starting to appeal more to adventurous chefs for its robust earthy flavors. Roasted and raw buckwheat will cook differently and the milled flour will differ as well. The raw buckwheat will produce a subtly sweet, earthy flavor, while the roasted- a strong earthy flavor.
Based on the Whole Grains Council, “fresh corn is usually classified as a vegetable, and dried corn (including popcorn) as a grain”. Corn is eaten along with beans in many cultures because it has complimentary amino acids that work together to make complete proteins. Corn contains a lot of vitamin A, 10 times more than other grains. Cornmeal that is stone-ground is preferable and it retains the hull and germ. Corn flour is considered a whole-grain as it is a fine version of stone-ground cornmeal. When baking with cornmeal and corn flour, you can expect to get rich color, a buttery sweet flavor and crunchy surfaces and edges to pancakes, biscuits, waffles, etc.
Millet is a very versatile grain, rich in vitamin B, lecithin, and calcium, high in antioxidants, fiber, and magnesium. Millet has a very light and mild flavor and pairs with many different foods. It can be cooked into a hot cereal, depending on how you like it to be- fluffy, sticky or creamy. Millet can be ground into flour to use in baked goods, and substituted up to 30% of your regular flour amount or added whole to bread for extra texture.
Oats have long been a part of animal feed but can be just as good for humans. With more fat and protein but fewer carbs and less sugar than whole wheat, its no wonder that oatmeal is a popular breakfast food. It’s full of cholesterol reducing qualities and unique antioxidant power. Besides being great for breakfast, oats can be used in baking as rolled oats and oat flour. Flavors of butterscotch and nuts and creamy textures in cakes, cookies, muffins, etc., are part of the benefits of oats. The soft fibers of oat flour combine well with other whole grains. It reduces any gritty textures because oats absorb moisture very well.
Quinoa has been a staple in South America for thousands of years and is very high in protein. Besides protein, quinoa contains many other nutritional benefits, such as starchy carbohydrates, dietary fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron. Quinoa is a seed that also can be classified as a pseudocereal(a non-grass used as a cereal). Despite being a seed, it has been labeled as an ancient grain. Although not considered to have a strong flavor, quinoa can come off quite strong when used in baking and tends to take on the flavor of the rest of the dish in savory foods.
There are many varieties and colors of rice. Brown rice is considered a whole grain since it contains the bran and germ. Nutritionally, brown rice has higher levels of vitamins and minerals than white rice. Manganese is one of the minerals in brown rice that aids in digesting. Most store-bought rice flour is made from white rice that had its bran and germ removed. Brown rice flour has a toasty flavor and white rice flour remains mostly neutral, complementing the flavors of baked goods. Rice flour absorbs a lot of liquid, so it’s best to hydrate the flour ahead of time to prevent grittiness in the final product.
Sorghum is a very important and versatile ancient grain, coming up as the 5th most produced grain in the world. It is drought resistant and can be grown in harsh climates and soil. Unlike other grains that have an inedible hull, sorghum can be consumed whole with most of the nutrients intact. Sorghum lends itself to cardiac health, cholesterol lowering abilities and antioxidant-rich qualities. Naturally gluten-free and neutral in flavor, sorghum is ideal to pair up with other stronger flavors of berries, nuts, and spices.
Teff is mostly known to those who are either gluten-intolerant, are familiar with Ethiopian cuisine, or have an interest in healthy grains. Because of its small size, 150 times smaller than a grain of wheat, it’s impossible to separate the germ and the bran thus making this grain a whole grain even in store-bought milled flour. Many of its health benefits include nutrients like calcium, protein, vitamin-C, iron, and fiber. As a flour, it has a gently malted, toasted aroma and pairs well with chocolate, aromatic spices, and nuts.
Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich
Whole Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon
The Whole Grain Cookbook by A.D. Livingston