Sunday, April 10, 2011

Grain Brain

Hailed as the “staff of life” for their historical importance to human survival, grains are an essential part of a healthy diet. Also called cereals, grains are the seeds of grasses, which are cultivated for food. They come in many shapes and sizes from large kernels of popcorn to small quinoa seeds.

When whole, they include the bran, germ and endosperm, all of which contain essential nutrients. Refined grains, such as white rice or white flour, have their bran and germ removed from the grain. Although vitamins and minerals are added back into refined grains after the milling process, they still don’t have as many nutrients as whole grains do, and they don’t provide as much fiber naturally.

Grains are an importance staple food especially in Chinese cuisine. Rice is an important source of carbohydrates in Asian cuisine compared to potatoes.

All types of whole grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates, various vitamins and minerals such as selenium, potassium and magnesium, and are naturally low in fat. Examples of whole grains include barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgar, millet, oatmeal, wild rice, quinoa, amaranth and whole wheat.

Here are some general guidelines and tips for using grains in your kitchen:

1. Fresh grains have a faint sweet aroma or no smell at all. Because of their oil-rich germ, whole grains should be kept in an airtight container or refrigerated to avoid becoming rancid. Or better, buy them in small as-you-need quantities at a reputed grocery store with good traffic that sells them in bulk.

2. Whole grains should be thoroughly rinsed before cooking. Swish around in a stainer in a bowl filled with water; plunged up and down, changing the water until it runs clear. For tiny grains, use a fine-meshed strainer or line a strainer with cheesecloth.

3. To amplify the nutty, sweet side of some grains, first dry by stirring over moderately low heat in a dry heavy skillet, then heat until toastly, adding a little oil to hasten the process and coat the grain. Be sure to use oil that has a high smoke point such as grapeseed oil or avocado oil.

4. Be creative – and – stingy with liquids. Flavored liquids enhance the quicker cooking grains, in particular. Vegetable stock flavored with sliced ginger or bay leaf, garlic, dried herbs, and seaweed are favorites. Use about 1/3 less liquid than is generally instructed if you prefer grains that are more al dente.

So the next time you go shopping for grains, look for the word “whole” on the package.

Check out to learn more about some of your favorite grains.

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