Life Wellbeing The super guide to ‘super’ grains

The super guide to ‘super’ grains

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While relatively unheard of a few years ago, it seems that ‘super’ grains like quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) and buckwheat are now staples in the modern diet.

Quinoa is a particularly nutritious pseudo-cereal as it has a high protein content.

They might appear to be a fad amongst health bloggers and celebrity chefs alike (did someone say activated almonds?), but many nutritionists herald these ‘ancient’ grains for their health benefits.

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Dietitians Association of Australia Spokesperson Georgie Rist says that growing rates of coeliac disease and gluten intolerance have lead to a demand in these gluten free grains.

“The rise in popularity of supergrains such as quinoa    and buckwheat may be caused by the increase in demand for gluten-free foods and for alternative, nutrient-rich grain varieties,” Ms Rist says.

Hardie Grant
Quinoa salad. Photo: Hardie Grant.


Barley is one of the most widely produced grains in the world and is a staple in Tibetan cuisine.

Barley boasts a moderate protein content, a high fibre content and has a low GI index, providing slow-burning energy.

Unfortunately barley is not gluten free, but is great as a filler in soups, stews and salads. It has a neutral taste.


Quinoa has been cultivated in the Andes for 5000 years but is being celebrated around the world for it’s health benefits.

“Quinoa is a particularly nutritious pseudo-cereal as it has a high protein content, 15 per cent, and contains all of the essential amino acids, which is rare in plant-based protein sources,” says Ms Rist.

Quinoa can be used as porridge, in baking, or as a rice replacement.


Buckwheat is the gluten free seed of a fruit similar to rhubarb and has a strong, bitter flavour.

Nutritionist and dietician Arabella Forge touts buckwheat as a nutrient-dense wheat alternative.

Amaranth gluten free
Gluten-free amaranth seeds. AAP.

“[Buckwheat] contains as much as 20 per cent protein, which is considerably more than that contained in wheat, rice, corn or millet,” Ms Forge says.

Because of its strong flavour, buckwheat is best used as a flour to make gluten free pancakes or muffins.


Like Quinoa, amaranth is a seed, not a grain. Once a staple of the Aztecs and Mayans, amaranth really does live up to its ‘ancient grain’ title.

According to website The Kitchn, the protein-packed seed can be added to thicken soups or to brown rice to create a nutty flavour.

Amaranth is also high in calcium, fibre and iron.


While unfamiliar to Australians, millet is a staple for one third of the world’s population, and is commonly used in Eastern Europe to make porridge.

The gluten free grain can be traced back as far as 5000 BC. While millet has a protein content similar to wheat, it is high in Vitamin B, iron, potassium and zinc.

It has a nutty, sweet flavour, and can be used in salads, baking or as porridge.


Spelt was an important grain in medieval times but is now only commonly grown in Europe. It is high in gluten, but has a high protein content of around 14 per cent.

Quinoa gluten free
A Bolivian woman grinds Quinoa. AAP.

“Spelt is higher in protein than common wheat and can be used in place of common wheat in most recipes,” says Ms Rist of the rice-like grain.

“Try spelt breads, pasta or pizza bases for an alternative to wheat.”


Pronouned ‘free-ka”, the grain is simply wheat that has been roasted at a younger age than regular wheat.

It has a nutty and smokey flavour and is higher in protein and fibre than common wheat. It is also low GI.

An important food source in the Middle East, freekeh works well as a substitute for pasta and rice, or to fill-out soups and salads.


While commonly used as livestock feed, Sorghum has been used for thousands of years in Africa as a drought-resistant grain.

The gluten-free grain is best-used as a flour in baking, or cooked like rice to make a nice side dish.


The super cook book of the super grain! Learn the best of the best recipes with Cooking with Quinoa by Rena Patten. Buy it here.

cooking-with-quinoa9781742570556-2Considered a complete food, quinoa is very high in protein, full of vitamins, gluten free, cholesterol-free and a fantastic staple to any dish! There should be a packet of quinoa in every pantry - learn how to make the most of it in Cooking with Quinoa!

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