Grains have been growing on earth long before there were humans to cook and eat them. Since we discovered how to control plant genetics and breeding, we’ve been altering many of our crops. There are now suggestions that we should go back to some of the unchanged crops.
What are ‘ancient grains’ and should we switch to them?
The term does not refer to a forgotten box at the back of the kitchen cupboard! An ancient grain is a variety that has not been artificially selected or modified. In particular, it refers to a variety that predates the ‘green revolution’ of the 1950s. Work done then produced new strains of wheat with much higher yields and resistance to diseases. However the new strains also needed much more water and specialised fertilisers, so have been a double-edged sword.
Non-modified wheat does not yield as much food, but is less demanding to grow.
The types of wheat classed as ‘ancient’ include einkorn and emmer wheat, which are not exactly ‘run-of-the-mill’ provisions (see what we did there?) in the UK. Spelt is a less obscure variety which is probably easier to find in the shops.
Quinoa, barley, buckwheat and millet are also included in most lists of non-modified grains or cereals. Others that you may have heard of include sorghum and even chia seeds.
The type of grain is only half the story. If the grain is stone ground (rather than processed in an industrial mill), the whole kernel is ground. This means that more nutrients and fibre will make it into the final product. However the processed flour or grain will not keep as well, so it needs to be bought fresh and used rapidly.
Ancient grains are packed with dietary fibre, essential nutrients and protein. They also tend to be lower in gluten, although they are not totally gluten-free. This can benefit those who have reduced tolerance to gluten.
The grains can be used as breakfast foods, ingredients for pancakes or bakes and in any recipe where you would use ‘standard’ wheat. Give them a try and see how you get on.
I cook up a whole bag of quinoa each week and use it in salads, breakfasts soups etc. It's brilliant stuff. Never knew it was so ancient though.
Anything ancient should mean it's untampered with by modern production means, which gets my vote.
I use buckwheat in salads - it's nutty, tasty and cheap.This sort of grain is gaining a lot of popularity thanks to online blogs and Instagram stars using it, so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon.
this is 'who knew?' in spades - but I've definitely learned a bit of social history here! That's also interesting to know why wholegrain flour doesn't keep as well, and I've definitely found that.