We know, we know -- these days there’s always somebody who is all a twitter about the health benefits of this or that super fruit or nut (someday it’ll be the french fry). And the touting of whole grains is no exception, especially when it comes to packaged- food manufacturers (just try and find a cereal box that doesn’t have the words whole-grain goodness emblazoned across the front). But there really is a lot more to whole grains than just a marketing hook. Studies have shown that they help reduce the risks of stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, certain cancers, and even gum disease and tooth loss. Oh, and they’re darned tasty. Just ask Judith Finlayson, the author of The Complete Whole Grains Cookbook: 150 Recipes for Healthy Living (Robert Rose, $25). She cleared up all of our questions.
What are whole grains? Whole grains contain all three parts of the grain -- the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. 'When grains are refined," says Finlayson, "which are the kinds of grains we’ve been eating for decades, most of the bran and germ is milled off and we’re left with the endosperm, which is the least nutritious and most caloric part of the grain. It’s really a lose-lose."
How do you find them? Look for the Whole Grains Council’s yellow stamp (www.wholegrainscouncil.org) or make sure the label says "100 percent whole grain/excellent source."
What do they taste like? Most whole grains have a bit of a nutty flavor to them (yum!). The biggest differences are in the texture. Quinoa and millet kind of pop in your mouth. Larger grains, like wheat berries, are chewy, almost meaty. Bulgur and whole-grain couscous "are kind of exotic and work well with lighter flavors," says Finlayson. Want comfort? Try short-grained rices, which are sweeter. -- Jenna Schnuer
FIVE TO TRY
Quinoa The grain of the moment, quinoa comes in yellow, red, and, increasingly, black. Use it in place of rice, pasta, or potatoes.
Wehani Rice One of Finlayson’s favorites, this American-grown rice "has fabulous flavor."
Millet Serves as a body double for quinoa. To add flavor, toast the grains in a pan before cooking. An easily digestible grain, it’s good for baby cereals.
Wheat Berries That flour in the cabinet? It started out as wheat berries, the whole kernel of the wheat plant. Add them to salads, soups, and stews.
Oats After eating steel-cut oats, you’ll never look at a packet of instant oatmeal again. These have a heartier texture and flavor than other oats.
Southwestern Bean and Barley Salad with Roasted Peppers
from The Complete Whole Grains Cookbook: 150 Recipes for Healthy Living
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ clove garlic, finely grated or put through a press
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups cooked whole (hulled) barley, cooled
2 cups cooked red kidney beans or one 14- to 19-ounce can, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked corn kernels
2 roasted poblano or roasted red bell peppers, peeled, seeded, and diced
2 whole sun-dried tomatoes, packed in olive oil, finely chopped
1 small red onion, diced
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
Dressing: In a small bowl, combine vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste, stirring until salt dissolves. Stir in garlic. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Set aside.
In a serving bowl, combine barley, kidney beans, corn, roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and onion. Add dressing and toss well. Garnish with parsley. Chill until ready to serve.
Variations: Substitute an equal quantity of cooked wheat, spelt, Kamut berries, or farro for the barley.
SCOOP THEM UP Don’t let the search for Wehani wig you out. If your local store doesn’t stock the grains you desire, just stock up in the ever-expanding world of online specialty-food shops. Here are some great grain sources: Homegrown Harvest, www.homegrownharvest.com // Bob’s Red Mill, www.bobsredmill.com // Anson Mills, www.ansonmills.com/products.htm // Rancho Gordo, www.ranchogordo.com // Indian Harvest, www.indianharvest.com // Kalustyan’s, www.kalustyans.com