Grain Guide: Popular Grains Explained

There’s a handful of grains we find ourselves coming back to time after time. Here we focus on five of our favorites.


The world of grains is vast, but there’s a handful that we find ourselves coming back to time after time. Here we focus on five of our favorites – we think they could become favorites for you too, if they’re not already.


Barley: One of the world’s oldest grains, barley is terrific in soups but it also makes a delicious cold salad. Barley in its unrefined state has a tough, inedible hull which, when removed also strips it of some of the fiber-rich bran on the kernels. “Pearl” barley has been processed to remove that hull but some of the bran still remains, and it is still considered a good source of soluble fiber. Because barley is such a hearty grain, it’s a great option for your slow cooker. And if you do add it to soup, know that it will soak up liquid so leftovers may require additional Swanson® broth upon reheating.


Farro: If you’ve never heard of farro before you’re not alone, but it’s been a beloved part of Italian cuisine for centuries. This ancient variety of wheat is prized for its chewy texture and sweet flavor, and, like barley, is a wonderful addition to soup, but it’s also terrific as a salad or as an ingredient in a hearty side dish.


Quinoa: Although quinoa is botanically a seed, it’s considered a grain because it’s cooked like other grains – that is, simmered in water (or, better yet, Swanson® broth for more flavor depth). Quinoa cooks quickly into a light, fluffy mixture that makes a fabulous side dish, stuffing for peppers or addition to soup. Quinoa is known for its protein content, making it a popular ingredient in vegetarian dishes. White quinoa is most common but it also comes in red, purple and black varieties – use them interchangeably in recipes but understand that the color of the finished dish will be different. We suggest rinsing quinoa before cooking to rid it of the bitter-tasting coating called saponin, which occurs naturally and acts as a repellant for birds and insects.


Rice: Rice has been the cornerstone of some of the world’s finest cuisines for centuries. Asia alone grows and consumes 90% of the world’s rice crop! Different varieties vary in starch content – in general, short-grain rice is starchier (and stickier) than long-grain. Arborio, a short grain, is prized for making creamy risotto; however, bomba, another short-grain variety that’s used to make Spanish paella, isn’t as starchy and the grains stay separate when cooked.  Basmati and jasmine, both long-grain varieties, are ideal for side dishes that require less sticky grains, like pilaf. Brown rice is simply rice that still has its brown hull and bran covering the grain. It takes longer to cook than white rice but retains more vitamins and minerals.


Wild rice: Technically a grass seed, not a grain, wild rice is indigenous to North America and is harvested in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada, as well as California. We love it in soup, but it’s also great as a cold salad, flavored with coconut milk as a side dish or in a starring role in a casserole.


If you’ve been thinking about broadening your grain horizons, let the recipes here guide you. We think you’ll be amazed at how easy (and delicious!) it is to put grains on your table any night of the week.