Wholegrain Cereals

A quick and easy guide to whole grains

Whole Grain Cereals

What do you think of when you hear the term whole grains? Brown bread?  Brown rice?  If so, you may be surprised to learn that there are many more.  Each has its own unique taste, nutritional value and each has a variety of uses.

Most whole grains come in more than one form, giving them exceptional versatility; there are plenty of possibilities for breakfast, lunch, dinner and nutritious snacks.  Read on to learn how you can include more healthy, wholesome, nutritious and economical whole grains in your daily fare.

Wheat Based Whole Grains


A traditional food in the Middle East and North Africa, bulgar or burghul is a form of steamed, cracked wheat. Being pre-cooked, it is often just soaked (1 cup bulgur to 2 cups hot or cold water) left for 10-15 minutes until water has been absorbed, then used as a salad base. Bulgar is the main ingredient in Tabbouleh. To cook, add approximately 1½ parts water to 1 part bulgar, bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 min. or until the bulgar is soft. (It is served with stews, mixed with salads or occasionally in Europe used in puddings.) Soaking and cooking processes can be combined in a pilaff, adding 225g bulgur and 125g red lentils to fried onion, grated ginger and garlic with 600ml water, cooking gently for 30 minutes, then adding lemon juice, fresh herbs and seasoning to taste.

Cous Cous

Cous cous is available in either wholemeal or the more traditional refined yellow product. It is made from wheat semolina, which is formed into little balls, steamed and dried.  It is most often used as an accompaniment to savoury stews, spicy dishes, and salads.

Traditionally, cous cous is prepared as follows: Spread 227g/8oz cous cous on a baking tray. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of salted water over it; rub between fingers and thumbs. Leave for 10 min. Repeat twice more. Steam cous cous for 15 min.  Alternatively as a short cut, cous cous can simply be soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, 1 cup cous cous to 2 cups water.

Whole Wheat

Whole wheat is most familiar milled into flour and made into wholemeal bread. If you are baking your own bread, it is preferable to buy organically grown wholemeal flour, because the outer hull of whole wheat can carry residues of agricultural chemicals.

Whole wheat is most familiar milled into flour and made into wholemeal bread. If you are baking your own bread, it is preferable to buy organically grown wholemeal flour, because the outer hull of whole wheat can carry residues of agricultural chemicals.

Wheat flakes are a popular ingredient in muesli, and can add texture to baked goods.

Other Whole Grains Containing Gluten


Spelt is an ancient form of wheat, sometimes called ‘Roman wheat.’  It is well digested by many who cannot tolerate modern forms of wheat.  It is rich in protein, amino acids and B vitamins, high in fibre, less acidic and lower in gluten than conventional wheat.  Spelt comes in the form of cereals, pasta, flakes and flours. Spelt flour can replace other types of wheat flour in most baking recipes, although it is not very suitable for making pastry.  The dough is wetter and needs more gentle handling than conventional wheat flour.

Corn (Maize or Polenta)

Familiar to most Irish people as breakfast flakes, corn is such a highly versatile grain that in different forms it can be used as breakfast porridge, a snack food, a dinner grain or a pudding. As sweet corn it is a popular vegetable, while popcorn is an inexpensive snack food. Maize meal or polenta is available in three grades, coarse, medium and fine.

Corn is often called for in gluten-free recipes, but since it can contain traces of gluten it is important for anyone with coeliac disease or severe gluten sensitivity to look for the gluten-free symbol on products made from corn
Popcorn: heat a little oil, and add enough popcorn to barely cover the base of the saucepan. Cover the pot tightly shaking occasionally until the popping stops.

Corn on the cob: Remove the outside leaves from the corncobs. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes.

Polenta: Add 5 parts cold water to 1 part coarse maize meal. Add a pinch of sea salt. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly. It will thicken quickly to a porridge-like consistency and can be served for breakfast like porridge. It can be spread out about half an inch thick to cool on a tin then cut into fingers which can be fried or grilled and used as a base for grilled savoury toppings.


A native Irish grain, oats are most commonly used as flakes to make porridge and as a muesli or granola base. As with all whole grains, oats release energy slowly and help to keep blood sugar levels balanced so are an excellent breakfast food. The soluble oat bran fibre can help to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol. Although oats contain gluten, they are tolerated by some coeliacs.

Porridge: Mix 1 part oat flakes to 3 parts water/milk. Cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes. Soaking overnight reduces cooking time. For extra flavour and nutrition apricots or raisins can be added at the start of cooking.

Pinhead oats: prepare 1 part oats to 4 parts water. Cook in heavy pot on low for 2 hours.

Whole oats: convenient for those who own a kitchen range, as whole oats need long slow cooking with at least 5 parts of water per one part of oats.

Muesli: 2 cups oat flakes, 1/2 cup raisins, 1/2 cup roasted hazels, sunflower seeds to taste, mixed together.


Not the easiest grain to digest in its whole form, rye is best used in baking, particularly as sourdough bread and pumpernickel. It is often mixed with wheat flour, and on its own  gives a heavy, dense, moist product.. Whole rye can be cooked like rice: follow directions for whole wheat or mix with brown rice.  Rye flakes are popular in muesli base.

Gluten-free whole grains

Naturally gluten-free whole grains are suitable for everyone, but they are much more nutritious for coeliacs than the commonly available gluten-free products made from wheat flour with the gluten removed. They are available completely unprocessed, as well as in flakes, flour and pasta, providing a high level of versatility for those who need to avoid gluten.

Gluten-free pastas are very convenient, but care needs to be taken when cooking. To ensure that it cooks through without becoming sticky on the outside, add ½ cup of cold water immediately it comes to a rolling boil.

Brown Rice

The most common forms of brown rice are long grain, short grain and basmati. It also comes in both flakes and pasta. Brown rice can be cooked in a pressure cooker, heavy pot or steamer.

Basic Instructions: wash the rice 2-3 times and pour off water and any hulls that float to the top. If using a pressure cooker add 1½ cups of water to each cup of rice, if a heavy pot or steamer use 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. Use more water if a softer consistency is preferred. Add a pinch of sea salt. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 35-45 min. Do not stir while cooking. Allow to sit for a few minutes before serving. 1 cup of raw rice will give about 2 ¼ cups of cooked rice.

Some other ideas: Roasted sunflower, sesame or pumpkin seeds, chopped walnuts or almonds, all high in calcium and minerals, can be mixed with the cooked rice to give a lovely nutty flavour and interesting texture.

Cooked rice can be added to stews or soups, or combined with vegetables and herbs and other cooked grains such as millet, to make croquettes or burgers. Leftover brown rice makes an excellent base for a salad. Brown rice flakes can be used instead of oat flakes to make a nutritious, gluten-free porridge.


Millet is a nutritious food, high in protein, in iron and silica, and is also available in flakes. It contains high quality complete protein, is rich in iron and the mineral silica, is gluten-free and easy to digest, so it is popular with vegetarians and those with gluten- or wheat-intolerance.

Basic Instructions: Wash, drain and dry roast the millet in a heavy pot over a medium to low heat, stirring constantly, until the water has evaporated and the millet gives off a nutty aroma. If desired, a little sesame oil can be added and the millet roasted for a further few minutes before adding 2 cups of boiling water to 1 cup of millet, covering and simmering for 12-15 minutes. When cooked, millet appears fluffy but if many grains are still whole, add more water and cook a little longer.

Millet flakes can be cooked the same way as porridge oats and make a very useful baby food. They can also be included in a gluten-free muesli base.

Other ideas: add some finely chopped onion or carrots when roasting the millet in sesame oil and cook together. Cook millet with cauliflower and mash to give a potato-like dish. Mix cooked millet with some herbs, onion and a little flour and make croquettes or burgers. Millet can be added to soups and stews.


Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is highly nutritious whole grain originating in South America. It contains an exceptionally attractive amino acid balance, as well as useful amounts of calcium, making it an ideal food for vegetarians. Quinoa is available in flakes, which can give a protein boost to breakfast cereals, such as gluten-free muesli or porridge. It is also gluten-free.

Basic Instructions: wash thoroughly and roast lightly as for millet. Add 2 cups of boiling water to 1 cup of quinoa, cover and simmer for 10-15 min. Check during cooking in case more water needs to be added. Because of its bland flavour, quinoa is also used as an accompaniment to savoury and spicy dishes, and is an excellent base for grain salads.


A staple food in Eastern Europe, buckwheat has long been recognised as a warming, energy-giving food. It is rich in the flavonoid rutin, which strengthens the blood vessels. Despite its name, it is gluten-free and not related to wheat. It can be bought either raw or roasted, known in the U.S. as kashi. Buckwheat is also available in flakes, which can add a nutritious boost to gluten-free muesli or porridge. Buckwheat pasta is another way of using this highly valuable food.

Basic Instructions: Wash well and dry roast if required as for millet (roasting brings out its distinctive flavour, loved by some, disliked by others), then add 2 parts water to 1 part buckwheat. Bring to boil, lower heat and cook for 15-20 min.

If you require any further information, do not hesitate to ask one of the staff members in the IAHS Stores.

Happy cooking!

Further reading

  • Quick & Easy Vegetarian Cooking by Sarah Brown
  • The Wholegrain Cookbook by A.D. Livingston
  • The Nature Doctor by Alfred Vogel

This fact sheet is for information only and is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a healthcare professional.

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