The Best Grain Types to Add to Your Weekly Meal Rotation

Don’t know the difference between farro and freekeh? Don’t panic: Our guide has you covered.

Types of grains - guide to common types of grains with chart and pictures
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We all know grains make up one of the primary food groups—remember the food pyramid, anyone? But it's less well-known that different grains offer different health benefits, flavors, and textures. Beyond your standard types of grains—think wheat, white rice, and cornmeal—there are dozens of other grains that serve as great bases for meats, vegetables, sauces, and more. (Some of these grains even offer protein, are gluten-free, and are healthy enough to eat every day.)

If you're ready to expand your food knowledge, check out our list of 11 grains that you need to know. We'll also explain how you should be buying, cooking, and using each of these different (but still somewhat common) types of grains. Who knows—you might just find a new-to-you grain that changes your dinner menu rotation for good.

01 of 11


Types of grains - Amaranth (picture)
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Amaranth is made up of tiny brown seeds and is nutritionally similar to a grain. Amaranth is also naturally gluten-free.

  • Taste: mild and nutty
  • Health benefits: The high protein content in this grain/seed helps people on plant-based diets meet their required daily protein needs.
  • Cooking time/method: Bring 1 cup amaranth and 2 cups water to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender and water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
  • Eat with: Amaranth is great when combined with other grains—add a few tablespoons to a pot of oatmeal for a protein-packed boost to your favorite morning dish.
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Types of grains - Barley (picture)
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Barley consists of light golden, compact grains. Look for whole or hulled barley—pearled is not whole grain.

  • Taste: mild, chewy, and dense
  • Health benefits: As a high-fiber food, barley helps lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease, prevent the development of type 2 diabetes, and aid regularity.
  • Cooking time/method: Boil in a large pot of salted water (similar to pasta) until tender, 45 to 60 minutes. Drain.
  • Eat with: Use barley instead of rice in a paella for a grain with a little extra fiber.
03 of 11


Types of grains - Bulgur (picture)
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Bulgur is boiled, dried, and cracked wheat. This grain makes a great replacement for brown rice.

  • Taste: earthy and nutty
  • Health benefits: 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.
  • Cooking time/method: Simmer 2 parts water to 1 part coarse or medium bulgur until water is absorbed, about 10 minutes. For fine bulgur, use the same ratio but pour boiling water over the grain, cover, and let stand until absorbed.
  • Eat with: Try bulgur with braised meats, or mix it into an herb-packed salad, such as tabbouleh.
04 of 11


Types of grains - Farro (picture)
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Also known as emmer wheat, farro is an heirloom wheat variety most frequently imported from Italy. It is sold pearled (which cooks quickly) rather than hulled (whole).

  • Taste: nutty, earthy, and chewy
  • Health benefits: For the most health benefits, look for whole farro. Rich in fiber, protein, and vitamins A, B, C, and E, farro is low in gluten and easily digested.
  • Cooking time/method: Boil in a large pot of salted water until tender, 35 to 45 minutes. Drain.
  • Eat with: Top farro with a poached egg and wilted greens for an easy dinner.
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Types of grains - Freekeh (picture)
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Freekeh is a dried and roasted green wheat, typically sold as whole freekeh or cracked freekeh.

  • Taste: Faintly smoky and chewy
  • Health benefits: The high protein and fiber content in freekeh make it a great option for weight loss.
  • Cooking time/method: Bring 1 cup freekeh and 2 1/2 cups water to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender and water is absorbed (15 to 20 minutes for cracked freekeh or about 40 minutes for whole freekeh).
  • Eat with: Use freekeh in tabbouleh, or add it to a stuffing for roasts.
06 of 11


Types of grains - Kamut (picture)
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Kamut is a variety of large heirloom wheat. As far as size, it's larger and more chewy than most grains on this list.

  • Taste: firm and nutty
  • Health benefits: This type of wheat is packed with protein, fiber, and minerals.
  • Cooking time/method: Boil in a large pot of salted water until tender, 45 to 60 minutes. Drain.
  • Eat with: Simmer kamut in a rich stew, where it will hold its shape.
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Types of grains - rolled oats (picture)
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Oats are small grains that can be rolled into flakes or steel-cut into pieces. Oats can also be gluten-free—check the packaging to confirm if it is gluten-free before consuming.

  • Taste: mild, subtly sweet, and filling
  • Health benefits: Oats are known to keep you fuller longer due to their high fiber content.
  • Cooking time/method: Bring 1 cup rolled oats and 2 cups water (or 4 cups water if using steel-cut oats) to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender (5 to 15 minutes for rolled oats or 30 to 45 minutes for steel-cut oats).
  • Eat with: Top cooked oats with seasonal fruit, or add rolled oats to baked goods.
08 of 11


Types of grains - Quinoa (picture)
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Quinoa are small, round seeds that come in red, white, or black varieties. Quinoa is also gluten-free. Although it cooks like a grain, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is actually an herbaceous plant.

  • Taste: grassy and nutty
  • Health benefits: Quinoa is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. It's also a good source of magnesium, which protects against osteoporosis.
  • Cooking time/method: Boil in a large pot of salted water until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain, return to pot, and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff before serving.
  • Eat with: Cook quinoa in equal proportions with rolled oats for a protein-filled breakfast porridge, or add cooked quinoa to muffins and cakes for extra protein and texture.
09 of 11


Types of grains - brown rice (picture)
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Whole grain rice can be brown, red, or black. Rice is also gluten-free.

  • Taste: nuttier than white rice
  • Health benefits: People love whole grain rice because of its easy digestibility and high fiber content that help improve overall gut health.
  • Cooking time/method: Bring 1 cup rice and 2 cups water to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender, 45 to 60 minutes (depending on the type). Let sit, covered, for 10 minutes before fluffing and serving.
  • Eat with: Serve rice with a chicken stir-fry or roasted meats and vegetables.
10 of 11


Types of grains - Spelt (picture)
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Spelt consists of large, dark brown grains. Look for whole spelt for complete nutritional benefits.

  • Taste: chewy and nutty
  • Health benefits: Spelt is another grain that has a high protein and fiber content.
  • Cooking time/method: Simmer like pasta until tender, 50 to 75 minutes. Drain.
  • Eat with: Toss spelt into salads or add it to veggie burgers.
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Wild rice

Types of grains - Wild rice (picture)
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Wild rice is really the long, black seeds of a grass related to rice. Wild rice is also gluten-free.

  • Taste: firm, nutty, and earthy
  • Health benefits: Wild rice has a high protein and fiber content and contains many other essential minerals.
  • Cooking time/method: Simmer like pasta until tender, 50 to 75 minutes. Drain.
  • Eat with: Blend wild rice with other rices or roasted vegetables for a layered side dish.
Different types of grains - types of grains chart with whole grains and benefits
graphic by onethread design, photos by Emily Kinni
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