Tips for storing whole grains

Keep these nutritious grains fresh by storing them properly.

Graphic Courtesy Oldways and the Whole Grains Council
Graphic Courtesy Oldways and the Whole Grains Council

Perhaps you’ve read or heard about the important role whole grains play in a healthy diet. What exactly are whole grains, and why are they important? Michigan State University Extension explains that a grain, such as wheat, rice or barley, is made up of several parts, or layers. The innermost part of the grain is called the germ. The germ is surrounded by the endosperm. The outermost covering of the grain, surrounding the germ and endosperm, is called the bran. When we eat whole grains, we’re eating the germ, endosperm and bran. Grains are often refined, meaning that the bran and germ are removed, leaving the endosperm. The endosperm contains very little fiber and only a small amount of vitamins and minerals. When you buy white flour or white rice you’re buying a product made of the endosperm of a grain.

Research has shown, however, that keeping the grain whole can also keep us healthy. When we eat whole grains, either “intact” (wheat berries, brown rice) or as flour or meal (whole wheat flour, corn meal) we may be protected against type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Whole grains provide more fiber, vitamins and minerals. It just makes sense to keep our grains whole!

There are some things to keep in mind when storing whole grains, whether they are intact grains, flour or meal. The germ of the grain contains oils and the oils may cause the grain to turn rancid. The Whole Grains Council suggests that whole intact grains, such as barley, wild rice, and wheat berries, be stored in airtight containers. These grains can be kept for up to six months when stored in a cool, dry place. If kept in the freezer the grains should last for up to a year.

Once the grains are ground into flour or meal they are more susceptible to spoilage. That’s because the bran layer, which protects the grain, has been broken up and all parts of the grain are exposed to oxygen. These products can be kept for one to three months in a cool, dry place or about two to six months in the freezer when stored in airtight containers. Once you’ve purchased your whole grain product you may want to mark the date on the package or container before storing it. That way you’ll be reminded to use it while it’s still fresh.

Try to make whole grains part of your meals every day. Here are a few ideas for adding whole grains to your foods:

  • Grind oatmeal in your blender and use it to replace some of the flour when you make pancakes. Cook several servings of brown rice or wheat berries in advance, then store in the refrigerator. When you're ready to use them simply add a 1/2 cup serving of the grains to soups or casseroles.
  • Try bulgur wheat. Bulgur wheat is par-boiled cracked wheat. Its greatest claim to fame is tabbouleh salad, but it's also a terrific substitute for ground beef. When cooked in vegetarian chili, for example, its texture becomes very similar to ground beef, but it offers more fiber and less fat than red meat.

Enjoy the health benefits of whole grains, any way you choose to eat them!

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