Versatile Grains to Try

Healthy and delicious ideas straight from your pantry

Contributed by freelance writer Jennifer Birch

versatle grainsGrains can be a healthy and delicious component to have in your pantry. They are readily available, easy to cook, and if stored properly, can even last for up to six months. Plus, you can pair them up with a pretty wide variety of other ingredients. If you’re going to have just five grains, here are the essential varieties that boast versatility.


Barley is a great option that’s low in gluten. Hulled variants are the healthiest ones you can get, and you can either use it as an ingredient for porridge or stew, as a substitute for rice, or as a baking component to make pancakes, scones, or grits. The more adventurous in the kitchen can even use it as a component in their milkshakes, homemade protein bars or even homebrew beer.

> SHOP Zürsun Black Barley ONLINE AT THE DELI

Brown Rice

Rice should be an obvious staple in your collection of grains, since you can make a plethora of delicious recipes with it. Think casserole, pilaf, crispy puffs, pudding, and our Smoked Turkey Risotto. Even the most basic pot rice makes a wonderful partner to anything from your usual meats to seasonal fruits.

For a healthier option, swap out the white rice for some brown rice. The latter is a whole grain that retains the most nutritious portions of the grain. You get more fiber and nutrients because it isn’t milled like white rice, plus it has less calories.



One of the most popular cereal grains out there comes from corn. Of course, a whole cob is still a vegetable. What you want to purchase are either the kernels or simply cornmeal. The obvious creation that might come to mind for the latter is cornbread, but you can make a ton of great dishes with this grain. You can create a corn mush for dip or porridge, polenta, griddled pancakes, muffins, and even pizza or tortillas. Corn be a useful digestive aid, and it has a good amount of copper and iron.

 We’re really partial to the polenta made by Mulino Marino, a family-run mill in the Piedmont region of northern Italy.  It tastes purely, exactly like what it is: corn. The best corn you can imagine. The polenta is made from otto file heirloom corn. It’s a gorgeous golden orange, organically grown and absolutely the best we’ve ever tried. It’s so sweet you might think they’d put sugar in it. If you are looking for something special to serve with dinner, this polenta is it. Hold on to your socks: this stuff is good.

Cooking tip from Chef Rodger:
Marino polenta changed the way I think about and eat polenta! Get ready to cook it for a while. I would plan on at least an hour. I know people think you can get it done in 20-25 minutes, but don’t. We tend to cook it with a 4 to 1 ratio of liquid to polenta. You could even start with 5 to 1 if you’re going to cook it for the hour. Water and salt is just ok. I like to use half milk and half chicken broth in this polenta. Make sure your broth is unsalted. When it’s finished, you want a thick and creamy polenta almost the consistency of mashed potatoes.



You may not often hear of buckwheat in your regular recipes, but it is often used as flour for a wide variety of scrumptious meals that can be a treat at the table. Whether you want some soba or you’re craving for a crepe, your buckwheat flour will come in handy. This actually keeps you full longer, so it’s a good choice for managing your food consumption. The gluten-free grain can be used in soup, salad, or as another rice substitute, among other things. While we don’t currently have a buckwheat grain or flour on our shelves, we are quite partial to roasted buckwheat, also known as kasha, from which you can then use it as cereal or make one of our favorite Jewish specialties, the kasha knish.



It’s a classic but any pantry has got to have it. We like the Irish style.  They are easy to procure and they are a great source of protein, calcium, and antioxidants. You can lower your cholesterol levels with oats, which is why you’ll find it in most nutritional plans. The easiest use is by making plain oatmeal that you can mix and match with other toppings, but you can also make cinnamon rolls, muffins, snack bars, or brownies or enjoy it in our housemade granola.


All of these options are whole grains, which are much healthier. Studies cited by Healthline support their value in providing nutrients and essential fibers as well as lowering risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Any home cook should have a fun and easy time trying them out.