It doesn’t really matter where or how you grew up, in one way or another grains made their way onto your plate in some form. However, what really is a grain? Aren’t most flours from a grain? You might be surprised to find out that many items you have come to consider grains are not at all so.
A grain is an edible seed of grass. These grass seed grains include: barley, corn, kamut, oats, spelt and wheat. They are grown, harvested, dried and stored where they await their turn to be sold in bulk or ground into flour for a multitude of culinary uses.
Alternatively, there is an additional class of what is referred to as “pseudo-grains”. These can be consumed in a like manner to grains but come from a different non-botanical category. As they are not grasses these “grains” do not quite fit into the same category. Though you might have always considered things like: amaranth, buckwheat, chia seeds and quinoa a grain — we are happy to serve you up with a bowl full of insight to the contrary.
More food for thought and lesser known knowledge is that “pseudo-grains” are in fact gluten free, which makes for another helpful distinguishing trait. Now this does not mean that those in the grain category cannot be eaten by those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, but it is handy to know that there is a category better suited to an alternative diet.
This gorgeous plant with edible leaves and bright red flower is in fact a pseudo-grain. There are several varieties of this plant, but all would show you that it is not a grass grain and is even sometimes considered a weed. Amaranth is often used as a substitute or alternative to quinoa. As the perfect breakfast buddy, amaranth is delightfully used in porridge.
As this grain has held a lengthy history as a food staple for the Inca, Maya and Aztec civilizations, we like to refer to the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Amaranth is rich in fiber and protein micronutrients, and just one serving exceeds your daily nutrient needs of manganese (which is important for brain function). These health benefits just might be part of the reason that is still largely in use today.
Most commonly noted for its use in beer, barley is a crop related to wheat. Lower in calories and high in fiber and packed with nutrients, this grain has won itself a prized place on the pantry shelf as a staple in most homes. This gluten containing grain is noted for its bran content. Loaded with essential minerals such as copper, manganese, tryptophan and selenium, this grain will not only provide you with energy, but allows you to feel full longer, while also calming your nervous system. That’s a lot of big work for such a little grain!
Barley is often found in soups but can be added to your diet in many other ways. Like amaranth, its creamy texture allows it to be a perfect porridge pairing. What a nutrient filled way to start your day!
Hands down, rice is the most commonly consumed grain in the world. Whether you had it white, brown, pink or black, we are positive this grain has been on your plate once or twice. Unlike white rice, brown rice is its whole grain counterpart. Brown rice contains its nutrient dense fiber-filled hull, making it chewier and nuttier in flavor in contrast to white rice.
Used often as a side or a main dish, brown rice can also be ground down into flour. The flour still contains its essential minerals such as: calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc. With B rich vitamins leading the way like thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folate, there’s almost little need to mention the added serving of vitamin E and K. If white rice has been your staple, then maybe these benefits are worth making the switch.
Who doesn’t love corn? This golden delicious sweet summer grain (that’s right, it’s a grass grain!) is a summer staple. Buttered, battered, creamed or popped you’ve probably had this grain more regularly than any other. Though, not as nutrient dense as some of the other grains, we promise this ear is worth the shuck!
This gluten free grain is loaded with fiber, minerals and antioxidants. Though corn is sweet, it is not a high glycemic food. Popcorn, to some surprise, is richer in minerals whereas sweet corn is higher in vitamins. There are many delicious ways to top your popcorn, but a heap of health knowledge is how we like to serve it up. This healthy snack contains: copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc making it something worth popping over. It’s worth mentioning that corn, or rather popcorn, is one of the few whole grains that is consumed as a snack.
Pronounced “kuh-moot,” this ancient grain is also referred to as Khorasan wheat. It gained its more commonly used name after two Montana-based farmers trademarked it in celebration of its first true success in American cultivation. Kamut is not only a whole grain, but an ancient one dating back to its findings in an Egyptian pyramid. The nutty, buttery and rich flavor make them perfect as a breakfast treat.
This grass-growing grain is similar looking but twice the size of modern wheat kernels. Along with their superior size, they weigh in with better healthy fats, minerals, proteins and vitamins. Where commercialized wheat lacks, this ancient whole grain wins. Kamut shouldn’t just be limited to breakfast bowls and cereals. This grain can find itself as a delightful salad topping, porridge, bread flour, pancake mix, pasta sauce additive and a chewy addition to soups and stews.
Millet is a whole grain with a wide diversity of consumers, from both humans to livestock. This grass seed is no stranger to diversity as it is grown all over the world. Growing fast and in cold, harsh and dry environments, this grain has proven to be a contender for more than just breakfast.
Millet is considered one of the world’s healthiest foods. It is packed with minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, selenium, potassium and phosphorus. Topping that with a host of vitamins like niacin, Riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folate, folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K this grain offers a heaping helping of nutrients. Not only does millet make a fabulous addition to the breakfast table, but it is also a great substitution for rice.
Oats are most definitely the more common knowledge whole grain. High in fiber this grain will oat-ally keep you feeling fuller longer. Contradictory to popular thought, oats are naturally gluten free. Although there is a chance they may come into contact with gluten-containing grains in the mill. Oats are mixed with fruits, made into milk, ground into flour and even find themselves in a popular bread shaped meat dish. Oat “groats” are the whole grain version of oats. Oats have earned their place in most American kitchens for its benefits in lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels. The antioxidant avenatheramides, only found in oats, reduces inflammation in the arteries as well as regulates blood pressure. With so many benefits, it’s no wonder this grain makes the list.
Quinoa… such a cute little pseudo-grain with such a difficult name to say. Pronounced “keen-wah,” this grain took the health world by storm, seemingly popping up overnight. This rice replacement “grain” has found itself making its way into many a home. Noted for its high amounts of protein, quinoa can be consumed as a whole or ground down to be used as a flour. Naturally gluten free and vitamin rich with a profile of folate, niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, Vitamin B12, vitamins A and E, it’s no wonder that this grain is all the rage.
Rye is a nutrient packed and flavor filled grain that is more commonly associated with bread. This grain provides a healthy dose rich in copper, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus and selenium. Cultivated in the northern and central parts of Europe and Russia, rye is extremely hardy and grows in sandy soils with low fertility. A close relative of both barley and wheat, rye is also used for bread, beer, whiskey, vodka and animal fodder. Rye helps in reducing cholesterol and protects against both colon and breast cancer. A lesser known fun fact lesser known about rye, both its flour and bread help to lower the chances of gallstones by eliminating bile acids. Any way you slice it, rye is a whole grain worth biting into.
What is there to say about wheat? Second in common popularity to rice, this cereal grass grain is most definitely a true grain. With its origins in Southwestern Asia, wheat is now grown vastly in several countries. The primary uses for wheat are in baking products like bread, cakes, pasta, pancakes and muffins. Choose unrefined or whole wheat to maintain its nutrient contents. Consuming whole wheat is associated with decreased risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. This is why this whole grain has won over many health conscious hearts. Whole wheat also provides a variety of B vitamins and a host of minerals to keep it a consistent contender for the ultimate whole grain title.
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