10 Unusual Carbohydrates You've Probably Never Eaten

Brad Borland
Written By: Brad Borland
December 29th, 2015
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Nutrition
26.8K Reads
10 Unusual Carbohydrates You've Probably Never Eaten
Burned out on boiled potatoes and brown rice? Mix it up with these 10 unusual carbohydrates. Full macros and serving suggestions included!

The same ole carbohydrate sources can get a bit boring. Rice, potatoes, and oatmeal can wear on your interest in eating just as much as watching yet another awards show.

Fret not, for here are 10 alternatives to add to your repertoire. Different, interesting, quirky – however you classify them, they are sure to raise an eyebrow or two along with expanding your comfort zone.

Related: 10 Exotic Animal Protein Sources

All macros listed are per 100g, uncooked serving.

1. Quinoa

Unusual Carbs: Quinoa

With a mild flavor and light crunch, quinoa is a highly complex, gluten-free carbohydrate that is fitness friendly and tasty. Native to Bolivia, it has an impressive list of benefits. It's full of protein, fiber, plenty of iron, magnesium folate, and omega 3 fatty acids.

Furthermore, quinoa is a complete protein; it contains all 9 essential amino acids. Easy to digest and a wise substitute for rice, pasta, or potatoes, quinoa is a great addition to any fitness-based diet.

  • Calories: 368
  • Protein: 14g
  • Carbs: 64g
  • Fiber: 7g
  • Fat: 7g

2. Couscous

Unusual Carbs: Couscous

A type of wheat, couscous is coarsely ground pasta from semolina. It's a staple of North African cuisines and is mainly used as a base for other dishes such as vegetables, meat, or other carb sources. In most Western areas, couscous is sold pre-steamed and dried, making it an instant option. Much like quinoa, couscous makes a great substitute for rice, pasta, and potatoes and can be added to salads, meat dishes, and as a standalone side dish.

  • Calories: 370
  • Protein: 13g
  • Carbs: 77g
  • Fiber: 5g
  • Fat: 0g

3. Millet

Unusual Carbs: Millet

Millets are a group of small-seeded grasses grown around the world as cereal crops or grains. Millets crops can be found in the tropics of Asia and Africa, especially in India, Nigeria, and Niger. It has a short growing season under dry, high-temperature conditions.

A grain that can be prepared creamy like mashed potatoes or fluffy like rice, millet can be a great addition to many foods. Millet is a tiny, round shaped grain rich in copper, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium. It can be served as a breakfast meal like oatmeal and can be added to bread and muffin recipes. It’s mostly used like flour in many meals.

  • Calories: 378
  • Protein: 11g
  • Carbs: 72g
  • Fiber: 8g
  • Fat: 4g

4. Buckwheat

Unusual Carbs: Buckwheat

Used as an alternative to rice, buckwheat can be made into porridge, but in order to be edible the hull must be removed. Many people think buckwheat is a cereal grain, when in fact it’s actually a fruit related to rhubarb and sorrel making it a great substitute for grains. It can come either roasted or unroasted which has an earthy, nutty taste.

Buckwheat can be ground into flour but since it does not contain gluten, it is sometimes mixed with wheat flour for baking for making pancakes, muffins, and other baked goods. You can also buy Japanese soba noodles, which are made from buckwheat.

  • Calories: 340
  • Protein: 13g
  • Carbs: 71g
  • Fiber: 10g
  • Fat: 3g

5. Whole Barley

Unusual Carbs: Whole Barley

As an integral part of the world’s food supply (it’s the fourth behind wheat, rice, and corn), barley boasts the highest fiber count at a whopping 17%. It’s also high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, but has an inedible hull that must be removed during manufacturing. Barley can go further than just an ingredient in canned soup.

You can cook it as a side dish, include it in bread, make it into porridge, and even use in in flour for some baking recipes.

  • Calories: 350
  • Protein: 12g
  • Carbs: 73g
  • Fiber: 17g
  • Fat: 2g

Related: Brawn on a Budget - 10 Cheap Muscle Building Meals

6. Taro

Unusual Carbs: Taro

Taro is a starchy underground taproot known as corm found mainly in Asia, the Pacific Islands, West Africa, and the Amazonian regions of South America. Other names of this edible root are kalo, dasheen, and elephant’s ear.

It has a crispy texture that becomes soft and edible when cooked, and has a nutty flavor much like water chestnuts. Providing a bit more calories than a potato, taro is low in fat and protein and free of gluten. They also contain plenty of fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, B complex, zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, manganese and potassium. Taro is used as vegetables for their corms, leaves, and leaf-stems.

  • Calories: 142
  • Protein: 0.5g
  • Carbs: 35g
  • Fiber: 5g
  • Fat: 0g

7. Sago

Unusual Carbs: Sago

Sago is a starch extracted from the center of the sago palm stem which is a popular staple in New Guinea, Borneo, Maluku, South Sulawesi, and Sumatra. A type of flour is made from the starch seed which is sent to Europe and North America for cooking.

It is traditionally served rolled into balls or used as a paste for pancakes, biscuits or breads. Sago has very little protein but significant amounts of calcium and iron. Sago can be used as flour for baking or boiled into a paste.

  • Calories: 355
  • Protein: 0.2g
  • Carbs: 94g
  • Fiber: 0.5g
  • Fat: 0g

8. Cassava

Unusual Carbs: Cassava

Cassava, also called yuca, is a starchy tuber that has a sweet, nutty flavor. Many people from Africa, Asia, and South America use it as a staple food as a large part of their carbohydrate intake. It grows best in tropical climates and should only be eaten after cooked.

At the same serving size it has nearly twice the calories of potatoes, is low in fat, free of gluten, a good source of vitamin K, B complex vitamins, high in zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese and potassium. Cassava can simply replace potatoes for most dishes.

  • Calories: 160g
  • Protein: 1.5g
  • Carbs: 38g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Fat: 0.3g

9. Bulgur

Unusual Carbs: Bulgur

Most common in European, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, bulgur is a cereal made from several different types of wheat – mostly from durum wheat. It is parboiled and dried with only a small amount of the bran removed. Recognized as a whole grain by the USDA, bulgur has a nutty flavor which can be used in soups, baking goods, stuffing, and pilafs.

It can also be added to breads and salads and can be a great whole grain substitute for rice or other starches. It has a significantly higher calorie count than a potato, but is a great source of B complex vitamins, iron, magnesium and zinc.

  • Calories: 342
  • Protein: 12g
  • Carbs: 76g
  • Fiber: 18g
  • Fat: 1g

10. Durum

Unusual Carbs: Durum

Also referred to as macaroni wheat, durum was grown in Europe and the Near East around 7000 BC. As a “hard wheat,” it boasts a high protein content which is used well in pasta and is low in gluten. Since it does not include much gluten, it doesn’t perform that well as bread due to the fact that it doesn’t rise when baked making it thick and heavy.

It can also form the basis of many soups, stuffing, puddings and pastries. It is also a good addition to pizzas and cakes. In America it is mainly used for making pasta products.

  • Calories: 340
  • Protein: 14g
  • Carbs: 71g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Fat: 2.5g

Are any of these carbs part of your regular diet already? Which ones are you most interested in trying? Let us know in the comments!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 01/11/2016 - 09:36

What unusual carb sources do you recommend?

Posted on: Sun, 01/31/2016 - 00:49

Teff! You can make it into porridge and serve it like oatmeal. It's also the foundation of traditional Ethiopian bread injera.

1 cup/ 700 cals/26 g protein