Couscous has a light, fluffy texture and a slightly bland taste, which makes it a fantastic vehicle for soaking up the flavours of other ingredients. The tiny granules are made from steamed and dried durum wheat, making couscous both a pasta and a grain. A brilliant store-cupboard ingredient, it cooks quickly and easily.
High in protein and fibre and low in fat, with a firm, chewy texture and rich, nutty flavour, this ancient Egyptian grain has just started to come to the fore; cook with kamut now and you’re sure to impress with your on-trend knowledge. Soak overnight to reduce the cooking time and then simmer on the hob. Add to salads or use to make granola or a stuffing for roasted vegetables.
Brown rice is more nutritious than white, which has had the bran and germ stripped from it, so contains less fibre, vitamins and minerals. Brown rice is low GI, so doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar levels, making it ideal for diabetics. It is also high in antioxidants and selenium, which can guard against cancer, heart disease and arthritis.
Made from cracked, partially cooked wheat, low-fat, high-fibre bulgur is very good for digestion and cooks quickly. A classic in tabbouleh, this protein-rich grain is an easy rice substitute and a great base for veggie burgers. For a wholesome, delicious dinner, try bulgur risotto with shiitake mushrooms and goats’ cheese.
If quinoa and kamut are relative newcomers to the healthy-eating scene, oats are the reliable elder statesman. As well as being highly nutritious and an excellent source of dietary fibre, these complex carbohydrates release energy slowly, meaning blood sugar levels are maintained and you stay feeling fuller for longer.
Combined with lean protein – think skinless chicken breasts, prawns, edamame beans and eggs – barley is brilliant for maintaining energy levels and even reducing appetite. Pearl barley in particular is very easy to cook and is just the thing for adding texture and bulk to hearty stews, soups and casseroles.
This pretty, russet-coloured short-grain rice – also known as red rice – gets its name from the area in France where it’s grown. Camargue rice is relatively new to the market, having only been sold commercially for the past 60 years, but it’s well worth experimenting with this full-flavoured grain – try it in a rice salad, paella or jambalaya.
It’s been the super food of the past few years, and demand is still high for this tiny grain-based, gluten-free, easily digestible complete protein. It makes an ideal salad base, but also works as a substitute for rice in risottos and pilafs, and even as a breakfast cereal. Keep your eyes peeled for dairy-free quinoa milk and pasta, too.
Buckwheat is, in fact, a plant with grain-like seeds and – fun fact – is related to rhubarb. It’s also gluten-free, iron-rich, packed with vitamins and minerals, easily digestible and can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and neurological disorders. Try buckwheat and berry porridge or make blinis or gnocchi with buckwheat flour.
Wild rice is not rice at all, but a semi-aquatic grass grown in cold rivers and lakes. Prized for its chewy texture and nutty, mildly smoky flavour, it scores points for its health benefits too, and is a superb source of protein. It’s also antioxidant-rich and can help to maintain muscle tone, regulate blood pressure and reduce appetite.