What are Ancient Grains?

There is a whole world of grains most consumers have never experimented with or heard of.  Ancient grains, such as amaranth, spelt, and quinoa, have many nutritious benefits and are great additions to a well-balanced diet.  These whole grains provide varying amounts of protein, minerals, vitamins, fiber and phytonutrients.  Not only are these a great addition to a well-rounded diet, they are delicious!

Try incorporating these in new ways: as a side dish, on a salad, served with milk and fruit for breakfast, or mixing it with vinaigrette for a salad.  The following, published by Today’s Dietitian, are a few of ancient grains and tips for buying/preparing:

  • Amaranth: This South American grain is both gluten- and wheat-free and offers a nice boost of protein, calcium, and iron. It’s also the only grain documented as containing vitamin C. Amaranth is easy to cook (requires gentle boiling) and never fully loses its crunchy texture, making it a nice addition to salads or soups. This cooked grain even can be tossed into cookie batter to pack in some crunch and nutritional power.• Barley: This excellent source of fiber, manganese, selenium, and thiamine does take a while to cook, but it can be used in place of rice for a variety of meals, such as stir-fry dishes, soups, or casseroles. Consider cooking a large batch at once to save time. Look for hulled or hulless barley; pearl barley isn’t a whole grain.
  • Bulgur: Bulgur is a quick-cooking form of whole wheat. High in manganese, 1 cup of cooked bulgur also provides about 33% of the recommended dietary allowance of fiber and 5.6 g of protein. Clients can toss it into virtually everything from soups and salads to burgers and casseroles.
  • Farro: This savory wheat variety comes in both pearled and semipearled form. Look for whole farro; the semipearled is missing some of the bran and isn’t a whole grain. Farro is a staple in Italy and often prepared as a risotto dish or as part of a salad. It’s rich in fiber and magnesium and, like other wheat varieties, it can provide many benefits in its whole grain form, including reducing the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
  • Millet: This small, whole grain is a staple in many Asian and African countries but thought of mostly as bird food in the United States. While it’s the main ingredient in birdseed, millet is a heart-healthy grain rich in copper, manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium.
  • Sorghum: Sorghum is an ancient cereal grain that was collected 8,000 years ago in southern Egypt and later domesticated in Ethiopia and Sudan. Because of its natural drought tolerance, it’s an important crop in many parts of Africa and Asia. Sorghum is easy to substitute for wheat flour in a variety of baked goods and has a neutral, slightly sweet flavor. Some specialty sorghums are high in antioxidants.
  • Spelt: Commonly eaten in medieval times, spelt is part of the wheat family and is high in protein and fiber. Spelt has a distinctive nutty chewiness that makes it appealing not only as a substitute for rice but also for pasta in some dishes.
  • Teff: This is known for being tiny in size, but it’s still a nutritional powerhouse and leads all of the grains by a wide margin in calcium content. Just 1 cup of cooked teff offers 123 mg of calcium. It’s often ground into flour but also can be cooked to sprinkle atop vegetables or salads or mixed in with soups or casseroles.
  • Quinoa: Perhaps the best known ancient grain, quinoa is a complete protein since it has all nine essential amino acids. A 1-cup serving also provides approximately 20% of the iron and phosphorous needed on a daily basis. It cooks quickly and because it has become so popular, it’s easy to find on grocery shelves. There are also a multitude of recipes out there that call for quinoa.