One of my best time saving tricks in the kitchen is to cook a large batch of mixed grains and freeze them in single serving containers for future use. Whole grains are time consuming to cook, and lack of time is a common excuse people use not to cook whole grains. But once you realize that a quick pass through the microwave oven is the only thing standing between you and a healthy bowl of whole grains at any time, you’ll never make up another excuse.
What is a whole grain
(Information courtesy of the Whole Grain Council)
A grain is considered to be a whole grain as long as all three original parts — the bran, germ, and endosperm — are still present in the same proportions as when the grain was growing in the ﬁelds.
The bran is the multi-layered outer skin of the edible kernel. It supplies B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are natural chemical compounds in plants that have been researched for their role in disease prevention.
The germ is the embryo which has the potential to sprout into a new plant. It is rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, B vitamins, phytochemicals, and antioxidants and contains some protein.
The endosperm is the germ’s food supply, which provides essential energy to the young plant so it can send roots down for water and nutrients, and send sprouts up for sunlight’s photosynthesizing power. It is by far the largest portion of the kernel. It contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
What is a refined grain
On the other hand, “Reﬁned grain” is the term used to refer to grains that are not whole, because they are missing one or more of their three key parts (bran, germ, or endosperm). For instance, white ﬂour and white rice are reﬁned grains, because both have had their bran and germ removed, leaving only the endosperm. Reﬁning a grain removes about a quarter of the protein in a grain, and half to two thirds or more of a score of nutrients, leaving the grain a mere shadow of its original self.
Since the late 1800s, when new milling technology allowed the bran and germ to be easily and cheaply separated from the endosperm, most of the grains around the world have been eaten as reﬁned grains. This quickly led to disastrous and widespread nutrition problems, like the deﬁciency diseases pelagra and beri-beri.
In response, many governments recommended or required that reﬁned grains be “enriched.” Enrichment adds back fewer than a half dozen of the many missing nutrients, and does so in proportions diﬀerent than they originally existed. However, the better solution is simply to eat whole grains, now that we more fully understand their huge health advantages.
The chart below compares whole wheat ﬂour to reﬁned wheat ﬂour and enriched wheat ﬂour. You can see the vast diﬀerence in essential nutrients.
The health benefits of whole grains
Whole grains offer a “complete package” of health benefits, unlike refined grains, which are stripped of valuable nutrients in the refining process. They have various effects on our body:
- Bran and fiber slow the breakdown of starch into glucose – maintaining a steady blood sugar rather than causing sharp spikes.
- Fiber helps lower cholesterol as well as move waste through the digestive tract.
- Fiber may also help prevent the formation of small blood clots that can trigger heart attacks or strokes.
- Phytochemicals and essential minerals such as magnesium, selenium and copper found in whole grains may protect against some cancers.
The benefits of whole grains most documented by repeated studies include:
- reduced risk of stroke
- lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- reduced risk of heart disease
- better weight maintenance
- less inflammation
- lower risk of colorectal cancer
A list of whole grains
The most common whole grains are:
- Barley (look for “Whole Grain” “Hulled” OR “Dehulled” – not “Pearled”)
- Bulgur (cracked wheat)
- Corn (whole corn kernels, like popcorn, or whole grain cornmeal)
- Freekeh (green wheat)
- Rice (Brown rice, Black rice, Red rice, etc.)
- Wheat berries and ancient wheats: Einkorn, Emmer/Farro, Kamut, Spelt
- Wild Rice
For a complete list and more information, visit the Whole Grains Council website.
What grains can you freeze
Freezing cooked grains works well with a wide variety of grains. Barley, buckwheat, whole oats (or steel cut), quinoa, all varieties of rice, sorghum, spelt, wheat berries, wild rice.
On the other hand, grains that don’t work very well are those that tend to be softer when cooked, such as rolled oats, millet, amaranth, and teff.
How to store frozen mixed grains
Depending on the size of your household, you can portion your mixed grains out into 1/2 cup (=1 serving), 1 cup or 2 cup size portions. Use either reusable freezer safe storage bags, silicone freezer bags, glass freezer safe storage containers, or deli containers. First, let them cool down completely before placing them in the containers. Then, seal properly, label with the date and contents and place in your freezer.
How to use frozen mixed grains
If stored in a bag, you can dip the bag in warm water for a few minutes to defrost, then either use cold or place in a microwavable container and reheat for a couple of minutes. If stored in a glass microwave safe container, remove the lid and place a microwavable lid over the container and heat for a couple minutes
How long will mixed grains keep in the freezer
Two months in the freezer is a good rule of thumb but in reality they can keep longer than that if you have a freezer with a nice stable thermostat.
How to cook mixed grains
So, how can you put it all together and cook a nice mix of grains that will bring you a variety of nutrients?
Fist, place some aromatics in a large pot (onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, salt, or any other herb you like). Add a large amount of water and bring to a boil.
Then, add your grains one by one in stages depending on their recommended cooking time.
Once cooked, drain and spread on a baking sheet to cool. Let cool completely before storing away. That’s it!
- Peel onion and but in half.
- Peel garlic cloves and crush them with the side of your knife.
- Place onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and salt in a large stock pot. Add 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil.
- Rinse the quinoa well and drain.
- Add grains one at a time according to the recommended cooking time on their packages. The following directions are given for whole grains (not pearled). Adjust as needed.
- Add wild rice and farro – these will require 45 minutes cooking time
- After 15 minutes add sprouted brown rice – this will require 30 minutes cooking time
- After 15 minutes add red quinoa – this will require 15 minutes cooking time
- After a total cooking time of 45 minutes, taste a few grains. If needed, cook a few more minutes, otherwise turn the heat off. Discard bay leaves and onions.
- Drain the drains through a fine mesh strainer.
- Spread the grains out on a parchment lined baking sheet to cool. Pick out any remaining pieces of onion and garlic if needed.
- Portion grains into airtight containers or resealable bags and freeze.
- To reheat: place grains in a microwavable container with a vented microwave cover on top. Microwave on high in 1-minute intervals until warm, stirring as needed. Or reheat in a pan on stovetop.