New Ways to Eat Ancient Grains

Beat whole-grain boredom with these tasty alternatives to bread and brown rice.

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Depending on how it’s cooked, buckwheat ranges in flavor from mild to intense. When roasted or toasted, the grains—which contain 86 mg of heart-healthy magnesium per one-cup serving—pair well with vegetables that also make a strong impression on your taste buds, such as dark mushrooms.
Try it: Make a stir fry with soba noodles, use buckwheat flour in muffins or steam cook groats for a warm salad or side dish.



Pronounced “keen-wah," this South American crop is a complete protein, which is rare for a plant-based food. It's also rich in essential vitamins and minerals, such as phosphorus, magnesium and iron.
Try it: Quinoa’s light, fluffy texture and slightly nutty flavor tastes great in soups, stews and stir-fries. Or, cook it as you would oatmeal, with honey, nuts and berries on top. 



Commonly used in breads, rye is a great hunger-busting grain. It contains a special carbohydrate called arabinoxylan that absorbs 8 times its weight in water, keeping you fuller longer.
Try it: Add a couple of tablespoons to flour when baking bread or pizza crusts for a slightly spicy but pleasant kick, suggests Robin Asbell, author of The New Whole Grain Cookbook.



Most notably used to make beer, this high-fiber cereal grain’s chewy texture and sweet flavor also make it a tasty rice substitute.
Try it: in soups, stews or risottos. Just make sure to use hulled barley, which is nutritionally superior to pearled.



These tiny gluten-free grains are high in calcium, and rather than staying separated when cooked (like rice), teff has a porridge-like texture when it’s ready to eat.
Try it: Add teff to soup or stews for a healthy, thick consistency. Or try making injura bread, an African staple, which resembles a big, flat pancake that is traditionally used as an edible plate.

Photo courtesy of Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods


Like quinoa, this tiny grain is not only a complete protein, it’s also packed with calcium—116 mg per one-cup serving.
Try it: Amaranth is best added to baked dishes in small quantities, according to Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian. Combine it with wheat flour in breads, pasta or pancakes.


Black Rice

Once considered a waste product due to its course texture, black rice contains anthocyanins—the same health-promoting antioxidants found in blueberries—which may help lower your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and certain cancers.
Try it: Infuse your food with an exotic flavor by substituting black rice in any recipe that calls for brown.



In the same family as kamut and wheat, farro is Italian in origin and has become more well-known thanks to famous Italian chefs like Mario Batali, says Asbell. It contains double the fiber of most whole grains and is high in protein, too.
Try it: Use farro when making risotto for a rich, al dente texture. Soak raw farro in water overnight to speed up the cooking process the next day as you would with all big grains.



Simply pour boiling water over this extra-small grain to cook it to perfection. Bulgur has high levels of B vitamins, which help keep your metabolism humming.
Try it: Traditionally used in tabbouleh, bulgur can also help you stretch your food dollars, says Asbell. She recommends adding it to chop meat. “While you’ll still have to bind the meat with an egg,” says Asbell, “it’s a great, healthy way to get more meatballs out of a smaller amount of meat.”



This golden, buttery relative of wheat is the one of the biggest grains. Some people with wheat allergies can use protein-packed kamut as a substitute but should check with a doctor first.
Try it: Toss it with salad for a nice crunch, Asbell recommends. Add it to soup to vary the texture. Or use kamut flower to bake a loaf of bread.



Think rice, but quicker to cook. This pleasant-tasting seed is rich in bone-boosting manganese and only contains 124 calories per cup.
Try it: Puree cooked millet and cauliflower then blend with parsley, garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper for a new take on traditional mashed potatoes, suggests Elliot.



Most wheats are low in essential amino acids, especially lysine, which helps the body absorb calcium and build muscle. However, spelt is higher in lysine and the lysine is more easily absorbed by the body, according to the American Institute of Baking.

Try it: Spelt's nutty, slightly sweet flavor makes it a versatile ingredient. Buy spelt noodles or stew whole spelt berries into long soups without worrying about them falling apart. "They cook up to a big, crunchy grain with a soft, sweet interior," says Adams. You can also use spelt flakes instead of rolled oats when making oatmeal raisin cookies or mix spelt and wheat flours when baking bread for an appealing aroma, excellent taste and loafs that stay fresh longer.


Next: 11 Foods (and One Trick) to Fight Belly Fat

Anna Dudek

First Published March 1, 2011

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