The Skinny on... Unusual Grains

From creamy and nutty to sour and toothsome, these unusual grains offer a taste sensation with every bite.
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Amaranth
Amaranth
This tiny beige seed is not really a grain, but instead comes from a floppy grass. It’s more closely related to spinach than to wheat. Cooked amaranth gets thick and pasty like a porridge and can offer you a new, less-sweet take on polenta. Dry-toasting the seeds before cooking brings out their nutty flavor. No need to soak them in advance. Figure on 1 cup amaranth to 2 1/2 cups water; cover and simmer until the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.
Bulghur Wheat
Bulgur
A partially cooked and dried wheat, bulgur is available in different grinds, from fine to coarse. Most of us know fine-ground (or #1) bulgur as the basis of tabbouleh, but the coarser versions are great in soups and stews, as a stuffing for tomatoes, or for a grain “stretcher” in meat loaf and burgers. Look for whole-grain, quick-cooking bulgur. No need to soak the little shards, or even cook them. Cover 1 cup bulgur with 2 cups boiling water in a bowl and set aside until the water is absorbed, about 10 minutes for the fine-ground bulgur or up to 1 hour for the whole-grain varieties.
Farro
Farro
Also called “emmer wheat,” this Italian staple has a nutty finish, sweeter than wheat berries. It’s decidedly both creamy and earthy, great for salads, soups and stews. Like barley, farro is available pearled (often called “perlato” or “semi-perlato” — that is, the bran has been scored for quicker cooking) or in its whole-grain, unscored form. Presoaking maintains farro’s prized texture. Cook farro in a large pot of boiling water, about 30 minutes for perlato varieties, 45 minutes for the semi-perlato, and up to 1 hour 15 minutes for the whole-grain version.
Kamut
Kamut
A big, pale, buttery grain, this is a specific variety of ancient wheat (khorasan) reintroduced to the modern market by Montana farmer Bob Quinn. The name has been trademarked, mostly to assure that every bit is grown organically. Intensely satisfying, whole-grain kamut is delicious in salads — kamut flakes make a great choice in granola and muesli, as well as a crunchy topping for crisps in place of rolled oats. While not necessary, soaking preserves the delightful chew of the cooked whole grains. Boil kamut in a big pot of water until tender, about 1 hour.
Millet
Millet
Millet is a mild, sweet, small, yellow grain, once a staple in China before rice. While it doesn’t need to be soaked, it can be cooked in three ways: with less time and water (1 cup millet to 2 1/4 cups water), you can make a crunchy grain to stand in for couscous in salads; with more cooking time and more water (1 cup millet to 2 3/4 cups water), you can create a sticky grain to layer in casseroles; with even more time and water (1 cup millet to 5 cups water), you can create a thick, satisfying, hot cereal for breakfast.
Rye Berries
Rye berries
Like rye bread? Then you’ll love the whole grains from which rye flour is made. Rye berries are large, crunchy grains, like oversized wheat berries, but chewier and darker, a great addition to salads and soups. Try some in a wrap with hummus and sprouts! Soak them overnight, then boil them in a big pot of water until tender, about 1 hour.
Spelt Berries
Spelt berries
Sometimes mistaken for farro, these are actually the whole grains from which spelt flour is derived. Contrary to popular belief, as a form of wheat, they do include gluten. Spelt berries are interchangeable with wheat berries but have a milder, sweeter flavor, with a slightly less aggressive chew. After soaking, cook them in a large pot of boiling water until tender, about 50 minutes.
Teff
Teff
Teff is the ancient grain of Ethiopia. It is the smallest grain commonly sold in our supermarkets; it takes about 50 teff grains to equal the size of one wheat berry. Teff is prized for its creamy, sweet, but earthy flavor; it’s available in brown and ivory varietals that cook up into sticky polentas or porridges. You don’t presoak teff; cook 1 cup teff with 3 cups water in a medium saucepan, covered, until the water has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.
Triticale
Triticale
This modern hybrid is a cross between wheat and rye, the best of both worlds. Think of it the way you do wheat berries — except take into account its stronger, slightly sour flavor and its aggressive chewiness, a great match for creamy salads or a nice bed for smoked trout or salmon. Soak triticale berries overnight, then boil them in a big pot of water until tender, about 45 minutes.

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