And as anyone who’s choked down undercooked quinoa will tell you, prep matters. Here are six varieties you should get to know, and strategic tips on cooking them so you’ll enjoy every bite.
What It Is: This seed, a South America native, is grown high in the Andes. Quinoa is gluten-free and also has all nine of the essential amino acids, so it’s a plant-based complete protein.
How It Tastes: Properly cooked, quinoa has a texture that “pops.” Its flavor is nutty and earthy. If you’re making tabbouleh, try using quinoa instead of the traditional bulgur.
Cook It: 12 to 15 minutes
Per 1/2 cup cooked: 111 calories, 4g protein, 20g carbs (3g fiber), 2g fat
What It Is: Teff hails from Ethiopia, where it’s long been a culinary staple. This tiny poppy-seed-size grain is an excellent source of essential minerals, such as manganese, iron, and zinc.
How It Tastes: The flavor depends on the color. Lighter teff will have a milder taste—almost like chickpeas. Darker teff tastes more roasty. It’s great for adding bulk (and fiber) to meatballs.
Cook It: 12 to 20 minutes
Per 1/2 cup cooked: 127 calories, 5g protein, 25g carbs (4g fiber), 1g fat
What It Is: Farmers reap durum wheat before it’s fully mature, sun-dry the seeds, and burn away the hulls. Freekeh can have more than double the protein and quadruple the fiber of brown rice.
How It Tastes: Freekeh has a fire-roasted flavor and a texture that is dense and chewy, like brown rice. Cooked freekeh makes a great parfait base for Greek yogurt and fresh berries.
Cook It: 20 minutes (cracked)
Per 1/2 cup cooked: 170 calories, 7g protein, 33g carbs (8g fiber), 2g fat
What It Is: This hearty stuff has been around since the Roman Empire. Farro is nutritionally similar to quinoa and is a good source of fiber, protein, and calcium. Hail Caesar!
How It Tastes: The texture is similar to that of brown rice, but the grain size is larger. Along with that comes a more pronounced nutty flavor. It’s awesome when added to chili, stew, or soup.
Cook It: 30 to 45 minutes
Per 1/2 cup cooked: 200 calories, 7g protein, 37g carbs (7g fiber), 2g fat
What It Is: Spelt and farro are nearly the same in appearance. But spelt’s tougher bran layer makes it better for grain-based salads, while farro is better for risotto and stews.
How It Tastes: Spelt has a dense, chewy texture and the barest hint of sweetness. Freestyle a salad: Combine it with dried fruit, toasted nuts, and fresh herbs, plus oil, salt, and pepper.
Cook It: About 45 minutes
Per 1/2 cup cooked: 123 calories, 5g protein, 26g carbs (4g fiber), 1g fat
What It Is: You know it as the supergrain from the 1970s, but it still deserves to be on your table today. Processors remove the inedible outer hull but keep the nutritious bran and germ intact.
How It Tastes: Compared with white rice, brown rice is denser, chewier, and nuttier. Mixed with some butter, salt, and pepper, it’s the perfect simple side dish with meat and fish.
Cook It: 40 to 50 minutes
Per 1/2 cup cooked: 124 calories, 3g protein, 26g carbs (2g fiber), 1g fat
Don’t Rinse: Washing grains won’t hurt texture or flavor, but it won’t improve them either. Possible exception: quinoa. It’s usually sold prerinsed, but check the package just in case.
Be Imprecise: Different grains call for different amounts of cooking liquid. Easy fix: In a pot, cover dry grain with two inches of water. When it’s done, dump it into a fine-mesh strainer to drain excess liquid.
Check Doneness: Taste it from the pot. The grain should feel slightly chewy, not crispy or crunchy. Quinoa gives you a cue: When it’s fully cooked, a curlicue pulls from each grain.
Sick of your standard pot? We’ve still found no better grain-cooking vessels than the Zojirushi Micom Rice Cookers. This new model keeps cooked rice warm until you’re ready to eat, vents steam to prevent boil-overs, and even has a quinoa setting. ($120, amazon.com)