Whole Grains

Move over, potatoes and pasta. Make way for spelt, wild rice, bulgur, brown rice, quinoa, and barley! Grains are an excellent source of protein, vitamins, iron, and dietary fiber. In addition, each type of grain has its own distinctive flavor, making them as tasty as they are nutritious.


Barley is a mild-flavored grain often used to add thickness to stews and soups. Barley is also a great addition to casseroles with carrots, root veggies, and onions.

Pearled barley and hulled barley are the two most popular types. Pearled barley is milled barley, which takes 40 minutes to cook. Hulled barley--barley with its outer layer removed--is more nutritious than pearled but takes a full 90 minutes to cook.

Beaker's Vegetable Barley Soup
Beaker's Vegetable Barley Soup | Photo by CCloves2bake.

Brown Rice

More nutritious than white rice, brown rice is one of the more familiar whole grains. Brown rice cooks in double the amount of water or broth and it needs to simmer for a full 45 minutes. Cook up a batch and store it in a container in the refrigerator for days when you don't have time to let it cook slowly.

Wild Mushrooms and Brown Rice
Wild Mushrooms and Brown Rice | Photo by Meredith.

Bulgur Wheat

Par-boiled cracked wheat--bulgur--cooks by rehydration. Simply pour twice the amount of boiling water or broth over dry bulgur and let it stand for about 30 minutes.

Bulgur wheat's greatest claim to fame is tabbouleh salad, but it's also a terrific substitute for ground beef. When cooked in vegetarian chili, for example, its texture becomes very similar to ground beef--but offers more fiber and far less fat.

Nutburgers | Photo by Linda T.


Quinoa (keen-wa) has been growing in South American fields for centuries (the Incans loved quinoa so much they called it "the mother grain").

Commonly used in salads, soups, pilafs, and side dishes, quinoa has a wonderful nutty taste and aroma. It's a quick-cooking grain--done in 15 minutes in a saucepan filled with 2 cups water to 1 cup quinoa.

Mexican Chicken Quinoa Salad
Mexican Chicken Quinoa Salad | Photo by Sherri.

Whole Wheat

Chewy, nutty wheat grains make terrific side dishes and salads. Find farro (emmer wheat), spelt, or wheat berries in the healthy or bulk foods section of many grocery stores and health food stores. Soak the grains overnight for faster cooking. Use 2 cups water and 1 cup wheat, and cook it like brown rice.

Cherry Farro Salad with Sweet Vinaigrette
Cherry Farro Salad with Sweet Vinaigrette | Photo by LilSnoo.

Wild Rice

Wild rice is not really rice at all: it is the seed of a grass grown in Minnesota and Canada.

Wild rice has an assertive flavor that's delicious in soups and great paired with split peas or combined with other grains. It is one of the longer-cooking grains, using three to four times the amount of water or broth versus grain. The rice must simmer for a full 45 minutes to 1 hour before serving. The results are worth it!

Wild rice is harvested by hand, however, so it can be expensive.

Wild and Brown Rice
Wild and Brown Rice | Photo by naples34102.

Get Your Whole Grains

Try these ideas to add whole grains into your diet:

  • For breakfast, cook brown rice in ¾ cup water and ¼ cup apple juice. Sprinkle the hot cooked rice with cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Add ¼ cup cooked wild rice into a bowl of vegetable or tomato soup.
  • Instead of meat chili, substitute 1 cup dry bulgur wheat for 1 pound of meat. Sauté the bulgur with diced onions and other vegetables. Add liquid and let the chili cook until thickened.
  • In a non-stick skillet, sauté ½ cup (each) mushrooms and onions in 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add 2 cups low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in 1 cup pearled barley. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. You'll have a hearty side dish for four that goes well with Cornish hens, chicken, or turkey.

Explore our complete collection of Whole Grain Recipes.

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