Guide to the new grains

Guide to the new grains

Just what exactly are ‘supergrains’? What do they do for us and how easy are they to cook with? We’ve got the goods on grains.

Grains are a staple in our diet — we commonly base our meals around the familiar bread, rice, pasta and cereal. Grains give us lots of important nutrients such as B vitamins, folate and fibre.

Whole grains are a great source of fibre and are the least processed grains. They generally have a low glycaemic index (GI) so they help to control our hunger and blood sugar levels. Whole grains also have a prebiotic effect in that they provide food for healthy bacteria in the gut, which helps to keep you regular. There is strong evidence that regularly eating whole grains is linked to reducing the risks of heart disease, becoming overweight and certain cancers such as colon cancer.

However, not all grains are equal. While regular brown rice is a whole grain, refined grains such as white rice, for example, have the outer part of the grain removed. This means they generally contain fewer vitamins, minerals and fibre — and won’t keep you as full or satisfied.

And now, joining these familiar grains on the market are a host of new, sometimes exotic-sounding grains. These new grains have been touted ‘supergrains’, and include black rice, quinoa, buckwheat and spelt.

So what’s so special about them? For starters, they are very good for you. Black rice, for example, contains high amounts of health-promoting anthocyanins similar to those in dark berries. We welcome variety in our diet, especially if there are health benefits to be had. Here’s the low-down on some of these new grains.

Tips to get the new grains into your day

  • Mix black rice with brown rice to make a delicious and interesting-looking rice salad.
  • Experiment with buckwheat or spelt flour in place of some of the regular flour in your baking recipes to boost the nutrition. Start with replacing half the flour quantity, so you don’t alter the texture too much.
  • Use quinoa, buckwheat, barley or spelt in any recipe calling for couscous, especially salad-style dishes. These grains all carry flavour well from dressings and other flavoursome ingredients.
  • Make plain white rice more nutritious by mixing it half-and-half with quinoa. Cook the two grains together for a nutty-textured side dish.


Health benefit: Quinoa, which is technically a seed and therefore a ‘pseudo’ grain, is higher in protein than many other grains. The added bonus is quinoa’s protein is complete, so it contains all of the essential amino acids. Quinoa is a great option for vegetarians or vegans who may miss out on complete protein from animal products. It’s also gluten-free, high in fibre, it has antioxidants and contains vitamin E and B vitamins.

How to use it: You can find black, white and red varieties. White quinoa has a more subtle flavour than the black and red. Quinoa takes about 15 minutes to cook. Rinse the grains first then add 2 cups water to every cup of quinoa. Simmer on low until water has evaporated and grains are tender. Quinoa is great to use as a base for salads, stuffing vegetables, as a replacement for pasta, rice or couscous, or for adding to soups or curries.

Nutrition information: (per cup, cooked)

  • 1264kJ/302cal
  • 11.1g protein
  • 5.5g fat
  • 0g sat fat
  • 53.7g carbs
  • 9.3g sugars
  • 7.4g fibre

Black rice

Health benefit: The dark purple colour of black rice is because it is high in anthocyanins — powerful antioxidants that are also found in blueberries and blackberries. Anthocyanins have been linked to the prevention of diseases such as certain cancers and heart disease. Black rice is a source of fibre and a source of B vitamins (like niacin and thiamin), magnesium and vitamin E. Like all rice, it is gluten-free so it’s great for anyone with coeliac disease.

How to use it: Black rice has a rich, nutty taste. Cook and use it as you would brown rice. It makes a tasty base for stir-fries, curries and pilafs.

Nutrition information: (per cup, cooked)

  • 902kJ/215cal
  • 4.2g protein
  • 1.8g fat
  • <1g sat fat
  • 43.8g carbs
  • <1g sugars
  • 2.4g fibre


Health benefit: Buckwheat, another ‘pseudo’ grain, is gluten-free and contains a good amount of complete protein so it is great for vegans or vegetarians. Buckwheat is also high in fibre and contains manganese, magnesium, niacin, folate, iron, zinc, copper, selenium and phosphorous. Buckwheat is high in antioxidants, particularly rutin which is thought to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

How to use it: Use buckwheat to make gluten-free porridge, salads, or as an alternative to rice in risottos or pilafs. To cook, add 1 cup buckwheat to 2 cups water, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until water is absorbed and buckwheat is al dente. Buckwheat flour is great for gluten-free baking (use it cup for cup in place of plain flour for nuttier-tasting cakes or biscuits).

Nutrition information: (per cup, cooked)

  • 1262kJ/301cal
  • 11.3g protein
  • 2.8g fat
  • 0.6g sat fat
  • 63.5g carbs
  • 2.3g sugars
  • 9.0g fibre


Health benefit: Barley contains fibre, particularly beta-glucan, which can help to lower cholesterol absorption. Barley is also a source of B vitamins (vitamin B6, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and folate) as well as vitamin E, iron, zinc, magnesium and selenium.

How to use it: The most common form is pearled barley (or pearl barley). It has a nutty taste and is generally used in soups and casseroles. It is also good added to salads. To cook, add 1 cup pearled barley to a large saucepan with 1.5 litres water. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold running water then drain well.

Nutrition information: (per cup, cooked)

  • 732kJ/175cal
  • 4.0g protein
  • 0.9g fat
  • 0.1g sat fat
  • 38.0g carbs
  • 0g sugars
  • 2.8g fibre


Health benefit: Spelt is a variety of wheat, but higher in protein and fibre. It’s also a source of manganese, copper, phosphorus and the B vitamins niacin, thiamin and riboflavin.

How to use it: Spelt can be used in salads, just as you would use rice or couscous. It is also good served with stews. To cook, add 1 cup spelt to a large saucepan with 1.5L water. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold running water then drain well. You may also see spelt flour. It can be used instead of regular flour in bread, muffins or pasta.

Nutrition information: (per cup, cooked)

  • 1028kJ/246cal
  • 11.0g protein
  • 1.6g fat
  • 0g sat fat
  • 51.3g carbs
  • 0g sugars
  • 7.6g fibre

Storage tip

Whole grains contain natural oils, so they can go rancid quickly. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, ideally a pantry or refrigerator, where they will last for three to six months.

Author: Zoe Wilson

Healthy Food Guide

First published: Jul 2013

2018-03-13 14:34:59

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Call to action banner image

Lost Password