Amaranth is a “pseudo grain” (it is actually an herb) but is used like a grain. The seed is light tan in color and has a very mild tangy or peppery flavor. Amaranth can be used in cookies, desserts or as a side dish similar to potatoes or polenta. The seeds are often milled into flour that is used in a variety of baked goods and pasta or processed into cereal flakes.
Barley is one of the most important cereal crops in the world after wheat, rice, and corn. The color of the grain ranges from a light tan to various shades of brown or purple. Pearled (or polished) barley has the outer husk and bran layers removed however, the grain is still highly nutritious. It has a chewy texture and nutty somewhat sweet flavor. Barley adds thickness to stews and soups. It is a great addition to casseroles containing winter vegetables such as carrots, root veggies and onions or it can be prepared as a risotto, pilaf or served as a cold salad. Cooking barley is similar to cooking brown rice.
Buckwheat is another “pseudo grain.” It is a native plant of Russia and is actually an herb that is related to rhubarb and sorrel. The seeds or grains are triangular shaped and have an earthy, grassy flavor with a slight cocoa taste. Buckwheat tastes best when the kernels are roasted (known as Kasha). It is used for hot cereal, in soups and as a sausage filler. Buckwheat is most often ground into flour, which is used in pancakes, crepes, muffins and soba noodles.
Corn is one of the three most important grain crops in the world (in addition to rice and wheat). The main types of corn are dent corn, flint corn (Indian corn), flour corn, popcorn (high moisture content creates steam when heated-this causes the popcorn kernels to explode and pop open), and sweet corn (which is often considered to be a vegetable rather than a grain because it is eaten fresh). Dent corn is used commercially in syrups, sugars, cereals, corn chips, starch, oil and sweeteners for soft drinks. The Italian dish polenta is most often made from cornmeal ground from flint corn, as is masa harina, which is dried posole meal used for making tamales and tortillas. Popcorn and sweet corn are popular types we all know and love.
Flax seeds come in two basic varieties — brown and yellow or golden. It is not really a grain but is used like one. Flax seeds produce a vegetable oil known as flaxseed or linseed oil, which is one of the oldest commercial oils used for centuries (I remember my gramma using this on her furniture). The small, brown seeds are more often used as a food additive (in yeast breads or sprinkled on cereals or salads because of the delicious nutty flavor and nutritional benefits (high in fiber).
Oats have a sweet flavor that makes them a favorite for breakfast cereal. Oats almost never have their bran and germ removed in processing therefore you are virtually guaranteed to be getting a whole grain. Oat grain varieties range in color from light beige, yellow to reddish-gray and black. Most oats are steamed and flattened to produce “old-fashioned” or regular oats, quick oats, and instant oats. The more they are flattened and steamed, the quicker they cook and the softer they become. Oat bran, oat flakes, oatmeal and oat flour are examples of processed oat grain.
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is not a true grain but the seeds are used as one. It is actually in the beet family and ranges in color from light beige to yellow to rust to almost black. When quinoa is cooked in water the seeds become tender and springy in texture and increase three or four times the size. Quinoa has a wonderful nutty taste and aroma and is used in salads, soups, pilafs and side dishes. Like couscous, quinoa is an ideal grain to try if you are new to the world of grains. In a saucepan filled with a ratio of two cups water to one cup quinoa, the grain will cook in 15 minutes.
Rice is one of the most easily digested grains — one reason rice cereal is often recommended as a baby’s first solid. Rice is ideal for those on a restricted diet or who are gluten-intolerant. In addition to wheat and corn, rice is one of the three most important grain crops in the world. White rice is refined, with the germ and bran removed and has a neutral flavor. Whole-grain rice is usually brown but can also be black, purple, red or any of a variety of exotic hues. Whole grain rice varieties have a firm chewy texture with a nut like flavor.
Rye is a very popular and widely used grain. Colors range from beige to dark gray. Rye grain has a hearty flavor with a slightly bitter taste. Rye is processed into a variety of forms, which include rye berries, flakes, meal and flour. The berries are good in stews, rice and vegetable stir-fries. Rye flakes can be used in a variety of dishes. Rye flour varieties range from light to dark and textures from coarse to fine. Rye ferments easily so it is also used to create various alcoholic beverages.
Sorghum grain ranges in color from white to red. The white grain is generally used as a food source and the red grain is used for brewing beer. Sorghum has a sweet, nutty flavor and is delicious when steamed or added to soups and casseroles.
Wheat is one of the three most important grain crops in the world. Two main varieties of wheat are durum wheat, which is made into pasta, and bread wheat, which is used for most other wheat foods. Bread wheat is classified as “hard” or “soft” according to its protein content; as “winter” or “spring” according to when its sown; and as “red” or “white” according to the color of the kernels. Hard wheat has more protein, including more gluten, and is used for bread, while soft wheat creates “cake flour” with lower protein. When wheat kernels are boiled, dried, cracked, then sorted by size, the result is bulgur. Bulgur wheat is an extremely nutritious fast cooking food for quick side dishes, pilafs or salads however, its best-known use is in the vegetable salad known as tabbouleh.
Wild rice is not a type of rice but an aquatic grass bearing edible seeds. The colors range from varying shades of yellow, tan, brown to almost black. Wild rice has a chewy texture and a distinctive nutty flavor. It makes an excellent side dish, adds flavor to tossed salads, pairs well with poultry and fish and is a great addition to soups and casseroles.