No Bread (or Cold Cereal) Required: Whole Grain Breakfast Ideas

This week, we’re going to look at a few ideas to “spice up” your regular breakfast routine, with some uncommon breakfast recipes using ancient (and, like the KLF, probably also justified) grains: barley, quinoa, farro, and oats.

While the convenience of ready-to-eat breakfast food is really nice, your homemade whole grain breakfast efforts are low in calories and high in complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein and many important vitamins and minerals. And they’re tasty, too! The inclusion of whole grains gives breakfast dishes a mildly nutty flavor that complements a variety of additional ingredients, sweet and savory alike


Barley is a whole grain, that is used around the world as a ferment-able ingredient in beer and distilled beverages, and is widely used in animal fodder, in soups and stews, and breads.

Barley was one of the first cultivated grains, appearing in Eurasia as early as 10,000 years ago. The Old English word for ‘barley’ was bære (which looks and sounds like beer, doesn’t it?), and even the word barn, originally meant “barley-house.”

Barley has a slightly malty character, which explains the flavor of beer, and a mild nutty sweetness. Like its botanical close relatives, wheat and rye, barley contains gluten.

A true “cereal” grain comes from a grass plant. But quinoa (like buckwheat and amaranth) is a pseudocereal, meaning it’s not a true grain (botanically, it’s not a grass but comes from a flowering plant, called goosefoot), but is commonly used as one. Quinoa provides protein, dietary fiber, B vitamins, and dietary minerals in rich amounts above those of wheat, corn, rice or oats.


Quinoa is a bit of a master of disguise – not only is it a flowering plant masquerading as a grass, it also has a bland, almost “invisible” flavor. It takes on the flavor of what it is paired with – making it an excellent sidekick to more boldly-flavored ingredients in a recipe.

Plus, quinoa is gluten-free, unlike many other “breakfast-oriented” grains. A really, truly ancient grain, Quinoa was first domesticated by Andean peoples in South America around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago.

Barley vs. Quinoa? Both barley and quinoa have excellent nutritional value, though each has some advantages over the other. Barley is a good source of iron, niacin, and vitamin B6, and supplies an adequate source of magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. It also easily wins out in fiber content, providing both soluble and insoluble fiber, with one serving providing 8 grams, compared to quinoa’s 3.

Quinoa, on the other hand, has more protein per serving with 6 grams versus 5 grams for barley. Quinoa also gets acclaim for being a “super grain” or “superfood” — it contains all nine essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.

Quinoa also cooks much faster than barley. Whole barley can take up to 45 or 60 minutes to cook through, and that is after soaking the grains beforehand.  To save on preparation time, look for “pearled” barley.  Pearled barley is the grain where the hull and bran have both been removed, and often times the germ as well.

Quinoa cooks in a scant 15-20 minutes.

The Andean super-pseudo-cereal goes solo in our gluten-free recipe for Breakfast Quinoa, with Orange ZestCinnamon, and a splash of Runamok Maple Syrup for a sweet, spicy, citrus-y morning meal.

A delicious combination of quinoa, pearled barley, and oats, this multi-grain recipe for Three-Grain Cereal with Dates and Cinnamon can be (mostly) made ahead of time. Just cook the quick-cook oats before mixing with the already-cooked other grains, dried fruit and cinnamon.



Oats are perhaps the most common of the whole grains we’re talking about today. A nutrient-rich grain, oats are most commonly rolled or cut into oatmeal, or ground into fine oat flour. Oatmeal is chiefly eaten as, well, oatmeal, but is also used in a variety of baked goods, like oatmeal cookies and muffins, along with cold cereals, muesli and granola.

Oats and oatmeal, and the foods we make with them, are associated with lower blood cholesterol (when/if you consume oatmeal on a regular basis). Oats are also an excellent source of protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins and minerals, especially manganese.

Even though oats go through a hulling process, they’re still considered a whole grain because their bran and germ are left intact. Steel-cut oats are processed through sharp blades that cut them into thin slices, rendering them denser and chewier than rolled oats, which are heated and pressed flat. Cooking time varies depending on how oats are processed, with rolled oats labeled as “quick-cooking” being the fastest. Cooking oats in milk results in a richer, creamier porridge. Avoid packaged instant oatmeal, which is typically high in added sugars.

Find a whole bunch of  oat / oatmeal breakfast dish recipes at this link.


Finally, we’ll touch for a moment on Farro. Farro is an ancient kind of wheat, which originated in Italy. It is also sometimes called Emmer wheat. Farro has a high protein and fiber content and a nutty, chewy texture (similar to barley) that makes it great for grain salads, soups, stuffings, and pilafs.You can buy Farro whole, pearled, or cracked.

No surprise, farro is another grain that has great nutritional value. One cup of cooked farro has 5 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein. It will also give you a hefty dose of vitamins A, E and minerals like iron and magnesium.

Although most of the things we’ve made with farro have been dinner dishes, we also really like this savory Farro-Carrot Porridge. For that dish, you’ll want to use cracked Farro, which has a texture similar to uncooked bulgur, another type of wheat.

Interested in learning more? You’ll find a bunch of whole-grain recipes for every meal of the day at this link. And for all kinds of new ideas (and some old favorites, too), follow this link to breakfast recipes in the AllSpice recipe database.

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