Whole Grains & Seeds

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Whole grains and seeds pack a lot of punch, imparting nutrition and flavor to a variety of dishes. Health is also driving demand with alternative grains in pasta and flatbreads hitting the market. Perennial favorite pizza gets a health upgrade with whole-grain crusts. Here are some popular seeds and whole grains to use in dishes to cater to consumers looking for gluten-free, low-carb, and other special dietary options.

Chia Seeds
The It Health Ingredient of moment, chia seeds are ranked among 2014’s trendiest health foods by the mobile food-ordering company GrubHub. It’s packed with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium. With its mild, nutty flavor, chia seeds are easy to add to a variety of foods and drinks because it can be used as a natural thickener for dressings, soups, and sauces. One of the more interesting ways to get chia into foods is in a burger for an extra protein kick. It’s even finding its way onto dessert menus at many restaurants in the form of chia seed pudding. Tongue & Cheek in Miami serves a Tropical Chia Pudding with coconut milk and fruit.

Quinoa
Last year’s It Health Ingredient (the United Nations dubbed 2013 as the International Year of the Quinoa) is still going strong and dates to the Incas, which named it the mother of all grains. Packed with all the essential amino acids, this nutritional powerhouse is a popular choice for vegetarians looking for complete proteins. It’s mild in flavor, light, and fluffy, so it can be used in a variety of applications, including hearty salads and as stuffing for vegetables and meats. It also makes for an excellent flour choice for those looking for a more healthful twist on baked goods as well as pancakes and waffles. Substitute the flour for half of the all-purpose flour in many recipes, or completely replace wheat flour in cakes and cookie recipes.

Teff
Move over, quinoa: Teff might be taking your place soon. Mostly found in Ethiopia, this emerging superfood is used to make injera, the spongy bread that accompanies most meals in the country. Over in this part of the world, it’s commonly ground into flour and used to make biscuits, breads, and pastas; it’s even found in juice form. Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson showcases the ingredient for his Cold Teff Noodle Salad with Rare Seared Salmon.

Flaxseeds
Flaxseeds have been eclipsed lately by chia seeds but it’s still rich in omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, and beneficial plant compounds. They also bring health benefits, such as a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. When adding them to foods, they should be ground up for better nutritional absorption. It’s also great for making crackers and baking bread; substitute part of the flour for ground flaxseeds. They can also be soaked overnight before being mixed into the dough, like this adapted recipe by the New York Times based on Jacquy Pfeiffer’s seeded bread.

Pumpkin Seeds
Subtly sweet and nutty with a somewhat chewy texture, pumpkin seeds are lower in fat than other seeds and offer minerals and protective compounds. It’s being used in more creative ways than just a crunchy snack: A sandwich at Peet’s Coffee & Tea, for example, features slow-cooked turkey topped with house-made pumpkin-seed pesto aioli.