As you may have noticed, many health-conscious people are trying to eat more intact grains these days, moving away from refined/commercial breads and other white flour-based products
that comprise much of the Western diet. The go-to “alternatives” tend to be familiar choices, such as oats, rice and corn. And yet, there is a whole world of fascinating grains beyond these American standards.
What are ancient grains?
One of the most intriguing classes of grains, with a long and venerated history, is the family of “ancient grains
.” Why the special designation, since virtually all grains have been around throughout human evolution? Great question! As it happens, some of the most widely consumed Westernized grains today scarcely resemble their historical counterparts, especially wheat, which has been dramatically altered over the centuries.
Among the more significant of these alterations was dramatically increasing the content of gluten in wheat through the process of hybridization. Bigger, better loaves through modern science! Yet, gluten is also
a major food allergen which can cause of range of health problems, the most serious being celiac disease
, which, in a stunning coincidence, is over four times more common today than it was 50 years ago, as are gluten-related allergies and sensitivities.
The benefits of ancient grains
This brings us back to ancient grains, which, by definition, have remained essentially unchanged for thousands of years. In other words, they have not
been chemically manipulated, irradiated, genetically modified and/or unnaturally hybridized. Nor do ancient grains require heavy pesticide applications or chemical fertilizers to thrive as they have from the dawn of time.
Ancient grains also contain more vitamins, minerals and fiber than “modern” corn, rice and wheat, which is yet another reason they are enjoying a well-deserved renaissance in Western countries. Here is the skinny on some of these noble grains, and ideas on how best to enjoy them.
Your Guide to Ancient Grains
This highly nutritious, gluten-free, pseudo-grain
with a subtly sweet, nutty flavor has been cultivated for more than 8,000 years. In recent decades. amaranth
has been linked to numerous wellness benefits. Enjoy it in pilafs, soups, and stews, or in this delicious Vanilla Amaranth Porridge with Almonds & Figs
Also a pseudo-grain, buckwheat
is not related to wheat and is thus gluten-free. It is also incredibly nourishing! Check out some of the impressive benefits of buckwheat
here. You can add cooked buckwheat groats to soups, casseroles, and pilafs, or try it in these Festive Buckwheat Gingerbread Pancakes
This traditional grain of the Mediterranean has a chewy texture and rich, nutty flavor. Farro
is bountiful in antioxidants like polyphenols, carotenoids, and phytosterols, and protein-rich at 13 grams per 3.5 ounces serving. You might like to try it in this piquant Fresh Herb & Tomato Farro Salad
or perhaps take your palate to the South of France with this Vegetarian Niçoise Salad with Farro
Also a gluten-free pseudo-grain, nutrient-dense millet
has a creamy, nutty flavor making it a natural for a hot breakfast cereal or in place of other grains like rice, couscous, etc. Check out this beautiful 4-Layer Millet & Roasted Beet Salad.
This ancient, gluten-containing grain was branded to help protect the seeds from being genetically modified. Kamut
has a chewy, nutty texture with grains two to three times the size of wheat kernels. It has been described as tasting sweet, nutty, and buttery. Learn more about the benefits of kamut
to fully enjoy what you're eating! Here is an inviting way to try it: Kamut® Pilaf with Mushrooms and Leeks
Along with a high calcium, zinc, and iron content, this tasty grain is also a protein rock star, delivering an astonishing 20 grams in a mere 3.5 ounce serving! Freekeh, which does contain gluten naturally, also boasts prebiotics, which help to nourish the beneficial bacteria in the gut. It is showcased beautifully in both this refreshing Freekeh Salad with Mint-Parsley Pesto
and this Easy Freekeh Pilaf With Almonds & Apricots
This may be the world’s smallest grain, but it is might in protein?a full 13.3 grams per 3.5 ounce serving. Teff
is also among the most calcium-rich grains, with five times
more of this essential nutrient than wheat. It may well be the food of the future in the sports world, as it is a high-quality, slow burning energy source, making it ideal fuel for endurance players. Try it in this gorgeous Spring Greens & Leek Tart With Teff Crust
or these Gluten-Free Pumpkin Teff Crêpes
Currently among the better-known ancient grains, quinoa
is a gluten-free pseudo-grain rich in potent antioxidants like quercetin and kaempferol. Like most grains, quinoa is highly versatile, working well in soups, casseroles, salads, and more. Consider this fabulous Quinoa, Black Bean & Mango Picnic Salad
, this Golden Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash
or perhaps a Kale & Quinoa Salad with Homemade Dressing
If all this information makes you want to get your (ancient) grain on, why not try one of the linked recipes that you find appealing? It’s a great initial step on what could be a very cool and
healthy journey of discovery!