From buckwheat to barley and even amaranth, make room on your plate for these superfoods.
Nils Bernstein 1 / 16
Grains Every Guy Should Know
Grains are getting a bad rap these days. Between the popularity of Paleo diets and the explosion of gluten-free lifestyles, it seems people can't ditch bagels and bread fast enough.
But we're here to say that some grains, specifically unprocessed whole grains, aren't just good for you—they're great for you. So-called "ancient grains" are packed with fiber, protein, phytonutrients, and slow-digesting complex carbs that fuel your brain and muscle. So it's no surprise, then, that they're regaining a place in kitchen pantries and restaurants like Pazzi Pasta in Brooklyn, which specializes in fresh pasta made from whole grains.
So whether you're an aspiring pasta-maker or you just want to get some more good stuff in your diet, keep an eye out for these seven grains—and reap the nutritious rewards.
High in protein, iron, calcium, and fiber, this pseudocereal—it's technically a seed—is a nutritional powerhouse with good flavor; when made into pasta, however, mix it with wheat flours to create a pleasing texture.
Related to amaranth, this South American superfood is packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, quinoa is considered a “complete protein” that contains all nine essential amino acids. Combined with wheat in pasta, it lends a faintly nutty flavor and light texture.
Not just for beer, barley—one of the oldest consumed grains—is still popular in the Middle East and parts of Europe and Africa. Barley flour makes a light, slick pasta that’s high in fiber, vitamin B, and minerals like selenium and manganese.
If you’ve had Japanese soba, you’ve had buckwheat pasta. While it’s eaten as a grain, buckwheat technically isn’t a grain but a seed related to rhubarb and sorrel. Warning: Due to its lack of gluten, it doesn’t make a strong pasta on its own.
You’ve seen this tiny grain in birdseed, but it deserves a place on your plate as well for its high levels of iron, copper, manganese, phosphorous, and heart-healthy magnesium. The seeds lend a lightness to whole-grain pasta.
A type of hulled wheat now popular in Italy, true farro—technically known as emmer wheat—is one of the first crops in the world to be domesticated. Still grown today in mountainous regions of Europe and north Africa, Farro is chewy and richly textured, with more fiber than common wheat. When cooked whole or baked into bread, farro has a mild but distinct honey-like aroma that makes it perfect as a breakfast meal.
A tiny grain cultivated for thousands of years in the rugged hills of Eastern Africa, teff is booming in popularity because it’s easy to grow and gluten-free. It’s also extraordinarily rich in protein and essential amino acids—especially the muscle-building leucine and lysine—as well as potassium, calcium, and healthy unsaturated fatty acids.
Freekeh—pronounced FREE-kah or fah-REE-kah—is made by sun-drying, roasting, and threshing young durum wheat. Long a staple of cooking in the Middle East and North Africa, where it’s often served with spiced lamb, chicken, or in soups, freekeh is nutritionally similar to quinoa, with high amounts of manganese, fiber, Vitamin B, and protein.
Also known as dinkel wheat in Germany, spelt is a rich grain prized since antiquity for its rich texture and nutrients. (In Greek mythology, spelt was considered a gift from the gods.) It’s rich in manganese, phosphorous, niacin, and dietary fiber. Spelt flour is popular, especially in Germany and Austria, and whole spelt can be served like rice, although it’s quite chewy. Spelt prepared like freekeh is called Grünkern in Germany.
Chia is technically a seed, not a grain—the plant is actually part of the mint family—but it’s absolutely packed with energy-granting nutrients that have made it a legendary dietary staple for athletes since the days of the Aztec Empire. Hailing from South and Central America, chia is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (the name is derived from the Nahuatl term for “oily”) as well as B vitamins, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, and folate—all key for boosting and sustaining your energy. Soak it in water and mix it into anything from breakfast cereals to smoothies and energy bars.
A small wheat variety grown in the rugged hills of Anatolia, the Levant, and the Balkans, Einkorn was prized in antiquity for its hardiness and nutritional value. Popular today in France (and with adventurous bakers), it’s an especially rich grain, with more unsaturated fat, phosphorous, and beta-carotene than modern wheats.
An ancient wheat like einkorn, spelt, and farro, Khorasan wheat—commonly marketed as Kamut—is higher in potassium, magnesium, manganese, fiber, and protein than standard modern wheat. The grains are big and flavorful, with a nutty taste that makes for good baking flour.
A type of grass native to Australia, Africa, and southern Asia, sorghum has become popular around the world as a gluten-free substitute for wheat. Slightly sweeter than most other grains and densely textured, sorghum is an especially nutritious cereal, high in fiber, protein, phosphorous, potassium, and even Omega-6 fatty acids.
A century-old hybrid of wheat and rye—the name comes from the Latin terms for those cereals—triticale combines the best of both worlds. It’s not always easy to find outside of health stores, but it makes for a more nutritious wheat flour for baking.