Types of Sprouted Grains
Almost every type of whole grain can be sprouted, as well as some seeds and legumes. Because whole grains contain everything needed for new plant growth, all types of grains go through the germination and sprouting process in their own way.
While every grain has the possibility to sprout, there are some varieties of seeds, grains, and legumes that are not safe to eat as sprouts. There are, however, many more options that are safe to sprout than those that aren’t.
Whole Grains to Sprout
The majority of whole grains are safe to eat once sprouted, whether you choose to eat them raw or to cook them a bit more once they have been sprouted. The most popular grains used for sprouting are amaranth, barley, rice (brown, colored, and wild), buckwheat, bulgur, corn, farro, Kamut, millet, oats, quinoa, sorghum, spelt, triticale, rye, and wheat.
Gluten-free diets are becoming more popular as more people are being diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. (Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat and some cereal grains.) But being gluten-free doesn’t mean you have to avoid all grains. Add some oomph to your diet with naturally gluten-free grains like amaranth, rice, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, and brown and wild rice.
Amaranth was originally a basic staple in the diet of the Aztec people until it was banned by Cortez in order to destroy their civilization. After being carried to other countries, the seeds took off and amaranth is now gaining popularity again thanks to its high protein content and the fact that it is a naturally gluten-free grain. Amaranth grains are extremely tiny and look like small brown caviar when they are cooked. Not a true whole grain, amaranth is actually part of a botanical family of plants, genus Amaranthus, but is considered a grain because of the way it is most often used.
Barley use can be traced back to the Egyptians, and it is one of the oldest known cultivated grains. Because it has such a tough outer hull, most purchased barley is not technically a “whole grain,” as removing the hull often takes some or all of the bran with it. Even without the distinction of being a whole grain, barley is extremely high in fiber and is still healthier than any other type of refined grain.
To sprout barley, make sure you don’t get the quick-cooking variety. Barley that has been processed for quicker cooking won’t sprout like regular, raw barley. The quick-cooking type is a great option for soups and stews when you don’t have time to cook the dish for very long, but it won’t give you good sprouts.
Brown, Colored, and Wild Rice
While whole-grain rice is usually brown, it can also be a variety of other colors including purple, red, and black. Rice is one of the most popular grains not only in the United States but also around the world because it thrives in warmer climates. It is also one of the most easily digestible grains.
Wild rice is typically categorized with other varieties of rice, but it is actually a type of grass. The grain of the plant has a similar shape and texture as rice and is used in the same way.
Buckwheat is treated like and served like a whole grain, but it is actually not a grain at all. It is related to rhubarb, but the texture, flavor, and appearance of buckwheat are so similar to whole grains that many people have accepted that it serves the same role as a whole grain. Buckwheat can be eaten raw or cooked (with or without sprouting). It is also the main ingredient in Japanese soba noodles and in kasha, a cereal commonly eaten in Eastern Europe.
Does it matter if buckwheat is eaten raw, cooked, or sprouted?
No matter how you like your buckwheat prepared, you’ll be reaping great health benefits from it. While sprouting does increase some nutrients in the grain, eating it raw in yogurt or salads, or cooked in a grain dish or granola, will also offer more health benefits than if you were eating some type of refined grain instead.
Bulgur is wheat kernels that have been cooked, dried, and then cracked. Because bulgur has been precooked for a short amount of time, it only needs to cook for another 5–10 minutes, which makes it a quick whole-grain option to make at home. The slightly nutty flavor and fluffy texture make it a great grain base for all kinds of dishes, but it is most widely known as the base of tabbouleh salad. Since bulgur has been precooked, it will not actually sprout, but the soaking and germination process can still be used with bulgur to increase the nutritional value and enzymes within the grain before eating it.
Corn (and Whole Cornmeal)
Corn as a whole grain can be used in many different forms: whole corn kernels, cornmeal, masa (corn dough), polenta (cornmeal mush), popcorn, and tortillas. As long as the end result began with the entire grain, you’ll still get all the benefits of the corn in things like cornmeal and polenta. Naturally sweet and tender, using corn as a whole grain in your diet offers a different texture and flavor from almost every other whole grain.
Farro, originally called emmer, is an ancient variety of wheat that was once a mainstay in the diets of people in the Fertile Crescent and in Italy. It lost popularity once those cultures learned that other varieties of wheat were easier to hull, but it is slowly regaining its popularity as an alternative whole grain to regular wheat. Farro can be labeled either as “whole” or as “pearled”; pearled means that the grains have been processed in some way. To make sure you’re getting the entire grain, look for whole farro.
Kamut is an heirloom grain and one that is making a comeback on the food scene after being abandoned years ago. It is often said to have a buttery flavor, which is very different from any other whole grains, which are typically nutty or slightly sweet. Kamut is one of the most popular grains used to make whole-grain products that are available in grocery stores.
Millet is one whole grain that is more often fed to birds than humans. It is a common ingredient in most birdseed mixes, but it’s also one of the most popular grain choices in China, South America, Russia, and India. Toasting the grain before cooking it helps to bring out the slightly sweet flavor.
Millet is one grain that is gaining more attention lately and it’s a delicious one to add to your diet. It has a slightly sweet flavor that is similar to corn and, when it’s cooked, it has a fluffy, tender texture that makes it fun to use in your favorite side dish or grain salad. Millet isn’t just for the birds!
Whole Oats and Oatmeal
Oats are one of the best whole grains to add to your diet. Even in processing, oats rarely have the bran and germ removed, which means that eating oats (in any form) is one of the best ways to make sure you are, in fact, having a whole grain. Whole oats are processed into many different textures, from steel-cut to rolled, with each texture requiring a different cooking time. Oats have a sweet flavor that makes them a delicious choice for breakfast or a healthy addition to baked goods.
Quinoa is another item that is used as a “whole grain” but isn’t actually a grain. Originally eaten by the Incas, quinoa is a very tiny round seed that cooks in 10 minutes and turns fluffy once it’s ready to eat. It is related to Swiss chard, but its light texture makes it a perfect addition to any meal as a grain option. Quinoa is also one of the few foods that is a complete protein on its own. There are three main types of quinoa that are cultivated: white (most common), red, and black. (White quinoa is used for the recipes in this book, unless specifically noted.)
Sorghum hasn’t taken hold in the United States as a choice for food consumption as well as it has in other countries. Yet it is one of the most versatile grains and can be eaten as hot cereal and a popcorn-like snack or ground into flour for baking. Sorghum is a naturally gluten-free grain and has a completely edible hull, giving even more health benefits than some other grains.
Spelt is a variety of wheat that can be used in place of regular wheat or other varieties of wheat in most recipes. It is higher in protein than common wheat and comes in both whole spelt or refined forms for cooking and eating. Spelt flour also is becoming more popular in baked goods and is available in many grocery stores for purchase.
Triticale is not like other grains—it is actually a hybrid of durum wheat and rye. Triticale is almost always grown commercially and has only been available for about 30 years. Because it grows easily without fertilizers and pesticides, triticale is a great option for sustainable and organic whole-grain farming.
Rye is most common in Northern European countries and in Russia because of its ability to thrive in cold, wet environments. Whole rye has a much higher level of fiber in its endosperm compared to other whole grains, which gives rye and rye products a lower glycemic index than those made from other whole grains. While most people know rye for its use in breads and crackers, it is also used as the base for salads and soups.
Whole and Cracked Wheat
There are more categories of wheat than there are any other whole grain, but the majority of people only eat one kind: refined, white flour. Each type of wheat—soft, hard, winter, spring—has its own flavor and texture, but those are lost when the grains are refined down into normal, all-purpose flour.
Wheat, no matter the variety, is the most popular grain because of the amount of gluten contained in the grain. Wheat is not only used in whole forms, but wheat flour is the main ingredient in breads, pasta, and a large variety of baked goods and products. Wheat is usually split into categories based on when it is sown (winter or spring), the color of the wheat kernels (red or white), and the amount of protein it contains (hard or soft endosperms; hard wheat contains higher amounts of protein).
Bulgur, wheatberries, cracked wheat, and wheat flakes all consist of whole-wheat grains that are in presented in different forms and with different cooking methods.