Learn about 9 common (and not-so-common) grains with this graphic.

You could say that 21st century America is experiencing a grain renaissance.

Ten years ago, most of us had never heard of more than a handful of grains, like wheat, rice, and couscous. Now, new (or, more accurately, ancient) grains line grocery shelves.

Interest in specialty ingredients and an uptick in going gluten-free have driven the popularity of unique grains.

From bulgur and quinoa to freekeh, there are innumerable options to choose from when you’re brainstorming dinner recipes.

If you feel a little adrift in a sea of so many grains, we’ve got you covered with this guide to the nutrition and cooking methods of common and uncommon grains.

But first, here’s a quick refresher on what exactly grains are, and what they offer for health.

A grain is a small, edible seed harvested from a plant in the grass family. Sources of these seeds include wheat, rice, and barley.

Many grains that go by different names are simply derivatives of these better-known original plants. Bulgur, for example, is whole wheat, cracked, and partially cooked.

Sometimes, foods we consider grains don’t truly belong in this category, since they don’t technically come from grasses and are better defined as “pseudocereals.” Still, for practical purposes, psuedocereals like quinoa and amaranth are typically counted as grains in terms of nutrition.

Grains make an excellent choice for health because they contain fiber, B-vitamins, protein, antioxidants, and other nutrients.

To reap the most benefits, the USDA recommends making half your grains whole grains.

Here’s a look at how various grains stack up, from old standards to less familiar newbies, to the mainstream market.

If you don’t know how on earth to serve grains like bulgur or freekeh, you may need a little inspiration. Just what do you eat amaranth or wheat berries with?

Here are some tasty examples to get you started:


While technically a seed, amaranth contains basically the same nutrients as a whole grain. Plus, it’s packed with magnesium and phosphorus, minerals that support healthy bones.

Try these recipes:

Breakfast Amaranth with Walnuts and Honey via Epicurious

Baked Zucchini Amaranth Patties via Veggie Inspired


When buying barley, make sure it’s hulled barley (still has its outer husk on), instead of pearled barley, which is refined.

Try these recipes:

Mushroom Ginger Soup with Hulled Barley via Food52

Purple Barley Risotto With Cauliflower via New York Times

Brown rice

A great gluten-free go-to when you’re craving rice, remember that brown rice takes much longer to prepare on the stovetop or in a rice cooker than white rice. Count on 40-45 minutes.

Try these recipes:

Vegetable Fried Rice with Brown Rice and Egg via Culinary Hill

Turkey, Kale, and Brown Rice Soup via Food Network


Bulgur wheat is popular in many Middle Eastern dishes, and is similar in consistency to couscous or quinoa.

Try these recipes:

Pork Chops with Bulgur Stuffing via Martha Stewart

Tabbouleh Salad via The Mediterranean Dish


Check brands and nutrition labels to make sure the couscous is whole grain to get the most nutrition. Couscous can also be made refined, rather than whole wheat.

Try these recipes:

Broccoli and Cauliflower Couscous Cakes via Uproot Kitchen

Quick Salmon and Couscous with Cilantro Vinaigrette via The Kitchn


Also a staple in Middle Eastern food, it’s packed with fiber and other nutritional benefits, like protein, iron, and calcium.

Try these recipes:

Roasted Cauliflower, Freekeh, and Garlicky Tahini Sauce via Cookie and Kate

Freekeh Pilaf with Sumac via Saveur


While quinoa is naturally gluten-free, it does contain compounds that some studies find can be irritating to certain people with celiac disease. Others studies show that it doesn’t impact people allergic to gluten.

If you have celiac disease, have a discussion with your healthcare professional to better understand if gradually adding quinoa into your diet would be beneficial for you.

Try these recipes:

Slow Cooker Enchilada Quinoa via Two Peas and Their Pod

Loaded Greek Quinoa Salad via Half Baked Harvest

Wheat Berries

These whole wheat kernels are chewy and nutty, adding a nice texture and flavor to meals.

Try these recipes:

Wheat Berry Salad with Apples and Cranberries via Chew Out Loud

Chicken, Asparagus, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Wheat Berries via Mom Foodie

Whole wheat pasta

Lower in calories and carbs and higher in fiber than its refined white pasta counterpart, try swapping it out for an easy, healthier substitute.

Try these recipes:

Lemony Asparagus Pasta via Eating Well

Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Meatballs via 100 Days of Real Food

If you want to go forth and experiment without following a recipe, you can find information on how to prepare each grain below. All nutritional information is based on one cup of cooked grain.

Grain (1 cup)What is it?Calories Protein Fat Carbs FiberContains gluten?Cooking method
AmaranthEdible starchy seeds of the amaranth plant252 cal9 g3.9 g46 g5 gNoCombine 1 part amaranth seeds with 2 1/2–3 parts water. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, up to 20 minutes.
BarleyA grain in the grass family Poaceae193 cal3.5 g0.7 g44.3 g6.0 gYesCombine 1 part barley and 2 parts water or other liquid in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, 30–40 minutes.
Brown riceThe seed of the grass Oryza Sativa, native to Asia and Africa216 cal5 g1.8 g45 g3.5 gNoCombine equal amounts of rice and water or other liquid in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, about 45 minutes.
BulgurWhole wheat, cracked, and partially pre-cooked151 cal6 g0.4 g43 g8 gYesCombine 1 part bulgur with 2 parts water or other liquid in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, 12–15 minutes.
CouscousBalls of crushed durum wheat176 cal5.9 g0.3 g36.5 g2.2 gYesPour 1 1/2 parts boiling water or other liquid over 1 part couscous. Let sit, covered, 5 minutes.
FreekehWheat, harvested while young and green202 cal7.5 g0.6 g45 g11 gYesCombine equal amounts of freekeh and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer 15 minutes.
QuinoaA seed from the same family as spinach222 cal8.1 g3.6 g39.4 g5.2 gNoRinse quinoa thoroughly. Combine 1 part quinoa and 2 parts water or other liquid in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, 15–20 minutes.
Wheat berriesThe kernel of the whole wheat grain150 cal5 g1 g33 g4 gYesCombine 1 part wheat berries with 3 parts water or other liquid in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, 30–50 minutes.
Whole wheat pastaIntact wheat grain made into dough, then dried 174 cal7.5 g0.8 g37.2 g6.3 gYesBoil a pot of salted water, add pasta, simmer according to package directions, drain.

So, get cracking! (Or boiling, simmering, or steaming.) You can’t go wrong getting more whole grains in your diet.

Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a nutritionist, freelance health writer, and food blogger. She lives with her husband and three children in Mesa, Arizona. Find her sharing down-to-earth health and nutrition info and (mostly) healthy recipes at A Love Letter to Food.