If you want to incorporate more whole grains into your diet but aren't sure where to start, this blog post is for you. Let me teach you How To Cook Whole Grains in the simplest way possible! This post is all about cooking whole grains; I will hit on baking in another post.
Whole grains are an excellent addition to any diet. They offer many health benefits, they are easy to flavor and store well in the pantry. Having grains on hand to add to soup, stew, or a side dish will make for a more filling meal.
There are so many types of whole grains that when you first begin to learn how to cook them, all the options can feel intimidating. You may wonder what the difference between all the grains is, how to cook grains, and, most importantly, how you can make whole grains taste great.
Luckily, there's a grain for everyone, from brown rice to farro and everything in between. You'll be surprised at how versatile the types are and wonder why you haven't started using them sooner.
What Is A Whole Grain?
Whole grains are minimally processed, meaning all three parts are intact, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran is the fiber-rich outer layer of the grain. The germ is the nutrient-packed core, and the endosperm is the carbohydrate-rich middle layer.
Depending on the product you're shopping for, part or whole of these three layers may be used. You'll see them listed as a whole, refined, and enriched. These are most common when looking in the bread aisle. You may not know exactly what these terms mean, so let's break them down and look at their definitions.
Whole Grains- They are unrefined grains and haven't had their bran and germ removed by milling, so all nutrients remain intact.
Refined Grains-In contrast to whole grains, refined grains are milled, a process that strips out both the bran and germ. This process gives them a finer texture and longer shelf life. The flour is chemically treated to produce these results. Unfortunately, the refining process also removes many nutrients, including fiber. Examples are white flour and white rice.
Enriched Grains- Enriched means that some or many of the nutrients that are lost during processing are added back in later. You'll often see white flour and pasta that are enriched.
Examples Of Whole Grains
There are so many whole grains out there. Are you ready to be blown away?
Amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, einkorn, farro/emmer, fonio, freekeh, Kamut, Kaniwa, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, sorghum, spelt, teff, wheat, wild rice- and that doesn't even scratch the surface! Check out the Whole Grains Council for more details on each grain and even more options.
Also, I realize several of those are pseudo-grains, but they are still generally grouped in the whole grain category. Pseudo grains are seeds that resemble grains in appearance and have a similar nutrient composition.
While some people might think all grains are alike and taste/act alike, these thoughts could not be further from the truth!
As you become more familiar with cooking whole grains, you'll develop your personal preferences and intuitively know how the taste and texture of each grain are unique and which complement your meal.
Nutritional Benefits of Whole Grains
Now that you are more familiar with the terms associated with whole grains, you might wonder why you should eat them. They take longer to cook and aren't as palatable as refined grains. So, what's the deal?
Nutrition! The nutritional benefits of whole grains are the best reason to use them. You can learn to cook with whole grains and flavor them in delicious ways. They're a healthy option to incorporate into your diet regularly.
- Whole grains are high in fiber, which helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Fiber also slows the breakdown of starch into glucose, which aids in maintaining steady blood sugar levels. Stabilized blood sugar is helpful in the prevention and maintenance of type 2 diabetes and other insulin-resistant conditions.
- Along with other lifestyle changes, whole grains can help lower the risk of coronary heart disease, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Whole grains may also reduce your risk of stroke.
- According to Harvard, phytochemicals and essential minerals found in whole grains may even protect against some cancers.
- Need more reason to eat whole grains? Whole grains also help you feel more satiated so that you can feel full with fewer calories.
If you are also interested in sprouting whole grains, I wrote a comprehensive article all about sprouting grains.
How to eat whole grains
If you're not used to eating whole grains, they may take a little getting used to. However, they can be a delicious and nutritious addition to your diet once you get the hang of it.
Here are some tips for incorporating more whole grains into your meals:
Breakfast-Whole grains make great breakfast porridge. If you are ready to mix up your traditional oatmeal, try other whole grains instead. Einkorn is my personal favorite, but there are many others as well. In addition, you can look for bread and cereals that use whole grains.
Bowls-One way to make your Buddha Bowls healthier is to swap out white rice for a different grain such as brown rice. Oat groats are a great gluten-free option for bowls. Rye, Kamut, white wheat, and einkorn are also really yummy. The nutty flavor adds depth to any dish and instantly makes it more filling.
Soups and Salads-Adding whole grains to your soup and salad is also an excellent way to use them more often. They will make your meal more satisfying and is a great way to use leftover grains.
Snacks- In the spirit of starting small, a great place to start swapping for whole grains is snacks. Popcorn is an excellent whole grain. When air-popped without excessive oil, it makes a healthy snack. Look for snack crackers and snack bars that utilize whole grains in the ingredients. The health section is usually a great place to find these.
Where to Buy Whole Grains
Whole grains may be easier to find than you'd expect. More stores seem to carry a wide variety of grains, so be sure to check both the regular grains section and the health food section in your grocery store.
If you're looking for a specific grain that isn't sold in your area, you can also find a great variety online. When we moved to Idaho, I found several farms in our state to purchase from and others in states nearby. If you cannot find any local, let me give you a few suggestions for buying online.
- Bluebird Grain Farms- I have ordered einkorn, rye, and farro from them. All products have been amazing.
- Azure Standard- This is where I buy the bulk of my grains now. They carry most grains at a decent price. Check your area for drop-off locations.
- Barton Springs Mill- this is a fairly recent discovery for me. They grow some cool heritage grains that are a little harder to find. Their grains have been awesome so far.
- Einkorn Farm- This is an Idaho farm where I order most of my einkorn. I love their grain!
- Farm Fresh Wheat- I have been using them exclusively for my soft winter wheat for the last few years. This is the wheat I use for all my cookies, cakes, etc.
My Top 5 Favorite Grains For Cooking
I have tried just about every grain out there; let me share my favorites with you.
- Einkorn- This is by far my favorite grain to use for cooking. It is an ancient grain currently making a comeback, and I am glad to see this happen. They actually think this was the first wheat known and used by man. It is a smaller grain with a mild flavor. I use this often in my buddha bowls. It also serves well anywhere you would use rice.
- Oat Groats- This is a gluten-free grain that also has a mild flavor. Oat groats are the whole oat. Most of us are used to eating quick, rolled, or steel-cut oats. Regular or quick-cooking oats are oat groats that are rolled. Steel-cut is oat groats that have been cut. Anytime you modify a grain in any way- rolling them, cutting them, grinding them, you expose the grain to oxidation which results in nutrient loss. Oat grouts are the least processed and allow for maximum nutrition.
- Farro- Farro identifies as three grains depending on where you live- spelt, emmer, and farro. I love them all; they are all great grains for cooking. These are all ancient grains as well.
- Kamut- Also known as Khorasan. It is another ancient grain. This grain is long, almost twice the length of your average wheat grain.
- Barley- This is a common grain; chances are good you have used this one before. One thing that makes barley so unique is that it is adaptable to many climates. That means it can be grown just about anywhere, and it is very easily accessible. Barley is particularly good in beef stew.
What is the best way to cook grains?
I always cooked my grains on the stovetop, making sure I planned for the long cook times. Then a few years ago, I discovered pressure cooking for my grains. You guys...it is so much easier!!
If you don't have a pressure cooker, let me recommend the Instant Pot. I have the 6-quart, we are only a family of 4, so it is perfect for us. This appliance has everything we need, and this is not an advertisement. It is just the best!
Using the pressure cooker for cooking grains cuts the cooking time almost in half. Once you try it, you will be hooked.
Should grains be soaked before cooking?
When cooking grains in the Instant pot, there is no need to soak them. However, it may lower the necessary cook time if you choose to soak your grains for digestive purposes. For this post, I did not soak the grains.
How to cook whole grains in the Instant Pot
Here is the basic technique for cooking grains with a pressure cooker.
First, add your grains to the Instant pot. Then, add liquid. Water, vegetable broth, or your preferred stock works great. Finally, add salt to the pot for flavor.
Place the lid on the Instant pot and click to close. Then, using the table below for cook times, press the "pressure cook" button and adjust the timer to the appropriate cook time for your grain. Be sure to reference the pressure release method for your particular grain type- quick release vs. natural release.
Using the wrong method of pressure release can significantly affect the cook of the grain and potentially lead to over or undercooking.
When done, the grain should be fluffy and chewy but not mushy. You'll notice some grains naturally have more bite to them. Of course, you can always adjust the cooking time until you find your favorite texture.
If there is still liquid in the grains, you can either strain it out or set the pressure cooker to sauté and cook out the remaining liquid.
Whole Grain Cooking Time Chart
|Grain||Amount of grain||Water or stock||Salt||Cooking Time|
|Einkorn||2 cups||3.5 cups||½ teaspoon||25 minutes, slow release|
|Oat groats||2 cups||4 cups||½ teaspoon||27 minutes, slow release|
|Farro||2 cups||3 ½||½ teaspoon||12 minutes, slow release|
|Kamut||2 cups||4 cups||½ teaspoon||35 minutes, slow release|
|Barley (hulled)||2 cups||4 cups||½ teaspoon||20 minutes, quick release|
How to Store Whole Grains
Storing dry whole grains
The best place to store dry grains is in an airtight bag or container in your pantry. According to the Whole Grain Council, grains have a shelf life of around six months. Exposing the grains to dampness or leaving the container open can cause early spoilage and could attract grain weevils.
Storing cooked whole grains
These recipes for whole grains above make several cups, which is good. I love to keep them on hand as it is healthy meal prep. Then they are ready to go when you need them.
I store them in airtight containers in the fridge. You can use mason jars, Tupperware, or even ziplock bags. Most cooked whole grains will hold well for up to 14 days!!
Bob's Red Mill has a great breakdown for more information on storing grains.
Recipes Using Cooked Whole Grains
- Pork Tenderloin Einkorn Bowl
- Gluten-Free Veggie Bowl With Oat Groats
- Steak Bowl With Emmer
- Greek Meatball Bowl With Farro
- Strawberries and Cream Einkorn Porridge
- Fruit and Nut Salad With Farro
Tips for cooking whole grains
Yes! Soaking them cuts the cooking time in half or even more. The grains are already hydrated, so it takes much less time to cook. Soaking is best done overnight.
I get this question all the time! For one thing, start small. Don't go from eating only refined grains to only whole grains. Add in a ½ cup here and there. Start with milder grains- oat groats and einkorn are some of my favorites. I like to share a suggestion to add in an extra ¼ cup of liquid and extend the cooking time by 5-10 minutes. This will help to soften your grains even more.
Yes, but I don't recommend it. They reheat kind of weird, so I don't do it. If you're interested in freezing your cooked grains, the best way is to let them thaw in the refrigerator overnight or place them into a fine mesh strainer and run cool water over them.
I recommend seasoning them well while cooking because they will lose flavor when frozen. While reheating, you can freshen up your thawed grains with a little extra salt.
Oh, there are so many! I only listed my top 5 favorites. You can also use smaller grains, like amaranth, quinoa, millet, etc. These cook quickly in the pressure cooker, about 5 minutes. There is also rye, white and red wheat, and wild rice. There really are so many grains to choose from!