How to cook whole grains (cheat sheet)

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Still life of variety of Healthy Foods

Want to cook more whole grains, but don’t know how to cook them? Need a cheat sheet to help you cook these nutritional gems?

Whole grains are foods rich in nutrients, phytonutrients, antioxidants, have a lower glycemic index, and may help protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes

Whole grains include the whole kernel of the grain – be it wheat, rye, barley, rice, quinoa, rye and so on. Having trouble imagining this? Visualize a popcorn kernel which is a whole grain kernel of corn.

Each whole grain has 3 parts:

  • The bran which is the fiber-rich outer layer that supplies B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.
  • The germ which is the core of the seed where growth occurs; it is rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, B vitamins, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.
  • The endosperm which is the interior layer that holds carbohydrates, protein, and small amounts of some B vitamins and minerals.

Image courtesy of Whole Grains Council

Whole grains can be further refined by having their bran and germ stripped, leaving only the endosperm. Think white flour. The refining process thus removes some key nutrition from the grain and is less desirable than the whole grain.

Whole grains are simple, minimally processed, and deserve a place on your plate.

If you are looking to include more whole grains in your diet, but feel uncertain around how to actually prepare whole grains, I have put together a Cooking with Whole Grains Cheat Sheet.

This cheat sheet outlines how much water to add to cook 1 cup of the whole grain, the approximate cooking time and the approximate yield after cooking, as well as whether the whole grain in question is gluten-free or not.


Cooking with Whole Grains Cheat Sheet

To cook 1 cup of this grain Add this much water or broth Approximate cooking time Approximate yield after cooking 1 cup raw Gluten-free?
Amaranth 2 c 20-25 minutes 3.5 cups Yes
Barley, hulled 3 c 45-60 minutes 3.5 cups No
Buckwheat 2 c 20 minutes 4 cups Yes
Cornmeal (polenta) 4 c 25-30 minutes 2.5 cups Yes
Couscous (whole wheat) 2 cups 10 min (heat off) 3 cups No
Millet, hulled 2.5 cups 25-35 minutes 4 cups Yes
Quinoa 2 cups 12-15 minutes 3+ cups Yes
Rice, brown 2.5 cups 25-45 minutes (varies by kind) 3-4 cups Yes
Rye berries 4 cups Soak overnight, cook 45-60 minutes 3 cups No
Sorghum also called milo 4 cups 25-40 minutes 3 cups Yes
Wild rice 3 cups 45-55 minutes 3.5 cups Yes
Wheat includes the following varieties
Bulgur 2 cups 10-12 minutes 3 cups No
Farro 3.5-4 cups May or may not need soaking overnight; 15-25 minutes 3-4 cups No
Spelt berries 4 cups Soak overnight, then cook 45-60 minutes 3 cups Np
Wheat berries 4 cups Soak overnight, then cook 60+ minutes 3 cups No


You can prepare a big batch of whole grains and freeze into smaller portions for later use. You can add whole grains to soups, salads, stews, beverages and soups, casseroles, pilafs.


Whole grain recipe inspiration:

If you are looking for recipe inspiration, check out these recipes using whole grains:

Blueberry soba noodle salad 

Buddha Bowl 

Blueberry breakfast rice bowl 

Oatmeal cookie dough power ball bites

For more whole grain recipes, have a look at the recipe collection from the Whole Grains Council.


Happy whole grain cooking!

Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall MSc, RD Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian Calgary, AB.

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