Everything You Need To Know About Grains
Looking for some grainspiration? We’ve put together a 101 guide on these fantastic edible seeds, from types of grains and what grains to choose, to a selection of grain-glorious recipes to pick from. A staple food around the world, adding more grains to your meal plan can be a great way to get more fibre into your diet while trying new and delicious dishes.
So whether you’re looking for a wholegrain recipe, want to know how to cook dry grains, or would simply like to learn more about this versatile food, read on for a kernel (or two) of advice…
What are grains?
Cereal grains, or “true grains”, are classified as part of the Poaceae family which includes wheat, barley, oats, corn and rice but other foods with comparable characteristics are also usually considered grains by the Whole Grains Council (a pro-grain consumer advocacy group) as well as chefs.
Grains are made up of three important parts:
- The outermost layer which is also called bran. Bran is the part that contains fibre and B vitamins.
- The embryo which is also called the germ. The germ contains oils, vitamins, proteins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- The endosperm which is found above the germ. This contains carbohydrates and protein.
Where does grain come from?
Grain comes from types of grasses and plants. Different species of grains are grown around the world, depending on the climate and preferred diet. Every growing season, grasses develop, reach maturity and produce seeds before dying. Grains are harvested from these dead, or dry, grasses.
How are grains grown?
Grain is the seed of grasses including wheat, rice, oats and corn. Also known as cereals, they are annual plants, meaning they yield one crop per year. Grains are harvested from the dead, or dry, plants. Different grains, or cereal crops, are grown in different parts of the world, depending on the climate.
What’s the difference between whole grains and refined grains?
Whole grains still contain all three parts of the kernel: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. Refined grains are processed – or “refined” – to strip away the outer casing and often some of the inner seed, leaving only the starchy part. Although refined grains have a longer shelf life, they contain less of the good stuff such as fibre and iron.
Kinds of cereal grain
Wheat is a type of grass and an incredibly versatile grain. It is one of the three most produced grains in the world, along with corn and rice. Ground wheat is used for bread, pizza dough and pasta. Eaten whole as “wheat berries”, it can be delicious in soups, salads or as part of a breakfast.
Oats are a type of cereal grain known for its seed and whole oats are a particularly good choice as they still contain their endosperm, bran and germ. Traditionally used in breakfast cereals such as muesli as well as the main ingredient in porridge, oats can be used in cookies and flapjacks as well as curries.
Rice is a grass seed and the most consumed food for over half the world’s population. It’s fantastic with curries, soups and risottos, as well as sweet dishes such as rice pudding
Maize, also known as corn (especially in the US), is a whole grain but can also be classed as a vegetable and a fruit. It comes from a different species to “sweet corn” and is used in cornmeal or for popcorn.
Barley is a seed from a type of grass that grows in moderate climates. It has a chewy texture with a mild and nutty flavour. It’s a great choice for using in soups and salads or with a stew.
A tiny grass seed, teff has a mild nutty flavour. It’s gluten-free and has a high calcium content with lots of iron and protein. On its own, it can be used for porridge or as a side dish. You can also mix it with wheat flour for a pastry.
In contrast to wheat or rice, quinoa is a complete protein that contains all eight of the essential amino acids. It’s a wonderful choice for salads or paired with vegetables and a lean protein such as chicken breast.
Millet comes from small-seeded grasses. It is a gluten-free grain that is consumed whole, pearled or ground. Fluffy and mild, it makes a great alternative to rice or quinoa.
Rye is a member of the wheat family (Triticeae) and is also closely related to barley. It’s predominantly used to make whiskey (and Canadian whisky) and rye bread, but also makes great cookies and pastry.
Amaranth is high in protein and lysine which is an amino acid found in low quantities in other grains. Gluten-free and versatile, it can be used in everything from salads to vegetable burgers.
Buckwheat has grain-like seeds and is rich in fibre. A great all rounder, it can be used in soups, salads or curries or in hearty dishes with mushrooms or cheese.
Triticale is a hybrid (or crossing) of the cereal plants wheat and rye. It’s a great alternative to wheat that can be used in breads, tortillas, cakes and cookies.
Sorghum is the seed from a grass. With a mild and sweet flavour, it is often used as an alternative to quinoa. Use it as part of a grain bowl topped with avocado or as a side to grilled salmon.
Recipes with grains
Bulgur and Green Bean Salad
This lemony dish with nutty bulgur wheat makes an ideal lunch, light dinner or side. Taking just 30 minutes to make, pick piquant preserved lemons and drizzle with a seasoned yoghurt sauce for a meal the whole family will love.
A wonderfully zingy combination of flavours that can be tossed together in one dish, this Middle Eastern salad is ideal with chicken or lamb kebabs. With handfuls of ruby pomegranate seeds it looks pretty on the plate, too.
Cardamom Rice Pudding with Roast Blood Orange
Combining fragrant cardamom pods, creamy rice pudding and tart blood oranges, this moreish dessert is also vivid in colour. Serve warm with a dollop of double cream for comfort food at its finest.
Pork Belly Fried Rice
Crispy pork with egg-fried rice has been a classic in China for centuries and it’s not hard to see why this dish has stood the test of time. Top with refreshing green slices of salad onion or pair with stir fried green vegetables.
Peanut Butter Overnight Oats
Overnight oats make the ultimate fuss-free breakfast for busy mornings as they can be prepared the day before. Just add chopped banana and a generous spoon of smooth peanut butter.
Mushroom, Butternut and Sage Pearl Barley Risotto
Using pearl barley rather than rice, this hearty risotto is more robust in texture with added bite, while mushrooms, squash and sage give a wonderful richness.
Quinoa Cinnamon Porridge
Packed with protein, dietary fibre, B vitamins and dietary minerals, this is a tasty alternative to traditional oat porridge. Just top with yoghurt and your favourite fruit for a breakfast you will love waking up to.
Try some of our picks…
Whether you’re looking for inspiring grain-based recipes, or simply interested in ways to incorporate more fibre into your diet, we’ve got a whole range of delicious grains to pick from, with delicious recipes to match. Head on over to the grain aisle for more inspiration.