The “Comeback” of Ancient Grains

photo credit: Purdue University

photo credit: Purdue University

How many of you have heard of the following grains?

Spelt, Amaranth, Quinoa, Millet, Einkorn, Triticale, Emmer, or Teff

If you haven’t, you soon will. An interesting article in the LA Times last week covered the growing trend of using Ancient Grains in breads and other baked goods.

Buoyed by record levels of health awareness, a search of gluten free baked goods, and a good dose of marketing, products made with ancient grains are finding their way out of specialty shops and into mainstream grocers. According to the writers,

Claims about the (ancient grain) breads abound: They’re said to be packed with whole grains, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, and they’re supposedly safe for people with wheat allergies or gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease. But although the ancient grains are undoubtedly healthful and tasty, not all of the claims hold up. read more…

What you need to know:

These “ancient grains” have been around for thousands of years, just like corn and wheat. But unlike corn and wheat that have been selectively bred to the point that they are not similar to their ancient origins, amaranth and its brethren have largely been unchanged.

Nutritionally, each grain is a bit different, just like individual fruit or vegetable species vary. But that does not necessarily mean a superiority over the standard whole grain wheat. And while amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet and teff are gluten free, spelt and kamut are NOT.

If you are choosing a bread, regardless of the grain type, you should opt for Whole Grain options, at least 3 grams of fiber per slice, and a minimum amount of added ingredients. See our series of posts on choosing breads. Spelt, for example, can be ground whole, or hulled. Always opt for unhulled, whole grains.

What to do at the supermarket:

Products utilizing these interesting grains come in all sorts of nutritional shapes and sizes. The fact that a bread is using kamut does not automatically make it healthy. So, as usual, be sure to read ingredient lists and nutrition labels.

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  • Lauren Foodtrainers

    I never understood the term “ancient grain” even joked that we don’t call fruits “ancient fruits” if they have been around just as long. The fact that they aren’t manipulated is interesting. It’s funny we don’t call wheat “mangled wheat” but the fact that a food is in its same form makes it deserving of a special distinction.

  • Bmwhitney

    Stay away from the triticale! Lest we forget what happened to the tribbles! =)

  • Amelia Boan

    This is great information, but why did you use the ” word” irregardless? I know some dictionaries have included it, stating it is used but not considered standard English usage, but I guess I expected better quality from an intelligent publication.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Thanks for the grammar lesson Amelia :-)
      Interested in helping us by proofreading our daily blog posts?

    • Guest

      Eat some prunes, Amelia.

  • Laura

    Where do bulgar and barley fall into this mix?

  • http://www.awakenedwellness.com Rachel Assuncao

    I’ve been using these grains in my kitchen for years, and it’s nice that they are becoming more mainstream so I don’t have to go to specialty shops to pick them up anymore.

    I’ve eaten Ezekiel bread for years (made from a variety of grains) and prefer it over the other stuff. But I think that both the LA Times article and this post are missing out on something more important. Using whole grains like these can add great variety to what you cook at home too. Spelt berries tossed with lots of chopped veggies and fresh herbs makes a great salad. Cook up some teff and add it to pancakes for a fun texture and nutritional density. Quinoa takes 15 minutes to make and is great on its own, in a stew, with stirfried veggies piled on top. The options are endless!

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Rachel – would love to do a post with some recipes. Care to share some easy ones with the community?

  • grace

    It is wonderful that these “alternative” grains are now commonly found at the grocery store. We eat millet bread and use an organic quinoa/corn blend pasta. Once you break away from so much wheat, you discover how much flavor there is in these other grains. Get out of the wheat rut!

  • http://lovinlosing.com Lovin’Losing

    I heard a piece on NPR where they were talking about how these crops are now producing a lot money for third world countries, but it was also driving up the prices and making it harder for people in those countries to purchase what has been a staple of their culture. Sad.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    I’ve been using quinoa for a while now. Gotta start incorporating some of these others into my meals as welll.

  • http://www.foodieformerlyfat.com Foodie, Formerly Fat

    Many of these grains can be purchased in the regular grocery store and used to make lots of things other than bread. I make a spinach and quinoa soup that is hearty and delicious.

  • http://www.tdn-digital.com Great Valley Publishing

    Followers of this blog should check out Today’s Diet and Nutrition, an award-winning digital magazine available for free online and in mobile format. Our monthly magazine offers delicious and healthful recipes, many of which are gluten-free! We also provide fitness and weight-loss strategies, ideas for green living, and cooking tips—including tips for those following a gluten-free diet. Log on to http://www.tdn-digital.com/or follow us on Facebook for daily recipes, editor’s picks, and healthful tips.

  • Anonymous

    How about some plagiarism with your ancient grains?

    Fooducate article:
    These “ancient grains” have been around for thousands of years, just like corn and wheat. But unlike corn and wheat that have been selectively bred to the point that they are not similar to their ancient origins, amaranth and its brethren have largely been unchanged.

    LA Times article:
    “Grains” such as quinoa, amaranth, spelt and Kamut are called “ancient” because they’ve been around, unchanged, for millennia. By contrast, corn, rice and modern varieties of wheat (such as hard white wheat and hard red spring wheat) have been bred selectively over thousands of years to look and taste much different from their distant ancestors, said Mian Riaz, director of the Food Protein Research and Development Center at Texas A&M University.

    • Melissa

      ….How is taking information from the article plagiarism? They didn’t copy it word-for-word. They linked to the original article and acknowledged it as the source.

    • Amelia

      Using the same facts in different words is not plagiarism. It’s called writing…

      • Anonymous

        So if I started a food education website and all of my content was simply rephrased versions of Fooducate’s postings, then that would be no problem? Cool!

        @Melissa – the word “taking” should be a good tip as to why this is plagiarism. In the example above, which follows a diect quote, the Fooducate Blog writes the same facts in the same order and making the same points as the LAT article but presents it as the writer’s ideas. It’s a pretty straight foward uncredited plagiaristic paraphrase. Importantly, the Fooducate article CUTS OUT the source the LAT article saw fit to include, which was a result of their reporter’s work (“said Mian Riaz). Attribution would mean something like “the LA Times article goes on to say…” but that’s not what happens here. Yes, the article is referenced at the start, but I think it’s wrong to present information that a reporter through their work (interviewing someone) as your own.

        Fooducate is a great resource, and it clearly depends on the hard work of lots of other journalists, scientists, and historians. I just want to encourage giving them all the credit they deserve.

        • Melissa

          I see what you’re saying, but paraphrasing after linking to the original article is not plagiarism. We’re not talking about original research here that Fooducate is claiming for itself — these are fairly well-known facts in the food world. And they linked to the article three times in the post. There is plenty of plagiarism online, but this isn’t it.

  • http://quipstravailsandbraisedoxtails.blogspot.com/ QuipsTravails

    Does it count if my knowledge comes from Star Trek? ;-) http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/Quadrotriticale

  • Melissa

    I’m in love with teff. I use it in chocolate cookies, bread and pancakes. Amaranth is a little too strong for me, but I like quinoa and millet.

  • Dalai Lina

    Can you simple substitute these grain flours in recipes or is it trickier than that?

  • Dalai Lina

    Can you simple substitute these grain flours in recipes or is it trickier than that?

  • 123emg

    I don’t really like the article, It only assumes that people who are trying to add ancient grains to their meals are only doing so in processed foods. Ancient grains like quinoa are very healthy and very high in nutrition compared to more processed and genetically modified grains.

  • http://twitter.com/reJoyceHealth Colleen Joyce Pontes

    I just read the NY Times article & this is a great follow-up. When it comes to bread it is challenging to find true whole grain bread in the mainstream supermarkets. So many “whole wheat” versions have caramel-color & a lot of sugar & chemicals in the ingredients. I love that you are teaching people to get into the habit of reading labels.

  • amanda

    What can you tell us about “selba,” which is something that has been included in some of the baby food (Happy Tot brand) I buy for my son?

  • http://twitter.com/StoddartFarm Harry Stoddart

    Triticale is not an ancient grain. It didn’t exist until crop breeders successfully crossed rye and wheat to create a “new” grain.

  • ToughStuff2012

    Yo man, I know you see me here
    This is my space man
    What you need to do it put your little
    Hybrid in reverse and go out the way you came
    What? Yo it’s about to get real in the
    Whole Foods parking lot..

    It’s getting real in the Whole Foods parking lot!
    I got my skill and you know it gets sparked a lot
    I’m on my grind homie, it’s on my mind homie
    These fools with clipboards are looking at me
    Like the know me
    It’s getting real in the Whole Foods parking lot!
    You know the deal with the little shopping carts
    They got. Listen to what I say
    It’s getting real in the Westside of LA..

    I’m riding slow in my Prius
    All-leather, tinted windows (you can’t see us!)
    Everybody’s trying to park you can feel the tension
    I’m in electric mode, can’t even hear the engine
    Just then I saw a spot open up
    My timing’s perfect! I’m creeping up..
    But then this other dude try to steal it
    Going the wrong way!
    “Hey man I’ve had a long day!”

    It’s getting real in the Whole Foods parking lot!
    I got my skill and you know it gets sparked a lot
    I’m on my grind homie, it’s on my mind homie
    These fools with clipboards are looking at me
    Like the know me
    It’s getting real in the Whole Foods parking lot!
    You know the deal with the little shopping carts
    They got. Listen to what I say
    It’s getting real in the Westside of LA..

    Now I’m on the inside, looking at my list
    Organic chicken, kale salad
    And a lemon twist
    Some girl in yoga pants is looking at me funny
    I’m just trying to find a decent Pinot Noir
    For under 20! Then I take it to the
    Cheese counter: Humboldt fog!
    Just ran out sir!
    Take it easy man, I try to calm myself
    I’ve been on edge ever since they took
    Kombucha off the shelf..

    It’s getting real in the Whole Foods parking lot!
    I got my skill and you know it gets sparked a lot
    I’m on my grind homie, it’s on my mind homie
    These fools with clipboards are looking at me
    Like the know me
    It’s getting real in the Whole Foods parking lot!
    You know the deal with the little shopping carts
    They got. Listen to what I say
    It’s getting real in the Westside of LA..

    This fool’s on his iphone, talking to his friends
    Trying to pick up some cayenne pepper for his master cleanse
    You the most annoying dude I ever see, brah
    Could you please move? You’re right in front of the quinoa…
    Damn, I’m about to check out!
    Pay my 80 bucks for 6 things and get the heck out!
    The express lane is moving hella-slow
    Man, these fools don’t know..

  • jjoisey

    I just baked quinoa cookies. just replaced oatmeal for quinoa and threw in some raisins and white choco chips. make them as you if u were making chewy oatmeal cookies except sub the oats for quinoa. kids say they rock. I say they are fantabulous, irregardless…hee hee!