Whole Grains: Beyond the Basics

Whole Grains – Beyond the Basics

Getting your daily dose of whole grains doesn’t have to be dull. From amaranth to sorghum, supermarkets now offer many whole grain products beyond whole wheat. Popular whole grains from other parts of the world may be less common here in the United States, but they deserve a second look. Explore the unique tastes and textures of these exotic grains and reap their nutritional benefits.

Many of these ancient grains, around for thousands of years, have gained popularity, and now enjoy a coveted spot on supermarket shelves. Read on to see what you may be missing!


With a long standing history, amaranth was a common grain of the Aztecs, and later brought to Asia. These tiny brown kernels with a light nutty taste are in fact a pseudocereal1—this plant actually belongs to the same family as beets and spinach. Amaranth has a higher level of protein compared to other grains and contains the amino acid lysine, which is typically absent in many grains. Calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and fiber add to the draw of this gluten-free grain.2 It can be used in cereals, baked goods or as unique snacks—popped like popcorn or made into bars paired with honey and different types of seeds and nuts.


This grain is one of the oldest grown grains with origins along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Barley is a hardy grain that grows well in diverse climates. It has a tough hull, which when removed tends to take some of the bran with it.1 Whole grain barley, also called hulled or hulless barley, may be difficult to find on store shelves compared to pearled barley, which is not a whole grain. These forms can be used in the same way, but the whole grain version has a chewier consistency, stronger flavor, and typically takes longer to cook. Whole grain barley is high in soluble fiber, the consumption of which may support heart health.3 Add it to your next soup, salad or side dish—and keep in mind, pearled barley is not actually a whole grain. However, it is a good source of fiber.


Native to Northern Europe and Asia, buckwheat is another hardy crop with a unique triangular shape. Roasted buckwheat has a nuttier taste and appearance compared to the milder flavor of unroasted buckwheat. Technically a fruit seed, one of buckwheat’s relatives is rhubarb. Buckwheat acts as grain and is a delicious and nutritious option for baked goods or as a hearty hot breakfast cereal. It is a common ingredient in soba noodles, crepes and pancake recipes.1 Check out this gluten-free alternative for your next weekend brunch.


Bulgur is a type of whole wheat grain created when the kernels are boiled, dried and cracked.1 This process allows for a faster cook time at home, whether in soup, salads or even as a side dish. Have you tasted tabbouleh? This flavorful Middle Eastern salad is made with parsley, tomatoes, green onions, mint, olive oil, lemon juice and you guessed it – bulgur! This is a hearty whole grain that provides about 75 calories and 4 grams of fiber per ½ cup cooked serving.4


An ancient strain of wheat, farro originated within the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East.5 Durum wheat dominates the marketplace; however, farro is staging a comeback in restaurants and in home cooked meals. It can be used as a substitute for traditional pasta, rice or other grains used in breads, soups and salads. Before use in a recipe, farro should be soaked in water overnight.6 One-half cup cooked farro contains about 100 calories, provides 4 grams of protein and a good source of fiber.5


Millet is the name given to not just one, but several different grains that are all part of the same family. Before rice, it was likely a staple grain in Asia and today in India.1 Millet is usually a small grain, yellowish in color with a mild flavor. It can be ground easily and added to a bread or muffin recipe. Couscous, which is made from cracked millet, delivers a delicious side dish.7


Quinoa was first cultivated by the Incas in the Andes. A relative of Swiss chard and beets, quinoa is—like amaranth—not a true grain, botanically-speaking. These small, round grains have a mild nutty flavor and are fluffy with a slight crunch.1 Quinoa can be cooked and eaten like a grain, but unlike typical grains, quinoa contains all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Be sure to rinse quinoa before cooking, as this removes the outer covering, saponin, which can leave an altered bitter taste.8 To cut down on prep time, look for pre-rinsed quinoa. Add quinoa to soups, salads or eat it as a side dish – it is a quick and easy substitute for rice in a recipe. This trendy “grain” has recently skyrocketed in popularity. Interesting to note – NASA suggested quinoa as a possible model food for long space missions.1

Sorghum (milo)

Sorghum (milo) was likely first cultivated in Africa. Typically used as cattle feed in the states, sorghum is gaining favor as a gluten-free option in a variety of foods. It can be cooked similar to rice, baked into flatbread, popped like popcorn and more.9 A unique feature of this grain is that even the outer hull can be eaten, which helps it maintain its original nutritional value.


This tiny grain has been a big part of traditional Ethiopian cuisine for thousands of years. Known for its use in injera, a spongy fermented flatbread, teff actually lends itself to many dishes—or even the dish itself! Ethiopian restaurants actually use injera as an edible serving plate.1 Want to make it at home? Check out this recipe for quick injera. One-half cup of cooked teff provides nearly 5 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fiber, and about 13% the daily value of iron.10 Teff may be a food trend to watch for in 2014 – or better yet – one to enjoy!

Wild Rice

The only grain native to North America, wild rice grows in tidal waters with depths of 2-4 feet, and is actually the seed of aquatic grass. These dark kernels have a nutty, smoked taste. Because of low yields, which lead to higher costs, wild rice is frequently partnered with other grains to reduce costs (e.g., white and wild rice mixtures). Providing a variety of vitamins and minerals, wild rice can add a nice change of pace to a routine side dish, soup or salad.


Go beyond the basic grains, and try a new whole grain each week. Substitute one of the above options in a favorite recipe. A previously foreign grain may become one of your kitchen pantry staples.

Explore these recipes from Campbell’s Kitchen® to get you started:
Striped Bass with Sautéed Spinach and Parsnip-Celery Puree
Hearty Bean & Barley Soup
Bulgur Salad
Quinoa Chile Rellenos
Chicken with Peas & Quinoa
Southwest Quinoa Burgers


1. Grain of the Month Calendar http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/whole-grains-a-to-z
2. Amaranth: Another Ancient Wonder Food, But Who Will Eat It? http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/130812-amaranth-oaxaca-mexico-obesity-puente-food/
3. Barley Foods http://www.barleyfoods.org/nutrition.html
4. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 26 http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6363?fg=&man=&lfacet=&count=&max=25&qlookup=bulgur&offset=&sort=&format=Abridged&reportfmt=other&rptfrm=&ndbno=&nutrient1=&nutrient2=&nutrient3=&subset=&totCount=&measureby=&_action_show=Apply+Changes&Qv=1&Q12169=.5&Q12170=1.0
5. Ingredient of the Month http://www.clemson.edu/cafls/cuchefs/files/farro.pdf
6. Farro: An Ancient And Complicated Grain Worth Figuring Out http://www.npr.org/2013/10/02/227838385/farro-an-ancient-if-complicated-grain-worth-figuring-out
7. The World’s Healthiest Foods – Millet http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=53
8. Five Grains to Keep Your Family Healthy http://www.eatright.org/kids/article.aspx?id=6442476900&terms=quinoa;
9. Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom Sorghum Facts http://oklahoma4h.okstate.edu/aitc/lessons/extras/facts/milo.html
10. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 26 http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6477?fg=&man=&lfacet=&count=&max=25&qlookup=teff&offset=&sort=&format=Abridged&reportfmt=other&rptfrm=&ndbno=&nutrient1=&nutrient2=&nutrient3=&subset=&totCount=&measureby=&_action_show=Apply+Changes&Qv=1&Q12298=.5

Please note that the Heart-Check Food Certification does not apply to recipes or information reached through links unless expressly stated.


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