A guide to 5 great grains

    If this is the first time you are hearing of farro and rye, you’re not alone. While the concept of cooking grains may seem unfamiliar and daunting, once you learn the basics, you’ll be a grain connoisseur. There is no shortage of grain variety, but for the purposes of this article, I’ve narrowed it down to five popular and nutritious grains that everybody should know how to cook. You’d be surprised by the sheer number of nutritional benefits and properties of these grains. They truly are superfoods. Read on for a variety of grains and their respective nutritional benefits, how to cook them, and a few recipe ideas!

    Some of the grains mentioned below are gluten-free while some are gluten-full, giving gluten-free eaters the ability to curb their carb craving in the form of grains.

    Brown Rice (gluten-free)

    Brown rice is a whole, gluten-free grain option with a slightly nutty flavor that comes from the same grain as white rice. The major difference: brown rice’s counterpart, white rice, has the hull, bran layer, and germ removed, leaving you with a less nutrient-dense grain. The different bran layers contain vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Among these are B vitamins, fiber, essential amino acids, flavonoids, minerals, and antioxidant compounds. In addition, brown rice has lots of slow-release energy. While it is high in carbohydrates, it is low in fat, sugar, and has a relatively good amount of protein. It is a great option for those with celiac disease, as it is gluten-free.

    Within the world of brown rice, there is an array of options. There are long, medium, and short-grain brown rices, with each size corresponding to a different texture. Short-grain brown rice tends to stick together when cooked, making it a great option for sticky sushi rice. Medium-grain brown rice is moist, tender, and the grains are less likely to stick to each other in comparison to short-grain brown rice. Long-grain brown rice is relatively thin compared to the plump medium and short brown rice varieties. Brown rice is relatively light and the grains will separate from one another when cooked, making it perfect for a rice pilaf dish.

    Quinoa (gluten-free)

    This one is a little bit of a false advertisement. Quinoa is technically a seed, not a grain, but it has the same fluffy and soft texture as some other grains. Here’s a quick, one-sentence, history lesson on quinoa: it comes from the South American countries of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru and is grown in the Andes mountains. There is a wide variety of quinoa, ranging from white to orange to green, but the two most common types of quinoas, at least in the United States, are white and red. Quinoa is full of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is also a complete protein, meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids that our body needs and cannot make on its own. Another perk of quinoa is that it is easier to digest compared to other grains.

    Because of its light flavor and texture, quinoa can be used in any dish that needs some protein and carbohydrates without making the dish super heavy. Quinoa makes for a great addition in a kale salad, or as the centerpiece of a salad with pomegranates, peppers, herbs, almonds, and a light dressing.


    Not to play favorites over here, but farro is hands down my favorite grain. It has great texture, flavor, and is extremely filling. Now on to the intricacies of what farro has to offer. Farro is a soft and crunchy ancient grain that, much like quinoa, is relatively high in protein. It has a nutty flavor and an al dente-like texture. It is high in fiber, iron, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and B vitamins.

    Because of its crunchy texture, farro can be used as the center of a dish, or as a supplementary ingredient for a crunch factor. A delicious option for a farro dish includes sauteed mushrooms, olive oil, dill, and garlic. Farro can also be transformed into a completely new food. Try adding farro to the mix of your next vegetarian grain-based burger!


    Barley has a chewy texture and slightly sweet, yet still neutral, flavor from its natural sugars. Its neutral flavor allows it to be used in a variety of dishes. Here is another quick grain history lesson: Barley is thought to have originated in North Africa or Southeast Asia and was eaten by ancient Greek athletes for strength. While barley is only one grain, there are many different varieties. Hulled barley has the most nutritional benefits, as the outer husk of the grain is still intact. Because of this, it takes longer to cook. Pearl barley is hulled barley with most of the outer shell removed, making it slightly less nutritious than hulled barley. It is the most commonly eaten type of barley out there.

    Barley is best known for its extremely high fiber content. Specifically, beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as cholesterol. The most common barley type, pearl barley contains lots of phosphorus and niacin, as well as zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6.

    Barley’s neutral taste allows it to be used for both sweet and savory cooking. Use it in a soup, make a risotto, or go the sweet route with a barley pudding.


    The rye grain is used not only as a whole grain, but also to make whiskey and breads. It is high in soluble fiber, calcium, potassium, and vitamin E. In comparison to wheat, rye retains more nutrients since it is much harder to refine. While rye is not gluten-free, it does contain a smaller amount of gluten than wheat.

    Rye’s uses go beyond a grain dish or salad. It can be milled into a flour and used in a variety of baking recipes. Because of its crunchy texture, rye can be used as the base of a rye berry salad, rye flour can be in baked goods, pumpernickel bread, or you can use rye to make a sweet breakfast porridge.

    Jenny Lieberman is a recipe developer, certified group fitness instructor, and recent high school graduate from Boca Raton, FL. She loves all things health and wellness, so you will probably find her looking up the newest food and fitness trends. She is currently on a gap year program at Midreshet Torah v’Avodah (MTVA) in Jerusalem, Israel. Jenny will be attending the University of Maryland, College Park, starting Fall 2021. You can follow Jenny on her Instagram healthy food account (@toomuchonmyplate_) to see more of her recipes!