Guide to healthy grains: How to use farro, quinoa and more

Yum! Try a bulgur burger.
Yum! Try a bulgur burger.Michelle Hainer / Today
By Michelle Hainer
Try this delicious quinoa dish for a meatless protein punch.Michelle Hainer / Today

By now you know that a diet full of whole grains is the gold standard for eating healthy. While you may want to incorporate these foods into your diet, a trip through the grain aisle of your grocery store offers tons of confusing options. Here is a guide to some good-for-you grains, and how to use them in delicious ways!  


A godsend for those who can’t tolerate gluten, amaranth is packed with protein and contains the amino acid lysine, making it a complete protein. It’s also loaded with calcium and Vitamin C.

How to use it: When cooked, amaranth retains its crunch, making it ideal for adding to soups or salads. You can also buy it in flour form and give traditional baked goods a healthy boost, like these chocolate chip cookies.

Barley salad with pesto and walnutsMichelle Hainer / Today


One of the oldest cultivated grains, barley contains beta-glucan fiber which can control blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol. And because of its high fiber content, a bowl full of barley can help you feel full longer.

How to use it: You can buy hulled barley, which takes about an hour to cook, or pearled barley, which has all or part of the bran and germ of the grain removed, but cooks up in half the time. Barley has a texture similar to rice, making it an excellent side dish, like in this yummy salad from Food & Wine.

Yum! Try a bulgur burger.Michelle Hainer / Today

Bulgur wheat

Made of wheat kernels that are boiled, dried and cracked, bulgur has more fiber than buckwheat, quinoa or millet. Plus its mild flavor makes it a good “beginner” grain.

How to use it: Bulgur cooks up quickly, so it’s perfect for a last-minute side dish. (If you’ve ever eaten tabbouleh, you’ve had bulgur wheat.) It’s also hearty, so you can use it to cut the amount of meat in a recipe, like in these beef and bulgur burgers.


Also known as emmer, farro is an ancient strain of wheat that contains cyanogenic glucosides, which can stimulate your immune system and lower cholesterol. Farro has a deliciously nutty flavor and is just al dente enough to make it an excellent alternative to pasta. It’s pricey, but worth it.

How to use it: Farro can be purchased whole, or semi-perlato, meaning that part of the bran and germ of the grain have been removed. (Whole farro will take about an hour to cook, semi-perlato takes about 20 minutes.) Use it in place of penne in this recipe which pairs the spiciness of red pepper flakes with the sweetness of golden raisins.


It looks like birdseed (and indeed, is used as such in the U.S.), but millet is high in antioxidants, magnesium, and is gluten-free. It can also help control diabetes and inflammation.

How to use it: Millet can be eaten as a pilaf or simmered down into a creamy breakfast cereal. It also has a crunchy texture that works well in baked goods, like these delightful honey millet muffins from “Super Natural Every Day” by Heidi Swanson.


Pronounced keen-wah, quinoa is not only delicious, but it contains all of the amino acids we need. It’s also full of potassium and has a high ratio of protein to carbohydrates. No wonder it’s known as a superfood!

How to use it: Quinoa only takes about 15 minutes to simmer in either water or broth. For a meatless meal that doesn’t skimp on protein, try these real food bowls.

Get more tips and recipes for seasonal eats atMade By Michelle.

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