Buying, Cooking and Understanding Whole Grains
Ancient whole grains are experiencing a comeback.
In her late teens, Liz Freeman Abel was a “junk food” vegetarian. “And I knew it,” she confesses. Bagels, bread
“When I returned home, I immediately bought a fancy rice cooker,” says the Wilmington resident, who’s now a holistic health and yoga coach. “I started making the most prefect, delicious white rice imaginable. Then I started making
Like Abel, many people are beginning to explore the world of whole grains. Credit the rise in gluten-free diners, who’re looking for such alternatives as amaranth and quinoa. “Just about one out of two tables has a diner who is either gluten-free or they have wheat sensitivities,” says Roger Surpin, executive chef at Domaine Hudson Wine Bar & Eatery in Wilmington, who also cooks with bulgur, barley, quinoa and farro.
Whole grains also appeal to carb-counters, he says. That’s because they’re more nutritious alternatives.
But there’s another reason why you’re seeing more whole grains on menus. “People want variety,” says Gabrielle Snyder Marlow, program manager of the Weight Management Center and Bariatric Surgery Program at Christiana Care Health System. “A lot of Americans just want to try something new in general.”
What’s Old is New Again
Although they might seem trendy, whole grains are admittedly not new. Amaranth was a staple of the Aztecs’ diets, and quinoa has been grown for more than 3,000 years in the Andean region.
In some cultures, such products are mainstays. Italians refer to emmer wheat as “farro.” Surpin, whose family is from Russia, grew up eating kasha. Typically made with buckwheat, it’s a common ingredient in Central and Eastern European cuisine. “We’d eat it as porridge, as a side dish, pretty much anywhere that many people here eat potatoes,” he says.
Although lumped into the cereal grain category, buckwheat is not truly a grain in the traditional sense. It’s related to rhubarb. That’s true of other items in the whole grains aisle. Unlike wheat and corn, which are part of the grass family, quinoa is closely related to spinach. Amaranth is a plant with beautiful flowers.
These ancient grains pack a more nutritional punch than processed wheat. Most are high in fiber, which slows digestion. “The benefit is that you feel satisfied with your meal longer,” Snyder explains. “You don’t get hungry as quickly and you can maintain energy.”
Quinoa is high in protein, a boon for vegetarians. It’s low in fat, and it’s also a good source of iron and even calcium. Many whole grains are loaded with vitamins, magnesium and flavonoids.
Reaping the Rewards
For chefs, incorporating whole grains into a dish adds texture, taste and even color. (Trader Joe’s sells a tricolor blend of red, gold and black quinoa.) It also gives chefs the opportunity to experiment.
“When I went to the Culinary Institute of America, we touched on risotto, jasmine rice, your standard rice and wild rice—that was it,” says Patrick D’Amico, chef at Harry’s Savoy Grill. “I started playing with farro over the past few years and I thought it was phenomenal.”
D’Amico, who often uses farro in place of rice in risotto, likes the grain’s nutty quality. He’s also made crunchy “popcorn” out of it to sprinkle in salads. What’s next? He wants to experiment with the quinoa flowers instead of just the seeds, and he wants to add a gluten-free millet option to his artisanal pastas.