The health cred of whole grains is pretty well established — studies have shown that whole grains help reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension; help lower cholesterol levels in the bloodstream; and even help fight gum disease. They also keep you feeling full longer than refined carbs, cutting down on hunger pangs and preventing huge spikes in blood sugar. But quite frankly, not many people think of them as sexy — sensible, perhaps, like a Prius, a reliable pair of galoshes, or an electric pencil sharpener, but certainly not sexy. (Kudos to you if you believe any of these things to be sexy.)
"Many of us think cooking a whole grain is nothing more than dumping it in a cauldron and then looking at a forlorn bit of beige in the colander later," lament Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough in their celebratory cookbook, Grain Mains. But they're not just filler, they argue. They believe the range of flavors and textures offered by whole grains is much greater than that of animal-based proteins, a group of foods that, despite the best and valiant efforts of vegetarians and vegans, still has a lot of well, sex appeal. Think of all the words one would use to describe a perfectly cooked steak, for example — juicy, succulent, mouthwatering, rich, well marbled, and buttery, just to name a few examples. Would any of these words make sense when describing a dish of whole grains? Not likely.
Despite this, we think that, if given a chance, whole grains can be sexy. They help bridge the gap between what we want to eat and what we should be eating. The best example of this lies in the construction of an everyday dish: a salad.
How many times have you made a salad for yourself at dinner, a really big one, thinking that it would keep you full, only to go hungry just before going to bed? Probably too many times to count. It happens to all of us. Loading up on protein — say a grilled skirt steak, chicken, or salmon — can help you feel sated longer, but adding such things to the grocery list regularly can be a real hit on the wallet.
Whole grains offer an economical alternative, and they can be just as delicious. Not convinced? Weinstein and Scarbrough point out that "whole grains can hit four of the five flavor nodes without a problem: sweet, sour, bitter, and umami." Wheat berries, for instance, come in different varieties, including soft white wheat berries, which are sweet and savory; spelt berries, red-hued and sweet with a sour finish that comes alive when dressed with vinegars or citrus; and farro, the chewy Italian grain with a strong nutty flavor. Whole grains, in addition to bringing their own distinctive flavors, can also help enhance other parts of a dish — by revealing the natural sweetness of grilled onions or masking the slight bitterness of roasted eggplant, for example.
Whole grains, then, are a whole "new" category of food that's not just for the health conscious, but for the food adventurous. What's more — you can keep working your favorite meat or fish into your salads, but with a whole grain in the mix, you may just find yourself satisfied with less. For more sexy whole-grain recipes, take a glance through the slideshow.
Will Budiaman is the Recipe editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.