What you wanted to know about Whole Grains

With the help of our new readers, we have some great questions for you.  We have also added some more information about whole grains that you may have been wondering about.  If there is still something that you want to know about, please let us know!  We are more than happy to answer your questions.

So, here’s what you wanted to know:

What ARE whole grains? 

To put it simply, whole grains are the fruits of grasses.  They contain all the carbohydrates and protein needed for the plant to grow.  Humans, however, have harvested these grains for our own nutritional and health needs.  A whole grain contains all essential nutrients for the plant to grow.  In most cases, whole grains are made up of three different parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm, with each part containing different nutrients.  For example, the endosperm is primarily carbohydrates and the bran contains fats.  If you want the biggest nutritional punch, then your best option is whole grains.

What is the difference between sprouted grains and non-sprouted grains?

The main difference between sprouted and non-sprouted grains is that sprouted grains are allowed to germinate (i.e. start to grow a new plant). Grain kernels can do this because they are really the seeds of a plant. These sprouted grains are then dried and then flour can be milled from the whole grains. Products made with sprouted grains may have more nutrients in them (compared to non-whole grain products), but this may only be because they use the whole grain to make their products. No scientific research exists to suggest they are superior in any way.   

What’s the difference between whole grain and multigrain?

Whole grain products are different than multi-grain products because they will contain the whole grain: bran, endosperm, and germ. Multi-grain products don’t necessarily contain all parts of the grain, but rather the product contains several types of grains.  If you are interested in purchasing multi-grain products, look for items that indicate that they are also whole-grain. Multi-grain products are not always healthier, despite the label!

What’s the best kind of bread to buy? 

The answer to this question depends on a few different things.  For example, do you eat bread only for enjoyment?  Do you want some nutritional benefit from your bread?  Does texture affect your enjoyment of the bread?  Let me answer these all separately.  If you eat bread only for enjoyment, then the best would be a lovely crusty country-style bread with a soft interior.  It could be a sourdough or it could be a baguette.  These are excellent to enjoy with some cheese, jam, or simply by themselves.  Now, if you would like some nutritional benefit from your bread, then the grainier breads are definitely the way to go.  When looking at these breads, label reading is key.  If you want maximum nutrition, look at the ingredient list: this will tell you if the grains are whole, or if they have been previously milled to get a flour that has been baked into the bread.  One grain to watch out for will be flax.  While whole flax is definitely an excellent source of fibre, if it is ground before being incorporated into the bread, it is a potential source of omega 3s.  If texture affects your enjoyment, then I suggest exercising some caution while you are perusing the bread aisle.  Here, again, learning how to read labels will be a great help.  Having said all this, there is a middle ground.  You can have a great crusty sourdough that has seeds and grains in it.  It really depends what you look for in your bread.

Can you make risotto with barley?

Yes! Typically, a traditional Italian risotto is made with Arborio rice – which is a starchy, white, short grain rice. However, you can make a healthier risotto using barley!

Try this Barley Risotto with Bacon by Chef Michael Smith, this Mushroom Barley Risotto by Epicurious, or this Slow Cooker Squash and Barley Risotto by Chatelaine.

What else can you use puffed wheat for?

Let’s be honest – who doesn’t love a good puffed wheat cake?  It’s like the chocolate-y version of rice krispies!  However, the question still remains – what else can you do with it?  After a search through some of my reference cookbooks yielded little result, I did a quick search on Google and found that puffed wheat is a common, nutritious snack in India.  It can be gently roasted and mixed with various spices and enjoyed when hunger strikes.

What’s the difference between regular rice and par-boil rice?

Parboiled rice (white or brown) differs from regular rice in that it has been partially cooked by being steamed, then dried. This extra processing allows for quicker cooking time later on and increases the nutrient content of the rice

Parboiled rice is more nutritious than regular white rice because its outer layer (hull) has been left on during the steaming process. This allows nutrients from the hull to make their way into the rice kernel. When choosing a rice our favourites in order of most nutritious are: par-boiled brown rice, brown rice, par-boiled white rice, white rice.

What IS gluten?

There is a lot of buzz about gluten these days – not all of it good, but I believe that there are some who don’t know exactly what gluten is.  Without getting too technical, gluten is the protein present in wheat that provides baked goods with stretch, texture, and flavour.  In a baguette, gluten is responsible for the crust and the way it tears when you bite into it.  In a cookie, gluten, literally, causes the cookie to crumble the way it does.

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