5 ways to make whole-grains tastier

Abysmal US nutrition statistic:  

Ninety-three percent of Americans fail to eat the recommended amount of whole-grains, a measly 3 ounces everyday (1).  This is according to a 2007 Economic Research Report published by the USDA.

Not surprising as Americans are also deficient in fiber (2), fruit and veggies (3) and whole plant foods.  No matter what type of diet you're on, Americans need to eat more fruits, veggies, whole-grains and beans.  Period.

But back to whole-grains.  What are they and how can you make them taste good?

Whole-grains are grains that still have 100% of their original nutrients and edible parts.  You could literally cut whole-grains down in the field, bring them into your kitchen, clean off the inedible parts, cook them in a pot and eat them.  Or, you could grind 100% whole-grains into flour and then use it to make bread or pasta.

The whole-grains that aren't turned into flour are called intact whole grains.  All of their original nutrients and edible parts are still packaged the same way in your kitchen as they were in the field.  

Examples of intact whole-grains include oats, whole wheat, quinoa, brown or wild rice, popcorn, buckwheat, rye and barley.  

Intact whole-grains are less calorie dense than whole-grain flours because intact whole-grains absorb water or liquid into themselves as they cook.  This makes intact whole-grains more filling than flours without adding extra calories (when using water).  Plus, your body has to work a little harder to digest intact whole grains, which provides you an a longer, more sustained amount of energy.  Flour products (even 100% whole-grain ones) absorb more quickly because they've been slightly pre-digested for you... a machine has ground up the grain instead of your gastrointestinal tract.  

Now the question becomes, how can you eat intact whole-grains and have them taste good? Well, why not just buy them pre-seasoned in a box and not have to worry about it?

Your grains will be healthier if you "doctor them up" yourself instead of buying them pre-seasoned in the grocery store.  Why?  Because food producers generally add fat, sugar and salt to make things taste better.  Buy the grains plain and then you dress them up.

5 Ways to Make Intact Whole-Grains Tastier

1.  Cook in them veg stock.

Cook quinoa or brown rice in veg stock.  Not only does it make the grain more flavorful, but it adds a beautiful golden color to the grain as well.

Brown rice cooked in vegetable stock with spices.

Brown rice cooked in vegetable stock with spices.

Be sure to keep the liquid to grain ratio the same when cooking.  You can make half of your liquid veg stock or all of it veg stock as long as the overall liquid to grain ratio is correct.

Buy veg stock or broth in the store, or make it yourself.  Here's my husband's, Chef Erik Hoffman (Trisha's Healthy Table Executive Chef) vegetable stock recipe.

2.  Cook whole-grains in coconut milk.

Whether it's quinoa, rice for a curry or with oats in the morning, adding coconut milk will add a lot of flavor to grains.  Coconut milk is almost all fat though, so I try to use a small amount of coconut milk and mix it with water when adding it to my grains.

Need a recipe?  Try our coconut infused quinoa.

3.  Cook in plant milk.

This is especially great for breakfast grains.  You can add almond milk or any plant milk to raw oats or cooked rice or quinoa in the morning and pop it in the microwave for a yummy morning start.  Then, add fruit, raisins or dates and cinnamon and you're good to go. 

4.  Add spices.

When you're not relying on fat and sugar to add flavor to your whole-grains, spices are where it's at for intense flavor.  If you don't know what spices taste good with what grains, google it! Google knows everything.  

Or, you can buy pre-blended spice mixes so you don't have to guess what spices compliment other spices.  For example, buy taco spice mix, cajun or Italian spice mixes.  Add a heavy sprinkle to your pot when you add the grains to your liquid.

5.  Add herbs.

Herbs also flavor food while adding a mega-boost of nutrition, just like spices.  Certain herbs can be added during the cooking process, while other should be added just before eating.  

Soft herbs (think of delicate leaves) such as basil, parsley and cilantro, should be added once the cooking is finished and then mixed in, or added to whole-grains as an edible garnish or topping.  

Hard herbs are thicker and usually have a tough stem.  Rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, lemongrass and lavender are great examples.  Add these herbs while cooking for a robust flavor profile.

Take Control Now

Which of these tips will you try in your kitchen to make whole-grains tastier?  Have a different go-to method to share?  I'd love to hear it.

Answer by clicking 'comment' below the references.


1.  Lin, B-H and Yen, ST, The U.S. Grain Consumption Landscape: Who Eats Grain, in What Form, Where, and How Much?, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, November 2007.  Accessed online August 2016 at http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/216644/err50_reportsummary_1_.pdf

2.  South Carolina Nutrition, Obesity and Physical Activity and Obesity Fact Sheets for Youth and Adults, 2011.  Department of Health and Environmental Control.  Accessed online, May 2016 at: http://www.scdhec.gov/library/cr-009958.pdf

3.  Mobley, AR et al. Identifying Practical Solutions to Meet America’s Fiber Needs: Proceedings from the Food & Fiber Summit. Nutrients. 2014 Jul; 6(7): 2540–2551.