Whole Grains Guide

What are Whole Grains?
Whole grains are seeds that contain all of the naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions.  This means that in order for a grain to be deemed a whole grain the complete original kernel must be present.  The kernel of a whole grain consists of three layers, the bran, germ and endosperm.  Even if a grain is processed through various means (ie: cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product that results from this is still considered a whole grain if the nutrients and original grain seed are contained in the finished product. 

 The Nutritional Benefits of Whole Grains

• prebiotic, helps to aid digestion

• detoxifying, helps cleanse colon

• reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke

• reduces risk of type 2 diabetes

• promotes healthy weight maintenance and metabolism as it keeps you feeling fuller longer

Download a helpful guide to cooking times for grains or pick one up the next time you are in store!

Whole Grain FAQ's

What is the difference between whole grains and ancient grains?

All ancient grains are whole grains!  Virtually all grains can be traced back thousands of years, but there is no formal definition of what constitutes an ancient grain.  However, generally they are seeds that have remained largely unchanged over the last several hundred years unlike modern wheat, which is continually bred and adapted to suit today's palate.

What are sprouted whole grains? 

Historically, some of the grains that were harvest would sprout before or during the harvesting process.  However, with our modern farming techniques this no longer happens.  There are many nutritional benefits of sprouting that has prompted people to use controlled sprouting techniques on whole grains.  Sprouted whole grains are easier to digest as the grain's endosperm is broken down by enzymes during the germination process.  Additionally, sprouting increases the amount of B vitamins, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and essential amino acids, such as lysine in grains.

Are any whole grains gluten free?

Not all whole grains are gluten free, some originate from wheat plants.  Grains that originate from grass or vegetable plants are considered gluten free.  Examples of these include amaranth, quinoa, brown rice, teff, and millet.

Are there any whole white grains?

Yes!  White wheat grains differ from red wheat as it has no major genes for bran color, which makes it a lighter, almost albino color.  White wheat is also milder in flavor since it does not contain the strongly-flavored phenolic compounds that are in red wheat, making it more comparable in flavor to refined wheat.

What is the difference between whole grain and multi-grain?

Whole grain means that all parts of the grain kernel, bran, germ and endosperm are used. While multigrain means that a food contains more than one type of grain, although none of them may necessarily be whole grains.

Do you enjoy research?

The Whole Grain Council has compiled documented research on the benefits of whole grains that you can readily access and see the benefits for yourself!

Tips for Cooking

• Choose a heavy bottomed pan to avoid scorching grains.

• The cooking time for grains begins when the water they are cooked in comes to a boil.  Don't be surprised if grains take longer to cook or need more liquid than called for in a recipe.

• Properly cooked grains will be chewy in textures, not crunchy or pasty.  Once they have finished cooking do not stir grains, simply fluff with a fork.

• To add extra flavor, cook grains in broth or add salt to the water as it cooks.

• Grains can easily be added to your current favorite soup and salad recipes. Replace noodles in your chicken noodle soup or top your next arugula salad with grains.

• Cook whole grains weekly, store in portion-sized containers in the fridge or freezer, then simply add to recipes throughout the week.

• Put whole grains in water to soak in the morning, when you make dinner in the evening this will shorten your cooking time


Guide to Whole Grains


Plant type | annual or short-lived perennial flowering

Origin | Aztecs, Central and South America

Flavor Profile | nutty, lively, peppery

Dietary Profile | gluten free, rich in protein, lysine (making it a complete protein), iron, magnesium, potassium

Cooking time | 15-20 minutes

Serving Suggestions | hot cereal, sauté with garlic and olive oil for a side dish, protein bars, popped (like popcorn), soup, use amaranth flour in breads or muffins


Plant type | grass

Origin | Middle East "Fertile Crescent" region, Tibetan Plateau

Flavor Profile | nutty, hearty, mild

Dietary Profile | lowers LDL cholesterol and may help reduce the risk of heart disease, helps to control blood sugar, higher in fiber and lower in soluble (starch) carbohydrates than almost all other whole grains, high levels of soluble beta-glucan fiber which improve immune system function

Cooking time | 55 minutes for whole barley, 35 minutes for soaked whole barley, 20 minutes for pearled barley

Serving Suggestions | soups, salads, breads, stir fry, pilaf

Brown Rice

Plant Type | grass

Origin | China

Flavor profile | earthy, mild, nutty

Dietary profile | gluten free, high in manganese, which helps produce energy from protein and carbohydrates, selenium and plant lingans, both of which are attributed to preventing various cancers. Significantly reduces risk of metabolic syndromes, such as high triglycerides and visceral obesity

Cooking time | 45 minutes

Serving Suggestions | stir fry, rice pudding, vegetable sushi rolls, pilaf, cooked in broth as a meal side

Other varieties of whole grain rice | brown basmati, brown jasmine, Bhutanese red rice, wild rice


Plant type | perennial or annual herbaceous flowering

Origin | Andean region of Peru, Bolivia

Flavor Profile | bright, fresh, delicate

Dietary Profile | gluten free, high in protein, iron, B-6, and potassium, which helps control blood pressure, contains all the essential amino acids, making it a whole protein

Cooking Time | 15 minutes

Serving Suggestions | tabouli, substitute for pasta in Italian foods, salads, soup, baked goods

Millet (Teff)

Plant type | grass

Origin | North Africa, Northern China

Flavor Profile | neutral, delicate, slightly grassy (earthy)

Dietary Profile | gluten free, great source of B vitamins, niacin (B3), thiamin (B1) and B6, magnesium (lowers cholesterol and the risk of heart attack), phosphorous (which helps the body efficiently process carbohydrates, fats and proteins), and copper (supports good metabolism)

Cooking Time | 30 minutes

Serving Suggestions | soup, add to mashed potatoes, add to cornbread, salad, patties

An article from NPR  about the history of millet, "Millet: How A Trendy Ancient Grain Turned Nomads Into Farmers."


Plant type | wheat

Origin | Middle East, Italy

Flavor Profile | nutty, earthy, bold

Dietary Profile | high in fiber, B complex vitamins, and antioxidant rich lingnans

Cooking Time | 25 minutes for pearled farro, 45 minutes for whole farro

Serving Suggestions | soups, salads, porridge

An article from NPR, "Farro: An Ancient And Complicated Grain Worth Figuring Out" with recipes


Plant type | wheat

Origin | Middle East

Dietary Profile | low glycemic index, rich in fiber and magnesium

Cooking Time | 15 minutes

Serving Suggestions | soups, casserole, salad bowl, hot cereal, tabouli

 New York Times articles "The Benefits of Bulgur"  and "Bulgur: A Wheat to Remember" with recipes



Plant type | young, green wheat

Origin | Middle East

Dietary Profile | rich in fiber, iron, potassium, and promotes growth of good bacteria in colon, aiding digestion

Cooking Time | 40 minutes for whole freekeh, 20 minutes for cracked freekeh

Serving Suggestions | salad with a citrus dressing, pine nuts and olives or roasted beets, pistachios and pears