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Grains of truth

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    This July 20, 2015 photo shows rye berries in Concord, N.H. Sturdy and very chewy with a rich, tangy flavor, rye berries make an excellent substitute for brown rice. They also can be sprouted and added to salads, breads and other dishes. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Samuel Kim’s mother often spiked the family’s white rice with amaranth, barley, quinoa and other whole grains to boost its nutritional value.

“My mom is one of those people who looks for the health benefit in everything,” says Kim, executive chef at Washington, D.C.’s 1789 restaurant. “Any new fad or trend, she’s reading about it and adding it to her diet.”

In this case, Kim’s mom was ahead of her time. Whole grains have crossed the frontier from hippie fad into mainstream ingredient, showing up not only in restaurant fare such as Kim’s freekeh and black quinoa-studded dishes, but also at salad joints and in multiple supermarket aisles (not just the natural-food sections).

Driven by a new awareness of healthy eating, increased demand for gluten-free products and a desire to spark up their kitchen routine, more Americans are reaching for exotic grains with mystifying names such as teff and triticale. Sales of grains in natural-food stores rose more than 40 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to market research firm Mintel. Quinoa remains the leader, with nearly 80 percent of sales, but farro and freekeh showed the greatest growth.

And it isn’t just in natural-food stores. Unusual grains are being sold throughout mainstream grocers.

Milwaukie, Ore., grain and flour company Bob’s Red Mill saw quinoa explode roughly five years ago, said a company spokeswoman. Executives there realized that if people were excited about one obscure South American product — which technically is a seed but is eaten like a grain — perhaps they would be interested in other whole grains.

“It’s a gateway grain for these more unusual grains,” said Bob’s Red Mill marketing manager Amanda Carter. “Quinoa has become a pantry staple. We see the potential for that to happen with these other ancient grains as well.”

In 2013 the company re-branded some of its whole grains under a new label with packaging that offered a cultural history, nutritional benefits and recipes. The “Grains of Discovery” line now includes 16 whole grains and seeds, including bulgur, farro and sorghum. Quinoa still is the best-seller, but farro is second. Sales of millet have nearly doubled.

While whole grains have gained cache, the perception that they are difficult to prepare or require a lot of time stops some cooks from using them. But many grains, such as millet, amaranth and buckwheat, cook as fast as — or faster than — white rice. Slow-cooking grains such as wheat berries or rye berries can be soaked overnight like beans, then briefly boiled, says cookbook author Maria Speck, who outlines techniques in her new book, “Simply Ancient Grains.” Once cooked, they can be stored in the refrigerator for days, Speck says, or even frozen.

“If you have a pot of these grains in the fridge or freezer, you’ll be suddenly so surprised at your own creativity,” Speck says. “Throw a handful of millet or wheat berries into a soup or a salad. Here you have a meal, and suddenly it’s nourishing and you haven’t done any cooking because you have your grains at the ready.”


Quinoa, the gluten-free ingredient that pretty much started the latest whole-grain trend, actually is a seed grown in the Andes Mountains. But most people treat it as a grain.

Available in golden, red and black varieties, quinoa is slightly crunchy and highly versatile, good for everything from soups, salads and side dishes to vegetarian burgers.

For perfect quinoa, combine 1 cup with 1-3/4 cups water in a heavy-bottomed pot. Cover and gently simmer for 10 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the grains sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

>> Stuffing: For quinoa sausage stuffing, in a skillet over medium-high, cook 8 ounces of loose sausage meat with 1 medium chopped onion, 2 stalks chopped celery and the chopped white portions of 2 leeks. Saute until everything is tender and browned. Stir in 2 cups cooked quinoa and 1/2 cup dried cranberries. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 cup chicken broth and cook for 3 more minutes. Serve with a roast chicken or turkey dinner, or use as a stuffing for the bird.

>> Salad: For Greek quinoa salad, in a large bowl combine 2 cups of cooked quinoa, 2 tablespoons capers, 1/3 cup sliced Kalamata olives, 1/4 cup chopped cherry peppers (hot or sweet), 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, the zest and juice of 1 lemon, 3 tablespoons minced fresh oregano, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and a few good grinds of black pepper. Serve over a bed of greens and drizzle with olive oil.

Hearty Quinoa and Broccoli Slaw

1 small head broccoli, chopped into very small florets (about 3 cups)
1 Italian turkey sausage, casing removed, cooked, cooled and crumbled (about 1/4 cup crumbles)
1-1/2 cups cooked quinoa
2 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
1 orange, skin trimmed and cut into segments (cut over a bowl to reserve juice)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

>> Dressing:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon light mayonnaise
1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons orange juice (reserved from cutting the oranges)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt

To make the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together all ingredients. Set aside.

In large bowl, combine broccoli, sausage, quinoa and scallions.

Pour dressing over slaw and toss well to coat. Add chopped almonds and orange segments, then gently toss. Season with salt and pepper, then let stand 15 minutes (refrigerated, if desired) to allow flavors to meld. Serves 4.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 260 calories, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fats, 20 mg cholesterol, 380 mg sodium, 28 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 12 g protein


Rye is tolerant of cold and damp, making it the perfect grain for Northern Europe and Russia, where it features prominently in bread and beer.

Sturdy and chewy with a rich, tangy flavor, rye berries make an excellent substitute for brown rice. They also can be sprouted and added to salads, breads and other dishes. For the shortest cooking time and best results, cover 1 cup of rye berries with 1-1/2 cups boiling water and let grains soak overnight. When ready to cook, turn on the heat and simmer, covered, 50 minutes to an hour, until kernels just begin to pop.

Rye berries also can be cooked in a large pot of boiling salted water, like pasta, and drained when they are done, but they still must be soaked overnight.

Regardless of cooking method, Maria Speck, author of “Simply Ancient Grains,” advises letting the fully cooked grains stand in the covered pot for 10 minutes before serving to absorb any remaining moisture.


12 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
7 tablespoons butter, divided
2 cloves minced garlic
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
8-ounce container mascarpone cheese
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 cups cooked rye berries
2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
Zest of 2 lemons

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a large casserole dish (such as a 9-by-9-inch baking dish) with cooking spray.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Fill a medium bowl with ice water and set it nearby. When water is boiling, add green beans and blanch 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer from boiling water to ice water. After 2 minutes, drain beans and spread on a towel to dry.

Drain water from saucepan and return it to heat. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat, then add garlic. Stir and cook 3 minutes, until garlic is just tender. Add flour and stir to moisten completely. While whisking continuously to keep mixture smooth, add milk a little at a time until it is incorporated. Whisk continuously, making sure to scrape bottom and corners of pan, until mixture simmers 3 to 4 minutes and thickens.

Remove pan from heat and stir in Worcestershire sauce, mascarpone cheese, paprika and dill. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stir in cooked rye berries and blanched beans. Spoon into prepared casserole dish.

In a large skillet over medium, melt remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Add breadcrumbs and stir while cooking until lightly toasted, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle evenly over top of casserole. Bake 15 minutes, or until everything is bubbling and hot.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 500 calories, 25 g fat, 14 g saturated fat, 65 mg cholesterol, 230 mg sodium, 56 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 15 g protein


Teff is a seriously tiny grain, and one that has been cultivated for centuries in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is best known for its traditional use in the fermented flatbread known as injera (the spongy bread at the heart of those countries’ cuisines).

Teff, which is gluten-free, works well as porridge or polenta, and also can be added to vegetarian burgers, cakes and cookies. To cook, place 1 cup of teff and 3 cups of water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, says Speck.


1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup teff (uncooked)
1 cup ground almonds
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1-1/4 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Coarse sugar
Jam, lemon curd or butter, to serve

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Coat 18 muffin cups (1-1/2 pans), or a 12-cup pan and 2 mini loaf pans, with cooking spray or line with paper liners.

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, teff, ground almonds, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder.

In another bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk and almond extract. While whisking, pour in melted butter.

Add liquid ingredients to dry and gently fold together just until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix. Spoon batter into prepared muffin pan cups or pans, then top with sliced almonds and a sprinkle of coarse sugar. Bake 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of a cake comes out clean. Serve with jam, lemon curd or butter. Serves 18.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 220 calories, 11 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 220 mg sodium, 26 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 6 g protein


A cross between wheat and rye, this slightly grassy grain often appears as flour, flakes, meal and whole berries.

To cook triticale berries, combine 1 cup of the grain with 3 cups of boiling water. Cover and soak overnight.

When ready to cook, turn on the heat and simmer the grain, covered, 40 to 50 minutes, or until the kernels just begin to pop.

Triticale berries also can be cooked in a large pot of boiling, salted water, like pasta, and drained when they are done, but they still must be soaked overnight.


1 cup triticale
3-1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Kosher salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup honey
Toasted pecans (optional)
Fresh blueberries (optional)
Plain or vanilla Greek yogurt (optional)

In slow cooker, combine triticale, water, cardamom, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Set to high and cook 4 to 6 hours, until all of water is absorbed.

Add cranberries, half-and-half and honey, then cook 1 hour more. Serve topped with toasted pecans, fresh blueberries and a dollop of yogurt, if desired.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 210 calories, 3 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 20 mg sodium, 44 g carbohydrate, 7 g fiber, 19 g sugar, 5 g protein

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