The wondrous wonders of whole grains

Whether you’re a vegetarian, lacto (ovo) vegetarian, a vegan, macrobiotics, fruitarian, or enjoy other forms of proteins, the family of whole grains never cease to amaze all foodies alike with their culinary versatility, and health benefits.  Whole grains pair beautifully with foods of most health regimes.  They are centuries old foods that offer the culinary versatility of flavour, texture, taste, and nutrition all in one package.  Whole grains are both seed and fruit-blending the energy of both the beginning and end of the life cycle.  It is no wonder that every culture, regardless of their respective exotic and authentic ingredient preferences, incorporate whole grains in their cuisine.  Ah…the wondrous wonders of whole grains!

What is a Whole Grain?

A whole grain is the entire edible part of any grain.  Whole grains are cereal grains which retain the health-enhancing bran, the germ and the endosperm as opposed to refined grains which retain only the endosperm. Cereal grains are grasses that are cultivated for their edible seeds and provide more food energy to the human race than any other crop grown worldwide.

The Composition of Whole Grains

The 3 components of the kernel comprise of the Bran, the Endosperm, and the Germ.  The bran is the outer layer of the grain and provides high levels of fiber.  The Germ is the smallest part of the grain and the only part that contains fat.  The Endosperm is the largest part of the grain which is provides a great source of energy from the high levels of protein & carbohydrates.

Basic Milling Terms

Hulling is the process where the hulls or husks are removed from the grain.  Cracking is the process where grains are broken open.  Grinding is the process where the grains are turned to powder and pearling is the process where all or part of the hull, bran or germ are removed from the grains. It is this milling process that determines the nutritional difference between whole grains like bulgur & quinoa and refined grains like white flour or white rice.

Whole Grains Translated

Whole grains can certainly be enjoyed in their kernel form, cooked or raw.  However, the translated version of each grain also leads the imaginative palate of culinarians to some creative translations.  Whole grains are also ground in form of flour to make loaves, breads, muffins, and other quick breads.  Some of the whole grains also are available in various shapes of pasta like kamut penne, brown rice fusilli and whole grain linguini which are usually found in health food stores.

Some Essential Vitamins & Minerals

Vitamin/Mineral                                    Benefit

B-1 Thiamin Carbohydrate metabolism, appetite maintenance, nerve function, growth & muscle tone
B-2 Riboflavin Necessary for fat, carbohydrate & protein metabolism, cell respiration, formation of antibodies
B-6 Pyridoxine Necessary for fat, carbohydrate & protein metabolism, formation of antibodies
Vitamin E Protection and maintenance of cellular membranes.
Foliate Amino acid metabolism, synthesis of RNA and DNA, new cell synthesis
Niacin Fat, carbohydrate & protein metabolism, health of skin, tongue and digestive system, blood circulation
Pantothenic Acid Converts nutrients into energy, formation of some fats, vitamin utilization
Thiamin Conversion of carbohydrates into usable forms of energy; maintenance of nervous system function
Tocopherol Maintains cell membranes, protects vitamin A & essential fatty acids from oxidation, red blood cell formation
Chromium Glucose metabolism (energy) increases effectiveness of
Iron Formation of hemoglobin in blood & myoglobin in muscles which supply oxygen to cells
Magnesium Enzyme activation, nerve & muscle function, calcium & potassium balance
Manganese Enzyme activation, carbohydrate & fat production, sex hormone production, skeletal development
Phosphorus Bone development, important in protein, fat & carbohydrate utilization
Potassium Nerve function and body water balance
Selenium Protection of cells from oxidative damage, immune response
Zinc Involved in many enzymes regulating metabolism, important in development of reproductive system, aids in healing

A Guide to Whole Grains and Culinary Versatility

Whole Grain         Flavor Profile                Culinary Uses

*** Amaranth native to Mexico can be eaten as a vegetable or a grain Strong, distinctive peppery flavor with sticky texture Best in stews, soups or ground into flour to make breads, cookies and often eaten as a hot cereal
Barley believed to be the oldest cultivated grain.  Most common form is husked, steamed and then polished to give it its pretty ivory-coloured appearance.  Comes in pearled, hulled or flaked. Nutty flavor with chewy texture Pearled barley is great in soups, stews, salads, and used in stuffing vegetables or poultry
*** Buckwheat also known as kasha is the edible seed of a plant related to rhubarb Nutty, earthy flavor Used to make crepes, blinis, soba noodles.  Can be used to make porridge or a creamy pudding.  Great in salads and mixed with other grains to make pilaf.
Bulgur Wheat also made from wheat berries when berries are cooked, the bran is removed and they are dried and crushed and available in find, medium and coarse grinds Similar to cracked wheat but processed further.  Nutty, earthy in flavor with soft yet chewy texture Salads, pilafs, stuffings. Principle ingredient to make tabouleh
Corn (maize) family includes Cornmeal, Grits, Hominy, Polenta & Popcorn (see separately)ground from white or yellow corn and available in coarse, medium or fine grinds Sweet, earthy and excellent with salt and fresh butter Steamed, salads, crab cakes, soups
Cornmeal ground from white or yellow corn and available in fine, medium and coarse grinds Firm and chewy in texture Breads, biscuits, add crunch to dough, polenta
Cracked Wheat made from crushed wheat berries while retaining all the nutrients of whole wheat Similar to bulgur but left as whole as a wheat. Salads, pilafs, stuffings
Farro is an unhybridized grain of the wheat family A wheat grain similar to spelt, but Farro needs to be soaked, yielding a firm, chewy texture Salads, soups
Grits are made from coarsely ground, dried yellow or white corn Side dish or a base like polenta
Hominy are the husked whole grains of corn
Kamut an ancient relative of wheat, has long, slender, brown kernels. Available in grains or flakes. Has a deliciously creamy, nutty flavor when cooked
*** Millet a highly nutritious grain was the main rival with barley Mild flavor Works well with spicy stews, curries, and pilafs
Oats available in rolled, flaked, as oatmeal or oat bran
Polenta a classic Italian cornmeal comes in various grades from fine to coarse See cornmeal
*** Quinoa a grain from the past now hailed as the super grain of the future Delicate & nutty in flavor, with cloudy-light texture Great in stuffings, pilafs, baked dishes and breakfast cereals
Rice including brown, black, purple and Wehani red rice Chewy, nutty and dense texture
Rye the most popular grain for bread making in Northern and Eastern Europe. Breads as a stand alone or mixed with other flour types
Semolina made from the wheat kernel or endosperm of the wheat, once the bran and wheat germ have been removed in the process of milling
*** Sorghum similar to millet and a staple food in Africa and India.  Can be used much like rice Best known for its thick, sweet syrup which is used in cakes and desserts
Spelt is one of the most ancient cultivated wheats Similar to farro, but does not require soaking and in contrast, yields a soft, mushy texture. Breads, crackers, addition to soups
*** Teff can be enjoyed raw as well as cooked Sweet and malty flavor Sprinkle it on salads or over cooked cereals to increase fiber and nutrition
Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye created by Swedish researchers in 1875 Has a sweet, nutty taste and chewy texture
Wheat family includes Bulgur, Cracked Wheat, Farro, Wheat Berries, Wheat Flakes, & Wheat Germ (see separately)
Wheat Berries or Grano are whole wheat grains with the husks removed Very nutty flavor
Wheat Flakes or rolled wheat
Wheat Germ a tiny wheat seed
*** Wild rices including giant Canadian wild rice and red camargue rice Chewy, nutty and dense texture Pilafs, soups, stuffings

*** Gluten FREE Grains





General Cooking Instructions

Note:  Toasting the grains accents their nutty flavor

  1. Rinse grains in cold water until water runs clear
  2. Presoak grains in cold water for 6-8 hours (optional).  This step helps speed up the cooking process
  3. Bring water to a boil over high heat, add the grains, bring to boil again.  Turn heat on low and simmer tightly covered until grains are tender and all of the water has been absorbed (see recommended cooking times).  Do not remove cover during cooking process, you will lose steam & vapor.
  4. Test for doneness.  Most grains have a chewy texture when cooked.  If done, turn heat off and allow the grains to rest 5-10 minutes
  5. Fluff with fork before serving




Amaranth 2 1/2 20 – 25 min. 2 1/2
Barley, pearled 3 50 – 60 min. 3 1/2
Barley, hulled 3 1 hr. 15 min. 3 1/2
Barley, flakes 2 30 – 40 min. 2 1/2
Buckwheat 2 15 min.. 2 1/2
Cornmeal (fine grind) 4 – 4 1/2 8 – 10 min. 2 1/2
Cornmeal (polenta, coarse) 4 – 4 1/2 20 – 25 min. 2 1/2
Millet 3 – 4 20 – 25 min. 3 1/2
Oat Groats 3 30 – 40 min. 3 1/2
Oat, bran 2 1/2 5 min. 2
Quinoa 2 15 – 20 min. 2 3/4
Rice, brown basmati 2 1/2 35 – 40 min. 3
Rice, brown, long grain 2 1/2 45 – 55 min. 3
Rice, brown, short grain 2 – 2 1/2 45 – 55 min. 3
Rice, brown, quick 1 1/4 10 min. 2
Rice, wild 3 50 – 60 min. 4
Rye, berries 3 – 4 1 hr. 3
Rye, flakes 2 10 – 15 min. 3
Spelt 3 – 4 40 – 50 min. 2 1/2
Teff 3 5 – 20 min. 3 1/2
Triticale 3 1 hr. 45 min. 2 1/2
Wheat, whole berries 3 2 hrs. 2 1/2
Wheat, cracked 2 20 – 25 min. 2 1/4
Wheat, bulgur 2 15 min. 2 1/2



Integrating Whole Grains in our Daily Regime

  • Start the day with a breakfast consisting of high-fiber cereals such as bran flakes or oatmeal
  • Substitute the refined white toast with whole wheat toast or have a muffin made with spelt, or wheat bran
  • Replace the white sandwich bread with whole wheat, multigrain or rye
  • Add a handful of barley, bulgur or buckwheat in soups or stews
  • Sprinkle a handful of teff on salads or rice
  • Use whole wheat breadcrumbs to coat oven-baked chicken or fish
  • Use rolled oats or crushed bran in recipes calling for breadcrumbs
  • Replace some of the white flour with whole wheat flour for making breads, loaves, pancakes or scones
  • Replace the durum semolina pasta with kamut pasta, brown rice pasta, or whole wheat pasta


Bulgur and Lentil Pâté

This salad is highly complemented by an acidic tomato-red onion salad.  It can be consumed as is, or made into patties and pan-fried or baked in the oven.

1 cup green lentils + 3 cups water (soak lentils in cold water much earlier, will speed up the process)

Sea salt

¾ cup olive oil

¾ cup bulgur (fine or medium) +1-1/2 cup water

1 medium onion, minced

Paprika, to taste

Cayenne, to taste

Cumin, to taste

1 tbsp good quality tomato paste

1 cup sweet red bell peppers, small dice

1/3 cup green onions, sliced

¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

¼ cup fresh mint, finely chopped

Salt & pepper

Just a dash of red wine vinegar, to taste, to add some acidity

Combine lentils, water and dash of salt in heavy saucepan.  Bring to boil over high heat, and then simmer until lentils are tender, about 30-40 minutes.

In the meantime, soak bulgur in water until they’re fully absorbed and soft to the bite.

Stir in ½ cup Mazola and bulgur into the tender lentils.  Simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and cover for 15 minutes.

In heavy skillet, heat the ¼ cup Mazola over moderate heat.  Sauté onions with cumin, paprika and cayenne, until they’re golden brown.  Stirring frequently.

In large mixing bowl, combine the lentil and bulgur mixture with the onion mixture and knead by hand (or others prefer to blend this into a pate mixture in the food processor).  If using a processor, transfer the mixture into a bowl, then add the remaining ingredients (peppers, green onions, parsley and mint).  Mix thoroughly and season to taste.

Keeping hands moist with cold water, form little bundles (like kebabs).  Arrange them on a serving platter sprinkled with more of the sweet peppers, green onions, parsley and mint.

Serve with side of Aleppo pepper, paprika or cayenne.

Serves 4 for dinner

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