3 Whole Grains You Didn't Know You Could Pop

By: Patsy Jamieson, EatingWell Recipe Contributor

Think beyond popcorn with popped sorghum, amaranth and wild rice

You know about popcorn, but what about popped sorghum or popped amaranth? Yep. These little firecrackers are ready to shake up your grain game. Bonus: They're whole gains, and research published in the Journal of Nutrition found that women who ate about three daily servings of whole grains had a 22 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to women who got less than one serving a day. (One serving is about 1 ounce. For popcorn, that's about 3½ cups, popped, but smaller grains yield less.) Time to get popping!

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After experimenting with a dozen different whole grains, we found that the ones that pop best (reliable pops with minimal burn) in addition to corn are sorghum, amaranth and wild rice. Here's what you get from each and how to get popping!

Sorghum

This grain looks and tastes like mini-popcorn when popped. Per cup (which is almost 2 ounces), you get 4 grams of fiber, plus it's a great source of magnesium—a nutrient about half of Americans don't get enough of. It's delish as is, but makes a great, crunchy garnish for salads and soups too. Or mix it with nut butter, honey, dried fruit and nuts and roll into balls for an energy-boosting snack.

How to Pop Sorghum

On the stovetop

Heat a heavy 3-quart saucepan (not nonstick) over medium-high heat. When hot, add ¼ cup sorghum. Cover the pan, leaving lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. Shake the pan back and forth constantly. When popping starts, reduce heat to low/medium. Once popping slows, pour the popped sorghum into the bowl. If you prefer, you can heat 2 teaspoons oil in the pan before adding the sorghum. This will help any seasonings adhere.

Microwave Instructions

Place ¼ cup sorghum in a small food-safe paper bag. Fold the open end of the bag over twice. Place the bag, folded-side down, in the microwave. Microwave at High for 1:30 minutes. Pay close attention and be sure to remove the bag from the microwave before the popping stops.

Amaranth

These teeny poppers add a delicate crunch to all sorts of snacks—and its mild flavor makes it super versatile. The traditional use for popped amaranth is in the Mexican treat alegría, a caramel candy with pumpkin seeds. Or stir it into melted bittersweet chocolate, seasoned with some orange zest, then drop nuggets of the mixture onto parchment paper and refrigerate until solid. It's also great sprinkled over yogurt and fruit or mixed into granola. An ounce, about 1½ cups popped, boasts 10 percent of your recommended daily amount of iron, about 4 grams of protein, and just shy of 2 grams of fiber.

How to Pop Amaranth

Heat a heavy 3-quart saucepan (not nonstick) over medium-high heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon amaranth and reduce heat to medium. Cover the pan, holding the lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. Reduce heat to medium and shake the pan back and forth. Once popping slows, immediately pour the popped amaranth into a bowl to avoid burning. (Popping in the microwave is not recommended)

Wild Rice

This one puffs, rather than pops, but it has amazing crunch and a nutty flavor, making it a great replacement for—you guessed it—nuts, especially as a garnish for creamy soups or salads. A cup of puffed wild rice (about 2 ounces) is a good source of fiber as well as zinc, a mineral which helps support your immune system. (OK, OK, we know—wild rice is not a true grain. It's technically a semi-aqueous grass. But it hangs out at the whole grains table because its nutrition profile is so similar.)

How to Puff Wild Rice

Heat a heavy 3-quart saucepan (not nonstick) over medium-high heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon wild rice. Reduce heat to medium and stir constantly until most of the grains have split open. (Microwave puffing is not recommended.)

Whole-Grain Popping Tips

• While storing whole grains in the refrigerator or freezer is often recommended, this is not a good idea for grains intended for popping. The low humidity of the refrigerator or freezer will dry out the grains, reducing the moisture level necessary to create the burst.
• Make sure that your pan is hot enough. Popping failures are most frequently due to inadequate heat.
• Do not overcrowd the pan. You will achieve better results popping a small quantity of grains at a time. Repeat the batches until you have the desired quantity of popped or puffed grains.
• Have a bowl ready so you can move the popped grains out of the hot pot quickly. Pay close attention during popping and transfer the popped grains to a bowl immediately to avoid burning.

How Grains Pop

Grains consist of the endosperm and germ, enclosed in the hull (bran). The endosperm contains moisture and when exposed to heat, it turns to steam and puts pressure on the hull—causing it to burst (sort of like an exploding miniature pressure cooker) and turning the grain inside out.

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