Whole Grains Work Magic on Menus

Whole Grains Work
Magic on Menus

Our guide to on-trend, delicious whole grains…with recipes and usage ideas that provide fresh menu solutions.

Chefs polled in the National Restaurant Association's 2011 "What's Hot?" Chef Survey pinpoint four whole grains as on-trend: red rice, quinoa, black rice and the broader category of ancient grains. Indeed, quinoa is popping up across foodservice segments, and is certainly no longer the exotic that it once was. The new quinoa? Some call out freekeh as the next ancient grain to light up foodservice. To be sure, whole grains are laying claim to foodservice menus, impressing with healthfulness, but also with complex flavor and eye-pleasing color. And diners are responding, actively seeking out better-for-you options. Indeed, Technomic's Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report (September 2010) bears that out: 47% of consumers strongly agree that they want restaurants to offer more foods that they consider to be healthy and 33% say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers some healthy options, even if they don't end up ordering a healthy choice.

Whole Grains: a Primer

The choice of grains is somewhat overwhelming. Here's a broad list that we think offers menu interest, wholesomeness, and most importantly, good flavor.


fast fact—once a staple of the Incas, it can be cooked with other grains, popped, toasted or cooked as a cereal

culinary tips—use as a thickening agent for soups and stews to increase wholesomeness; feature popped amaranth as a garnish for soups and salads

nutritional profile—good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium


fast fact—barley has more fiber than any other whole grain, clocking in at anywhere from 17% to a whopping 30% fiber

culinary tips—source whole barley, hulled barley or hull-less barley to ensure you're getting a whole grain; cook in large batches, then freeze or refrigerate until needed

nutritional profile—very good source of dietary fiber, thiamin and Selenium; reduces the risk of coronary heart disease

bulgur wheat

fast fact—bulgur is wheat that have been boiled, cracked, dried and sorted, so they lend toward a very quick cook time

culinary tips—look for bulgur made from hard red wheat, which has a darker color and richer flavor than white-wheat bulgur; add to bread stuffing

nutritional profile—very good source of dietary fiber; good source of magnesium

colored rices

fast fact—varieties include purple Thai, Chinese black or forbidden rice, red jasmine and brown rice

culinary tip—rely on colored rices to add drama to the plate

nutritional profile—very good source of manganese; source of fiber and minerals


fast fact—an ear of corn averages 800 kernels in 16 rows1

culinary tips—for a hit of fresh, sweet flavor, grate corn for corn pancakes, corn pudding or sweet-corn soup

nutritional profile—good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, thiamin and folate


fast fact—it tastes like a lighter brown rice and has a nutty flavor with undertones of barley

culinary tips—use farro in recipes that call for barley, as they share similar characteristics; replace Arborio or Carnaroli rice with farro in risotto

nutritional profile—good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus


fast fact—a roasted young, green durum-wheat kernel, it's an ancient Middle Eastern grain staging a comeback

culinary tips—use this sweet, smoky grain in soups, hot cereals or in pilafs; replace rice with freekeh in fried-rice dishes

nutritional profile—good source of dietary fiber, thiamin and Selenium


fast facts—made from durum wheat, grano originated in southern Italy; firm, chewy consistency that tastes like pasta

culinary tip—good for buffets as it has can hold well and maintain its texture longer than rice or pasta

nutritional profile—good source of dietary fiber, phosphorus and niacin


fast facts—most oats are flattened to produce rolled oats, a.k.a. old-fashioned oats, quick oats and instant oats; for a chewier texture and nuttier flavor, look to steel-cut oats, a.k.a. Irish or Scottish oats

culinary tip—add to ground turkey for turkey burgers and turkey meatloaves

nutritional profile—good source of dietary fiber, thiamin, magnesium and phosphate


fast fact—not officially a grain, but a seed, quinoa offers an almost perfect balance of all eight essential amino acids

culinary tips—look to quinoa flakes for breakfast solutions, such as hot cereal and muffins; for added drama, consider red quinoa, which is slightly more toothsome and hearty, but offers beautiful color

nutritional profile—very good source of manganese; good source of folate, magnesium and phosphate


fast fact—wheatberries are young, unprocessed wheat kernels

culinary tip—add this chewy, nutty grain to hot cereal or soup

nutritional profile—very good source of manganese and Selenium; good source of magnesium

whole-grain pasta

fast facts—unlike conventional pasta, whole-grain pasta doesn't lose its bran and germ during processing; since 2008, 168 new whole-grain pastas have made their way onto shelves2

culinary tip—as whole-grain pastas tend to dry out more quickly than conventional, add a touch of olive oil to keep the pasta from sticking

nutritional profile—very good source of manganese and Selenium; good source of dietary fiber

wild rice

fast facts—wild rice is actually a grass; hand harvested wild rice follows the Native American tradition of canoeing into plants and threshing the seeds with wooden sticks

culinary tips—for menu interest, use wild rice in rice pudding or rice cakes; call out wild rice's provenance as it is distinctly American

nutritional profile—good source of magnesium, phosphate, zinc and manganese

Favorite Whole Grain Recipes

Bulgur Wheat

Tabbouleh TabboulehHealthy Living

Fun Trivia for Curious Culinary Minds

  • In 1324, Edward II of England standardized the inch as equal to "three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end lengthwise." The foot, the yard, the mile, and all other English measurements followed on.3
  • Rye was grown in colonial America and some historians believe rye ergot, a fungus that can trigger hallucinations, lead to the Salem witch trials.4
  • When growing quinoa in Peru, farmers tend to each shrub by hand, shielding the plants from frost and cold with small stones and straw.5
Patty Mitchell

Kira Smith
Corporate Chef
Kraft Culinary Centre


Grains offer a myriad of opportunities for cross utilization on a menu:

  • Run a side dish of grains, such as forbidden black rice, on your dinner menu, then with the leftover cooked rice, feature a black-rice salad on the following day's lunch menu.
  • Too much cooked barley or quinoa? Finish a vegetable soup with it for a wholesome, satisfying punch.
  • For a spin on the Sicilian arancini, or stuffed rice balls, make balls out of leftover cooked grains, roll them in cracker crumbs, and then fry or bake them. Serve them as an appetizer or bar food with an appropriate dipping sauce.
  • To up the wholesome appeal of your waffles or pancakes, add whole grains into the batter—teff, quinoa flakes, or even colored rice can add interest and nutrition.
Whole Grains