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22 Different Types of Grains

Here's a closer look at the different types of grains where you can learn about their benefits, uses, and nutritional profiles. Knowing each kind will help you make an informed decision in choosing a type of grain for your bowl.

Top view of the different kinds of grains.

We know they’re healthy, we’ve probably eaten them at some point in our lives, willingly or not, but you may be wondering how many different types of grains there are and what the benefits of each are. Being able to tell them apart would also be useful, so we’ll have a look at all things grains.

True grains, sometimes known as cereal grains, are part of the Poaceae family, but other foods that have similar uses and nutritional profiles are sometimes also considered as grains by the likes of the Whole Grains Council. True grains have three parts; the bran, the germ and the endosperm. 

What they are, what you can do with them and the benefits of each are some of the aspects of grains we’ll look at, so you’ll be able to learn more about the different varieties available, and maybe even be enticed to try something new next time you visit your grocery store.

What are the different types of grains?

Before we get into the different types of grains, there are two broad types of grains that need to be mentioned. Whole and refined grains differ in that the former still has all three parts, that is, the bran, germ, and endosperm, whereas refined grains have only the endosperm.

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While refined grains are missing many of the nutrients that are contained in the germ and bran, they tend to have a longer shelf life, as the germ, which is oily, can go rank when exposed to heat and light.

Whole grains

Different types of whole grains in a sack and wooden spoon.

Let’s start with members of the Poaceae family, sometimes known as the Gramineae family, the true grains in the family. Whole grains are composed of three layers, mentioned previously. These layers all have a specific nutritional value:

Bran: The outermost layer of the grain contains fiber and vitamin B.

Germ: This inner layer contains oils, antioxidants, vitamins, proteins, and minerals.

Endosperm: The innermost layer of grain contains both carbohydrates and protein.

Below is a list of the main types of grains. Note that wheat, the most common grain, has several derivative grain products, which are listed separately but not in as much detail. They are the products that are known by consumers almost as their own grain, with many people unaware that they are even a derivative of wheat.

Barley

Barley in a burlap sack over a wooden table.

What is it?

Originally native to Asia, barely is an ancient grain that was one of the first to be widely cultivated. However, when wheat and rye became competitors, barely, with its lower gluten content, couldn’t keep up, as it wasn’t great for making bread. This grain can be used in everything from porridge to flatbreads and has a nutty flavor that is also great in soups and stews.

Most common in grocery stores is pearl barley, which means that the bran has been removed. For the most nutritious version of this grain, look for hulled or whole barley.

  • Nutritional value
  • High in carbohydrates and low in gluten
  • Moderate protein content
  • Low Glycemic Index (GI), high in potassium
  • Low in sodium and fat
  • Vitamin E
  • High insoluble fiber, especially beta-glucan
  • Culinary uses
  • Grains, pearled or not, these can be boiled and added to soups and stews to bulk it up and to add flavor
  • Flour, for breads, porridge, or noodles (in Asia)
  • Flakes are soaked to soften before being added to baked products or breakfast cereal
  • Malted, used commonly in beer making, or in other alcoholic beverage production, and as a flavoring agent
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Corn

A bowl of corn grains against ripe corn cobs.

What is it?

This is one of the grains that are most often sold as refined rather than the whole. Cornmeal and its products, such as cornmeal and corn tortillas, are commonly found in supermarkets and grocery stores – more so than their whole-grain counterparts – and also cook much quicker. One of the sweetest grains, corn, is unique in that it requires humans for its production and cannot sow its own seeds.

  • Nutritional value
  • High in starch carbohydrate
  • High in fiber
  • Higher in (unsaturated) fat than other grains
  • High in potassium
  • Low in sodium
  • Gluten-free
  • Beta-carotene is contained in yellow corn
  • Culinary uses
  • Fresh, eaten steamed, boiled, frozen, or canned, either as whole or single kernels
  • Corn starch, or corn flour used in packaged foods, and as a thickener
  • Meal, such as polenta, used to make tortillas, tacos, and other such products
  • Grits, used for cereals
  • Popcorn
  • Porridge

Einkorn

Einkorn in a wooden spoon against a black background.

What is it?

Meaning one kernel, this was probably the first type of wheat cultivated by humans and has more nutrients than the modern wheat cultivar. It can be used in bread or in farro recipes as a substitute. Having a high protein content and the highest level of lutein among wheat species, einkorn is an especially nutritious form of wheat.

Farro

Farro grains in a wooden bowl and spoon over a burlap cloth.

What is it?

Also known as grano farro or emmer, this grain is packed with fiber and proteins and has a similar nutty taste to barley. Originally from Italy, this grain pops slightly while being chewed and needs to be soaked overnight before it can be cooked. Farro is a good source of magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B3 and, in combination with legumes, forms a complete protein.

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It is low in gluten and doesn’t get mushy, so it can be used in salads with wetter ingredients and in dishes that are made ahead of time. With high amounts of antioxidants, this grain is making a comeback and being used in creative ways today.

Freekeh

Top view of freekeh grains in a wooden plate with a wooden spoon on the side.

What is it?

Hard durum wheat that has been harvested while still green and immature and then roasted to add some flavor, this grain is often sold already cracked to allow for a shorter cooking time.

Khorasan

Khorasan grains in a wooden bowl over burlap mats.

What is it?

Often known as Kamut, this type of wheat has a nutty flavor, and its flour product is often used in pasta or bread. It can also be puffed and eaten as a breakfast cereal, similar to Rice Krispies. With a higher protein and vitamin E content than other types of wheat, this ancient Egyptian grain has remained popular there.

Millet

Top view of millet grains in a round bowl.

What is it?

Used as a common name for several related grains, millet can be red, yellow, white, or grey, and lightly toasting it really brings out the flavor before cooking with it. It is a very hardy grain and so often grown in poor regions where the soil quality is not good, and other grains struggle to grow. It is most often used as a whole grain.

  • Nutritional value
  • Gluten-free
  • High in potassium and low in sodium
  • Contains B group vitamins and vitamin E
  • Great source of fiber
  • Culinary uses
  • It is the staple grain in India, used for rotis, and in Western culture, can be used in porridge or fritters
  • Flour
  • As grains, boiled and eaten as a substitute for rice
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Oats

A bowl of oats with wooden spoon against glasses of milk.

What is it?

Most familiar to many people, oats are one of the few grains that are sold whole – bran, germ, endosperm, and all, and hardly ever have the bran and germ removed, so even oat flour and oatmeal contain the whole grain! Steel-cut oats are made up of whole grains, which are cracked open for faster cooking, whereas old-fashioned or whole oats are first steamed and flattened before being sold. Eaten plain as oatmeal or used in cooking, this is a very versatile grain.

  • Nutritional value
  • Lowers blood cholesterol
  • Good source of protein, iron, niacin, vitamin B1, and calcium
  • The highest fat content of all grains
  • High insoluble fiber
  • High in starch carbohydrates
  • Culinary uses
  • Flour
  • Meal
  • Whole grains

Brown rice

A spoonful of uncooked brown rice.

What is it?

Whether the bran is left intact or not determines whether the rice will be brown or white rice, so most rice varieties can be either brown or white. With the bran left on, the rice has a chewy texture and a nutty flavor, with three times the fiber of white rice.

  • Nutritional value
  • Rich in protein, potassium, iron, selenium, multiple B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and manganese
  • High in carbohydrates
  • Bran is high in insoluble fiber
  • Gluten-free and generally very non-allergenic
  • Low GI
  • Culinary uses
  • Puffed, used as a snack or in breakfast cereals
  • Flour, to produce noodles and crackers
  • Bran, as an ingredient in baked products or to sprinkle as a topping onto cereals
  • Bran oil, for baking and cooking
  • Sake, a rice wine made from rice that is popular in Japan
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Rye

A bowl of rye grains against rye bread.

What is it?

Having been cultivated for over two thousand years, rye is a unique grain in that both the germ and the endosperm are high in fiber. It is higher in gluten than most other grains and therefore makes an excellent base for bread. It has been used for bread in Northern Europe, Russia, and Scandinavia for centuries as a popular base for bread.

  • Nutritional value
  • High in protein, potassium, and B vitamins
  • High in carbohydrates and fiber, but a low GI
  • High in gluten
  • Low in sodium and in fat
  • Culinary uses
  • Berries, the whole grains can be boiled and eaten like rice
  • Flour, either dark from the whole grain or lighter from partially de-branned flour, and has a stronger flavor than wheat
  • Bread, most rye flour is used for this, and it has a distinctive flavor
  • Rolled rye flakes and grits, generally eaten at breakfast as toasted cereal or porridge
  • Alcoholic drinks, such as gin, whisky, and beer can be distilled with rye

Sorghum

A bowl of sorghum against leaves and green checkered towel.

What is it?

Sorghum looks similar to corn and can also be popped but is a smaller grain. This is a true grain but is gluten-free and so often ground into flour to be used for porridge or baking. It is related to sugar cane and millet and is a staple in parts of Africa and India, where cereals are hard to grow in poorly nourished soil without a reliable supply of water.

Sorghum can range in color from white to pale yellow to a deep red, brown, or purple.

  • Nutritional value
  • Rich in carbohydrates
  • Low in fat and sodium
  • High in fiber and potassium
  • Gluten-free
  • Culinary uses
  • Flour
  • Grains, either used in breakfast cereals or bars, boiled as a substitute for rice, or popped as a snack food
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Spelt

A spoonful of spelt over spelt grains and green cloth.

What is it?

This ancient grain has been grown in the area now known as southern Germany since 4000 BCE and is higher in protein than common wheat. It is a copper-colored grain that can be substituted with farro and used in soups or salads. It can be used in place of common wheat in most recipes.

Teff

Wooden spoon filled with teff over teff grains.

What is it?

Largely unknown to western society, this cereal grass actually dates back to 3359BCE and is the staple food for most Ethiopians. A molasses flavored type of millet that is native to Eritrea and Ethiopia, this grain can be cultivated in harsh conditions as it is a very hardy plant. Fermented and cooked into bread today, Teff is almost always sold as a whole grain because it is too small to be milled.

  • Nutritional value
  • Gluten-free
  • Essential fatty acids
  • High in iron and calcium, phosphorus, aluminum, copper, barium, and thiamine
  • Culinary uses
  • Mostly used for injera, an Ethiopian bread where the teff grain is slightly fermented before use
  • Porridge
  • Traditional alcohol

Triticale

Top view of triticale in a sack.

What is it?

This grain is produced specifically by breeders and does not occur naturally. It was first developed in the 1950s when rye was crossbred with wheat in the hopes of creating something more disease-resistant than wheat while still being able to retain the baking qualities of wheat. However, crops were inconsistent, they did not achieve the global usage it anticipated, but it is still used in smaller quantities today.

  • Nutritional value
  • Vitamin B groups such as folate and thiamin
  • 13% protein
  • Good source of manganese
  • Culinary uses
  • Flour, that produces bread of a similar texture to a light rye bread
  • Flakes that are pressed and rolled and which can be used as a substitute for oats
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Wheat

A bowl of wheat grains surrounded by burlap cloth.

What is it?

With thousands of varieties, this is the most widely cultivated cereal crop and has many derivatives in the form of other products. Durum wheat is the most common, usually ground into semolina for pasta, followed by common wheat, the flour of which is used in bread all over the world, and club wheat, which is often used in pastry. Wheat with a higher protein content is referred to as hard versus soft.

That with more tannins is red versus white, and those sown in fall are winter versus spring wheat grains.

Producing a crunchy kernel, whole wheat is once again the healthiest and most nutritious form of the grain. One of the most commonly used refined wheat products is all-purpose flour, used for making everything from pasta and croissants to tortillas and bread. A very refined version of the product, wheat flour, is commonly available in almost every grocery store around the world.

  • Nutritional content
  • High in gluten and carbohydrate
  • Wheatgerm is high in folic acid
  • Low in fat and sodium
  • High in potassium
  • High in insoluble fiber
  • Contains vitamin E, and B group vitamins
  • Culinary uses
  • Most often, wheat is ground into wheat flour, which is used in everyday cooking all over the world and forms the basis for cakes, bread, pasta, and many other baked goods.
  • Flaked, puffed, and extruded, for cereal and snack bars and for a variety of breakfast cereals
  • Bran added to cakes, muffins, bread, and pastries to increase the fiber content of the produce
  • Wheat germ, similar to bran, is added to produce, or even just fruit to yogurt as a sprinkle to increase the fiber content
  • Semolina, primarily used for making pasta, but also cooked in milk to make semolina pudding, or fried and added to sugar to make Halva, popular in the middle east
  • Cous cous, popular in North Africa, involves taking the wheat, lightly salting it, and rubbing it into tiny pellets before steaming and drying it. Instant versions are available in many western countries.
  • Bulgar, made by parboiling, drying, and grinding the wheat, which is then used in salads and many middle eastern dishes
  • Kibbled wheat, cracked and broken, steamed and dried, this is used in multigrain bread or as a side dish
  • The boiled wheat is popular as an ingredient in Lebanon and the Balkans to produce puddings
  • Wheat starch, used as corn flour for the production of confectionery and some other manufactured goods
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Wild rice

uncooked wild rice in a wooden spoon.

What is it?

Unrelated to brown rice, this genus contains four species, three of which are native to North America and one of which is native to Asia. However, in Asia, it is grown as a vegetable and not harvested as a grain. Wild rice can be used in salads or as an accompaniment to stews and curries.

  • Nutritional value
  • Higher in protein and fiber than brown rice
  • Lower in iron and calcium than brown rice

There are also those foods that look like grains and have similar nutritional makeup and uses but are not part of the true grain family. While they are widely recognized as grains, they are not, strictly speaking, cereal grains and are also known as pseudo-cereals. Many of these are not technically grains but are actually seeds from other plant species outside of the Poaceae family.

They are prepared and sued in similar ways, increasingly so in the production of niche bread, snack bars, pasta, and cereals, as some have the quality of being gluten-free.

Amaranth

A bowl and spoonful of amaranth with leaves on the side.

What is it?

This is an ancient grain that dates back to the Aztecs and has recently gained popularity as it is gluten-free and can be used in a variety of such products, as it is safe for those with celiac disease. Also a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids, these small kernels are composed of around fourteen percent protein and have a peppery taste.

  • Nutritional value
  • Gluten-free
  • High in fiber
  • High protein content
  • High oil content and high in unsaturated fatty acids
  • High in iron, magnesium., phosphorus, and potassium
    • Culinary uses
  • Flour
  • Puffed seed, added to breakfast cereals, baked goods, and salads
  • Whole raw seed, boiled for a gluten-free porridge
  • Flakes, mixed with other grains, added to bars or baked goods or desserts
  • Sprouted, used in salads
  • Gluten-free foods of different varieties
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Buckwheat

Buckwheat in a wooden spoon over a rustic table.

What is it?

Also a pseudo-cereal, buckwheat seeds are actually from a fruit related to rhubarb. It has a bitter, nutty flavor and is also gluten-free, often ground into flour and used in various dishes. It can also be eaten whole as a side dish.

  • Nutritional value
  • Gluten-free
  • The only grain with high levels of rutin, an antioxidant
  • Vitamins B1, C, and E
  • High insoluble fiber
  • Rich in carbohydrates
  • Rich in polyunsaturated essential fatty acids
  • Culinary uses
  • Flour
  • Groats, or dehulled buckwheat kernels, are used around the world in various different local dishes
  • Soba noodles are Japanese noodles that combine buckwheat and wheat flour, with buckwheat usually composing 50-80% of the flour contribution

Quinoa

A bowl of quinoa with a wooden spoon.

What is it?

Going back to the Andes in Peru over five thousand years ago, this grain is part of the amaranth family. A small grain, either light-colored, purple, red, or black, is a complete protein. With a nutty flavor, it can be used in everything from grain bowls to cereal bars.

Quinoa has a residue of saponins, which it produces to ward off birds and inspects, so although most grocery store quinoa is already washed, it is advisable to wash again before use to get the best flavor from it.

  • Nutritional value
  • High in fiber, iron, and magnesium
  • High in protein and essential amino acids
  • High in carbohydrates, with a low GI
  • Low in fat
  • Culinary uses
  • Grain, added to soups, salads, bowls, and baked goods when cooked
  • Flour, often combined with other types of flour and used to produce gluten-free products
  • Flakes, used as an alternative to oats or eaten as a hot breakfast cereal, in pancakes or smoothies
  • Other food products, such as pasta, crackers, chips, etc
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Refined grains

Many of the whole grains above can be refined too, but some of the most common are listed below. Most of the nutrients and the fiber have been stripped from the grain when it is refined, leaving a processed product that doesn’t hold much nutritional value.

White rice

White rice overflowing from a burlap sack.

What is it?

This includes any type of rice where the bran and germ have been removed. From sticky rice to jasmine and basmati rice, as well their products, such as rice noodles, and the rice paper sheets used for spring rolls, for example. These all count as white rice, a refined grain. There are many different varieties with different nutritional values and uses, from risotto to noodles.

Many wheat and corn products are refined too and widely used in both manufacturing food products and in private homes alike. While this list is not exhaustive in any way, it does cover the main types of grain that are available in different parts of the world and their most important aspects of nutritional content and culinary uses.

This being said, there are many more local, traditional uses to produce foods and dishes that are only well-known in a particular region. Similarly, there are also nutrients in some of these grains that were not mentioned. Either way, the wide variety of grains and grain products is evident from this list, as well as their ancient history dating back thousands of years in all parts of the globe.

They can grow in all sorts of climates and are generally very nutritious when eaten in their natural form. So next time you have the option between pasta and a type of grain for your bowl, you’ll be able to make an informed decision.

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