Whole Foods 101 What are super grains?
Bulk foods are becoming more prominent than ever before, and although the experience can be exciting and karma fulfilling by helping the environment, it can be a little daunting too. Here’s an article that talks about how to bulk shop for them. But just what are all these bins of beans, rice, and grains? Well look no further. Here’s an explanation of some of the more uncommon bulk (or not) super food items you’ll find.
What is a super food?
No, it’s not that green stuff in the Odwala bottle (although that has some super seaweed in it too), but super foods are generally classified as containing a high content of phytonutrients, chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants, and provide disease fighting/preventing properties that go beyond the basic function of providing nutrients. Sometimes they can be thought of as “functional foods”, although both of these terms are not regulated nor completely accepted by dietitians and nutritionalist alike. These terms also commonly include processed items, which can slightly discredit the whole foods that truly do deserve some recognition.
But for the whole foods that do deserve the lime light that can be bought easily in bulk form, the best super food you can obtain are super grains. Here’s a review of what may be some unfamiliar names.
Amaranth. Oneof the smallest grains of the world originating from Africa. This grain is especially high in protein, and for that reason and because of it’s ease in cultivation, there has been a recent educational movement in rural communities to use it as a staple crop. The leafy greens can also be used, although the grain is by far the most nutritive part of the plant. The grains are small. Very small. In bulk they look like very fine Moroccan cous cous, with a similar yellow color. When cooked they provide a nice subtle nutty flavor that again, is more reminiscent of cous cous. When cooking, one should take care of this delicate grain. If too much water is added it can become very sticky and more the consistency of warm cereal (which is another delicious way to serve it) than that of a traditional dinner grain.
Chia. Chia pet anyone? Actually, yes. Now there’s another use for that overgrown chia pet you have left over from the early 90′s. Chia, in it’s more grown-up name of Salba, is a grain that packs way more of a punch than any desktop pet you’ve ever had. Being said to have higher levels of protein than soy and even amaranth, the real claim to fame is it’s content of omega 3 fatty acids, a vital component to any vegetarian diet. Originating from central Mexico, no wonder those Aztec’s were so macho.
Kamut. Pronounced ka-MOOT. Kamut is actually just wheat, Khorasan wheat for that matter. However, in classifying it as Kamut, which is actually a corporation, one can be ensured that the wheat is certified organic and preserved in it’s ancient non GMO form. For this reason alone, their grains are actually higher in nutrient content than the typical wheat you would buy at the store, and definitely less processed. Here’s there website for more info.
Quinoa. Pronounced keen-WAH. This seed is commonly mistaken for a grain due to it’s cooking qualities. Probably one of the more beautiful seeds when cooked, their outer shelling separates from the germ, creating a mystical dual toned treat, especially when using the red quinoa (which has a white shell that splits off) as opposed to the white form. Quinoa originated in South America and like amaranth, the greens are edible, although not commercially available everywhere. The seed however, is still the most nutrient dense part of the plant (i.e. provides the most nutrients per amount of food). Quinoa is also really high in protein (14g/3.5oz). And remember, the DRI (daily recommended intake) for protein is around 50g. It’s also packed with vitamins and minerals like folate, phosphorus and iron.
Purple Rice. Also known as Thai sticky rice, or Black Thai rice. Obviously as stated, this rice comes from Thailand and is a commonly used form of sticky rice, although since the husks are not removed the consistency is somewhat less sticky than the familiar Japanese sticky rice. This style of rice is beautiful when cooked and has a deep, rich, black purple color. In Thailand the rice is generally not used in main dishes but used as a dessert rice, sweetening it with sugar a milk, a common Asian style dish similar to rice pudding. The rice is heavy and dense and thus very filling. Although this rice is not technically a super food (although nothing is since the terms not regulated) I put it in the list because of it’s high fiber content and filling factor. A little goes a long ways and is a nice exotic treat in cooking experiments.
Teff. Sometimes it can be found as Taf. This grass is native to the Ethiopian Highlands of Africa and is the common ingredient in injera, a fermented pancake made out of teff flour. This is another incredibly small grain. In fact, it’s so small there’s no way to separate the germ, bran and endosperm of the grain, which is good for us, since when you buy “whole” grains, that’s what you’re looking for anyways. This is just nature’s way to make sure we can’t process this beautiful grain down! Because the grain is so small, it’s often use in America is as a hot breakfast cereal, but in it’s flour form, the possibilities are endless. Along with the high levels of potassium and iron, it’s most noted for it’s protein content, especially the amino acid lysine.
Also check out this new real food health supplement from Mannatech,