For Amber Waves of Grain – Grains offer nutritional benefits and are grown in Minnesota.

0012Ever wonder what foods fall into the grains food group? Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, bulgur, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product.

    Grains are in two subgroups: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains retain the entire grain kernel–the bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grains have been milled. This gives grains a finer texture and longer shelf life but removes the bran and germ, which offer dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins.

    Most refined grains are “enriched,” indicating that certain B vitamins and iron are added back after processing; fiber is not added back. Color in a food product is not an indication of a whole grain; bread can be brown because of molasses or other added ingredients.

    Some specialty bakeries, such as Great Harvest Bread Company, offer a “healthy choice” without additives like ethoxylated diglycerides, ammonium phosphate and others that preserve and stabilize the bread.

Couscous and quinoa

Jen Brewer, Rochester author and nutritionist consultant with Rochester Area Family YMCA, encourages people to explore couscous and quinoa, noting that couscous is packed with riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, thiamin and pantothenic acid, in addition to protein.

    Like pasta, couscous has little inherent flavor, so it can be used in a variety of dishes as it easily takes on the taste of its neighbors. A quick fix: cook couscous in chicken broth (in place of water), then mix with a little lemon juice, chopped red peppers, chopped cooked green onions, drained corn and a can of black beans (drained). Then season to taste (with salt, pepper, cumin, cilantro) and enjoy with any meal.

    Brewer describes quinoa (pronounced keenwah) as “a grain incognito” given it’s actually a seed that “acts like a grain.” It is actually related to the spinach and Swiss chard family. She calls this a “superfood” as it has a higher protein content than any other grain and contains all eight essential amino acids, making it one of the few complete proteins outside the meat family. Quinoa is gluten free.

    In the box it looks like tiny white and brown pebbles, but when properly cooked becomes translucent, with the spiral-like germ visible. Brewer recommends for recipes featuring quinoa.

Barley, OATS, wild rice

Barley is often used in soups and stews, where it serves as both a puffy grain and a thickener, but it also makes a nice side dish or salad. Hulled barley is the most nutritious, since only the tough outer hulls are polished off. Pearl barley is polished some more and less nutritious having lost its thick outer hull and nutritious bran layer during the milling process, leaving just the “pearl” inside, but more popular since it’s not as chewy as hulled barley and it cooks faster. Quick-cooking barley is similar to pearl barley in taste and nutrients, but only requires about 10 minutes to cook since it’s been pre-steamed.

    If you have never made homemade granola, the version that follows is simple to prepare. With success here, consider branching out to more complex variations. Great Harvest Bread Company and The Bread Baker Company also offer “healthy versions” without added preservatives.

    The wild rice muffins in the recipe that follows make a great accompaniment to soup. Stored under dry, clean conditions, uncooked wild rice has a shelf life of up to 10 years. Cooked rice will keep one week refrigerated and up to six months frozen. Visit for additional recipes or check out “Saga of the Grain – A Tribute to Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice Growers” by Ervin Oelke (2007, Hobar Publications,

Margo Stich is Rochester Women magazine’s food editor.  Her Seasons of the Vine column will be returning in the March/April 2012 issue.