CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Overheard in the bread aisle: "I don't know what we're supposed to be eating now. What's makes a healthy bread?"
Indeed, what should the health-minded seek on bread labels: "whole grain" or "whole wheat?" And what about "multigrain?"
It turns out that both "whole grain" and "whole wheat" are desirable. In a nutshell, all whole wheat is whole grain, but not all whole grain is whole wheat. Whole grain refers to any grain.
It's like all carrots are vegetables, but not all vegetables are carrots.
Whole grain is good.
It contains the entire kernel - bran, germ and endosperm. Even if the grain has been processed, in ways such as cracking, crushing and rolling, as long as all three parts of the kernel stay in the mix, it still contains the nutrients found in the grain seed.
So, what constitutes a grain? Grains are seeds. In their natural state growing in the fields, whole grains are the entire seed of a plant, such as wheat, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, rice and rye.
It's important to discern whether all or most of the grain used in the product is whole grain, or only a small percentage. Products may be promoted as containing whole grain, but that claim doesn't mean whole grain is the main ingredient. Check the ingredient list, not the claims printed on the package to see if a whole grain is listed first.
"Multigrain" contains a mix of different grains, but they aren't necessarily whole.
All whole grains reduce risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. They may also reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Many grains are gluten-free, such as amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff and wild rice. Wheat, barley, rye and triticale flours contain gluten.
Many grocery stores, health food stores and the Purple Onion in Capitol Market carry a good variety of grains.
If you're ready to step out of your white-bread - or even common whole-wheat - world, check out some of these other whole grains to add variety to your healthy diet.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
Described as light, nutty and crunchy, amaranth is a common ingredient in cereals, breads, muffins, crackers and pancakes. It requires 15 to 20 minutes of boil time and a subsequent rinse to be cooked for recipes.
It never loses its crunch completely. The grains seem to pop between teeth when chewed. Amaranth contains 13 percent to 14 percent protein.
Most of us think of barley as those little white things floating in our beef barley soup. Whole grain barley requires a bit of forethought because it takes 50 to 60 minutes to cook, but it's easy to cook a big batch then refrigerate it or freeze it until needed.
At 17 percent, barley is highest in fiber of all the common varieties of whole grains. Whole grain barley also is high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Beware of pearl barley, the most common eaten in the U.S., because it is missing some or all of its bran layer.
Many West Virginians associate buckwheat with Kingwood, where volunteers serve up thousands of hearty buckwheat pancakes at the annual Buckwheat Festival, but the nutty grain also is a main ingredient in soba noodles, crepes and other baked goods.
Whole buckwheat groats, rather than the flour, may be used in pilaf, tabouleh or any dish that features individual whole grains, but they require special treatment. They must be coated with egg or oil, and heated in a skillet until dry. Without that step, the grains will swell, then collapse, resulting in an oatmeal-like mass.
When wheat kernels are boiled, dried, cracked, then sorted by size, the result is bulgur. In the United States, products labeled bulgur are whole grain. Bulgur has more fiber than quinoa, oats, millet, buckwheat or corn.
It requires only a quick boil or soak in hot water.
Is corn a grain or a vegetable? Usually, fresh corn is considered a vegetable and dried corn and popcorn are grains. The most popular dried corn product is corn meal, which should be labeled "whole corn" or "whole grain corn," not "degermed corn." Degermed corn does not contain the nutritious germ and is not whole grain.
Millet has not been traditionally served in the United States, but has gained popularity recently. It's still more commonly found in bird feeders.
Millet can be white, gray, yellow or red and has a mild flavor and is often mixed with other grains or toasted before cooking, to bring out the full extent of its delicate flavor. It's made into pilafs or breakfast cereals, or added to breads, soups or stews.
It also can be popped like corn and eaten as a snack.
A common perception is that steel cut oats have more fiber than quick-cooking oats. The truth is that they have about the same amount. A serving of each contains about 4 grams of fiber.
Before they're cooked, steel-cut oats do contain more vitamins and minerals than rolled oats, but the longer cooking time required for steel-cut oats removes enough of the nutrients to even the score. Both are good sources of B-complex vitamins, iron and 5 grams of protein.
Quinoa's (pronounced "KEEN wah") wildly successful marketing as a super food has resulted in shortages of the grain and subsequent high costs to consumers. It's not technically a grain, but is instead botanically related to beets, chard and spinach. It has the unusual benefit of being a plant food that's a complete protein.
Quinoa contains more protein than any other grain, but less than half the fiber in oats or buckwheat. It cooks in about 15 minutes. A tiny white tail "sprouts" from the kernels when they're fully cooked.
Kaniwa is a cousin of quinoa that also contains high levels of protein.
Rice is one of the most easily digestible of the grains. White rice is its least healthy form because both the germ and bran are removed in processing. Whole-grain rice is usually brown, but is also available in black, red and purple, and has much higher levels of vitamins, minerals and fiber than white rice.
Wild rice is actually a grass. Inside its hull is the wild black rice kernel that is consumed. It's higher in protein than whole grain brown rice, but is also more expensive, so wild rice is often served mixed with other grains.
Rice is classified by size and texture. Long, medium and short grain rices have different properties. Aromatic rices such as Basmati, Jasmine and Texmati have distinctive naturally occurring tastes.
Rye contains high levels of fiber and antioxidants. Rye is especially popular in Nordic countries. Its most common use in the West is in bread and crackers, although it's also a good base for salads and pilafs and added to soups. The berries take about an hour to cook.
Wheat leads the pack in amount consumed in the United States. Refined white flour, which is the most commonly used flour, is missing its bran and germ and lacks nutritional value. Whole-wheat flour is always whole grain.
Spelt, emmer, farro, durum, bulgur, cracked wheat and wheatberries are all forms of wheat.
It takes about 100 grains of teff to make up the size of one kernel of wheat, making teff the smallest grain in the world. Teff has a mild, nutty flavor and lots of calcium, protein and fiber and is good in stews, pilaf or baked goods. Cooked whole grain teff makes a unique hot breakfast cereal similar in consistency and texture to wheat farina.
"If rye and wheat met and had a baby, it would be triticale," according to the Kashi grains website. It has wheat's nuttiness, rye's chewiness, and a bit of rye's bitterness and is used in flours as well as in flake or grain berry form.
Bulgur with Dried Cranberries
1 cup coarse-ground bulgur
2 cups peeled and cubed English cucumber
1 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onion
1 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt