Most people can spot brown rice a mile away, but when it comes to the other whole grains available, the options are so endless it can be overwhelming.

True grains belong to the cereal grass family; however, many edible seeds contain nutritional properties similar to those of whole grains. See how they all stack up and which are right for you.

Note: All whole grains need to be prepared with water or other liquid. To boost flavor and nutrition content, feel free to experiment with vegetarian broth or stock, weak green tea, or water mixed with a little wine or fruit juice.

Amaranth

Not only is amaranth high in iron, calcium, and fiber, but it also contains lysine, making it a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids. The tiny "grain" (amaranth is technically a seed) can be cooked in a pot, rice cooker, or pressure cooker, and makes a great creamy breakfast porridge. You can also use amaranth flour, which can be purchased or you can make your own by grinding whole amaranth seeds, to make cookies and breads, but because it's gluten free, you will need to combine it with gluten flour or combine with other flours to make a gluten flour replacement.

Use a ratio of 1 1/2 cups liquid to 1/2 cup amaranth. Mix your amaranth and liquid in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Keep a close eye on it towards the end and then serve it right away to avoid it congealing. Or, try it as an alternative to popcorn by placing a tablespoon of amaranth in a hot skillet and stirring until popped.

Barley

Barley is high in beta-glucan, a soluble fiber shown to lower cholesterol, B-vitamins, and minerals like selenium and manganese. Barley has an especially tough hull, but there are hull-less varieties available, most commonly found in natural food stores. Hulled barley retains more of its bran than pearled barley, which has had the hulls removed. Barley is a tender and chewy grain with a slightly nutty flavor that is great in soups and grain salads. Barley does contain gluten, so if you're going GF, steer clear of barley.

Bring 1 cup barley and 2 1/2 cups liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 45 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Barley stores well in the fridge for a few days, so make a big batch and add it to your favorite dishes.

Buckwheat

High in iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, and many other nutrients, buckwheat is a healthy addition to any soup, or great as a side. Also known as Kasha, buckwheat technically isn't a grain, but a seed (also known as buckwheat berries) related to rhubarb. Buckwheat is gluten-free (don't let the "wheat" in the name fool you), and you will most often see it in the form of Japanese soba noodles or as a hot cereal. Buckwheat flour makes great pancakes and breads.

In a medium saucepan, combine buckwheat with 1 3/4 cups liquid and 1/2 tsp salt. Cover with a tight fitting lid and simmer on low for 18-20 minutes. 

Bulgur

Bulgur is wheat kernels that have been precooked, dried, and cut, or cracked--which is why bulgur is often referred to as cracked wheat. Bulgur is pre-cooked, making it one of the most convenient whole grains to prepare, as it does not need constant heat like rice. It steams like couscous, requiring only a few minutes of cooking. Bulgur is high in fiber makes great salads, pilafs, and side dishes. Try substituting bulgur for rice in your stir-fries, casseroles and curries. Bulgur is the base for the popular Middle Eastern salad called tabouli, which is made with fresh parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, and tomatoes. 

Bring 2 cups of liquid to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of bulgur and a dash of salt. Cover and let stand for 20 minutes. Drain any excess liquid, fluff, and serve.

Kamut

Kamut is actually a trademarked name, and because of it, you know it’s always organic. Grown in Montana, this heirloom wheat is high in protein and vitamin E with a taste some describe as buttery while others find it sweet. Kamut can be made into grits for a hot and tasty breakfast cereal, or you can find it in rolled, flaked, puffed, or milled into flour.

Soak 1 cup Kamut berries in water overnight, then drain. Bring 3 cups liquid to a boil, add Kamut, and cover. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30-40 minutes, or 45-60 minutes if you didn't have a chance to soak the grains first.

Millet

You seen this tiny grain in bird seed, but you should be eating it, too. High in iron, copper, manganese, phosphorus and heart healthy magnesium, millet is gluten-free and contains a good dose of protein and calcium. Millet has a mild-tasting corn flavor, but can be toasted beforehand for a stronger flavor.

Place 1 cup millet in a pot and add two cups of liquid (use less liquid for a fluffy side like couscous, and use more for a creamy porridge). Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed.

Quinoa

Pronounced KEEN-wah, this South African superfood is packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is considered a complete protein, like amaranth, is gluten-free, easy to digest, and even easier to cook. It makes a healthy and delicious breakfast when mixed with both sweet or savory mix-ins and makes great pilafs and salads.

Unless the label indicates that there's no need to rinse, be sure to rinse your quinoa beforehand to remove the saponin, a bitter-tasting, natural insect repellent. Combine 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups liquid in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer about 15 minutes or until liquid is completely absorbed.

by Kelly Turner

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