Grains are an essential element in a healthy diet, and eating high-fiber whole grains may help reduce your risk of heart disease, ward off diabetes, and control cholesterol. They’re also filling and earthy-tasting and pair well with all kinds of foods in salads, soups, and side dishes.
Barley has a springy, pastalike texture, a mild flavor, and a creamy flavor. It is sold as a whole grain (hulled) or pearl barley (bran removed, then steamed and polished), which cooks faster. A high-fiber food, barley helps lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease, prevent the development of type 2 diabetes, and aid regularity. In a soup, or as a side dish or a salad, the grain pairs nicely with roasted meats, fruit, and earthy vegetables, like mushrooms.
Made from steamed, dried, and cracked wheat, bulgur has a nutty flavor and a granular texture. It is a good source of potassium, B vitamins, iron, and calcium; it also has the same amount of protein as brown rice but less fat and more fiber. Bulgur is a good choice for salads: Try it with tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, and mint or with dried fruits, nuts, and cinnamon.
Also known as emmer wheat, farro is most frequently imported from Italy and sold pearled (which cooks quickly) rather than hulled (whole). The cooked grain’s texture is dense and chewy, the flavor delicate and nutty. Rich in fiber, protein, and vitamins A, B, C, and E, farro is low in gluten and easily digested. It is often used in hearty Italian soups and as a substitute for Arborio rice in risotto.
Kasha (toasted buckwheat groats) has a distinctive slightly sweet, musky flavor. It is often classified with grains but is really a three-sided fruit seed. A protein-rich, gluten-free food, kasha is high in dietary fiber and antioxidants and helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It complements richly flavored foods, such as caramelized onions, cured meats, nuts, and wild rice.
Although it cooks like a grain, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is an herbaceous plant. It has the texture of small, light beads and a fairly mild taste that pairs well with strong-flavored vegetables like kale, spinach, and red peppers. Quinoa is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. It’s also a good source of magnesium, which protects against osteoporosis.
These minimally processed whole wheat kernels have a strong, sweet taste; a tight, oval shape; and a chewy texture. With their nutrient-rich bran and germ, they’re packed with protein, vitamin E, and iron and are especially high in fiber, so they help protect against colon cancer. Wheat berries enhance subtly flavored foods, such as chicken and shellfish. Their sweetness tempers salty ingredients, like capers and bacon.
How to Store Grains
Most grains (as well as kasha and quinoa, which are herbaceous plants, not grains) can be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry place away from sunlight for up to 6 months. Light, heat, and air can turn the oils in hulled barley and wheat berries (as well as all whole grains) rancid; these grains should be stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator or freezer, where they’ll keep for up to 6 months; for best results, bring them to room temperature before using.
All cooked grains will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months.
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