Whole Grains Part 2: Jazz Up Your Holiday Cooking
Whole grains like brown rice or wheat berries are great replacements for breads and white rice in salads, stuffing and casseroles. For example, a festive holiday salad might be brown rice or wheat berries with sliced almonds and pomegranate seeds. Or try steel-cut oatmeal in place of instant oatmeal for breakfast. Or use whole grain pastas, crackers and breads for everyday meals or to make holiday party fare extra special.
What are whole grains?
Whole grain and groats are both terms for unrefined grains. Whole grain foods contain all three parts of the grain kernel including the bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grains, like white rice and refined flour and pasta, have been mechanically processed so that only the endosperm is used. Examples of whole grains include wheat berries, whole spelt, rye berries (or whole grain rye), oat groats, buckwheat groats, whole amaranth, whole barley, triticale berries, teff, whole kamut. Most of the whole grains listed above also come in processed forms of varying types, such as pearled, cracked, cut, rolled or may be ground into flour. The more the grain is processed, the more of the husk and germ are lost. Whole wheat flour is made from processed wheat berries and can be used in many pastas, breads and crackers.
Pearled barley and brown rice are exampled of polished grains. These grains have been processed to remove the exterior husk and part or all of the middle layer, or bran. They cook more quickly than whole grains, but less quickly than refined white rice or rolled oats.
Bulgur wheat and steel-cut oats are examples of cracked grains, or grains that have been cut or ground into small pieces. Cracked grains can be derived from whole grains or refined grains.
Where do I find foods with whole grains and what do I look for?
- Most chains grocery stores are increasing their variety of grains and carry whole-grain products like bread, cereal, pasta, granola bars and crackers. Look for breads, crackers or pastas that list whole wheat or another whole grain as the first ingredient or contain at least 51% of grain from whole grains. "Multigrain" and "whole grain" are common in food advertising, but not all foods contain the same amounts of whole grains.
Look for seals on the package. There are three different yellow and black "whole grain" stamps developed by the Whole Grains Council. Also, look for and FDA-approved claim linking whole grains to reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers.
Brown rice is commonly found at grocery stores, but more exotic grains like amaranth and kamut may be found at specialty grocery stores, health food stores, or online. Or try a farmer's market or bulk foods store- I recently bought wheat berries and spelt at the Amish bulk foods store in the small Ohio town where my grandmother lives....and it was much cheaper than buying specialty brand grains at my regular chain grocery store.
How do I store and cook whole grains?
- Whole grains, including brown rice, have natural oils and spoil more quickly than processed white rice or dried pasta. Whole grains and whole grain flours get a stale or rancid smell when they have gone bad. Look for expiration dates on the packages, store grains in a cool dry place or in the refrigerator and use them within a few months.
If you're devoted to white rice, and you're worried that you won't like the flavor or texture of brown rice or more exotic grains like kamut, then start by substituting the grain for part of the white rice.
Try steel-cut or rolled oats instead of instant oatmeal. Use orange juice, fresh fruit, cinnamon or maple syrup to give the oats a pleasant punch.
Always follow the cooking instructions or recipe. Similar to dried beans, some grains, should be soaked several hours or overnight in order to maintain the texture and ease cooking. I tried to cheat once with wheat berries, partially cooking them in the microwave without soaking them. I substituted the wheat berries for part of the white rice in a regular chicken and rice casserole. But I didn't soak or cook them long enough, so I ended up with partially cooked wheat berries and rice that turned to mush.
Serve whole grain pastas immediately- they can dry out more quickly than regular pasta.
Try one of the whole grain recipes on our Foodfit website: