Getting your daily recommended servings of each food group can be one of the hardest parts of healthy eating. If you stick to the same grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy products and proteins all the time, you’re bound to get bored with meal preparation. Next time you hit up the grocery store looking for whole grains to add to your diet, get a little more creative than wheat and rice. If you’re not sure what to look for, here are some ideas for more exotic grains that can fit into your daily meals.
Amaranth used to be a staple of Aztec culture before it was outlawed by Cortez (who wanted to put an end to the civilization) and smuggled out to Asia, according to the Whole Grains Council. While it’s more of a pseudo-grain than a true grain, its nutritional profile and uses are very similar, much like quinoa and buckwheat. The kernels are small and slightly peppery, and they’re full of protein and fiber. Amaranth is a great addition to cereals, breads, muffins, crackers and pancakes, and it can even be popped like popcorn!
This grain, also called emmer, originated in Egypt and has chewy, wheat-like berries that taste like barley. It has lots of vitamins B and E as well as magnesium, and it’s got more fiber and fewer calories than brown rice or quinoa, according to O, The Oprah Magazine. Soak it overnight before you cook it to soften up the grains.
Freekeh is a type of hard wheat that’s harvested when the plant is still young and green. This means they have more vitamins and minerals than many other types of grain, and since they’re roasted, they have a signature smoky flavor. Many Middle Eastern and Northern African cuisines feature freekeh in dishes like pilafs, soups, salads or porridges. It’s pretty quick to cook, too, so you won’t have to slave for hours over the stove.
Also known as milo, sorghum is a gluten-free grain that fits into a variety of diets. According to the Whole Grains Council, about 50 percent of sorghum worldwide goes to human consumption, but the U.S. tends to use it more for making animal feed, wallboard or biodegradable packing materials. That doesn't mean it isn't tasty, though! Sorghum can make a great flour replacement, be eaten like popcorn or even brewed into gluten-free beer.
The Whole Grains Council noted that these teeny-tiny grains are largely consumed in Ethiopia, Eritrea and other countries in the Horn of Africa, as well as Australia and India. Teff is high in calcium and vitamin C, which is unusual for grains, and it's gluten free. It has a sweet flavor that's reminiscent of molasses, and you can use it in everything from baked goods to polenta.
This grain is a mix of wheat and rye that was produced in the 1960s. It has more protein than either of its predecessors and has a low gluten content, which may make it easier on some people's stomachs. It may help lower cholesterol and provide antioxidants, too, so it's a great dietary staple. It's similar to rolled oats, which means it's good in breakfast foods or breads.