Amaranth, teff, spelt, kamut, freekeh, farro – strange sounding words for grains most mainstream shoppers were unfamiliar with just a few years ago. But now, they are turning the grocery store grain aisle into a hotspot attracting consumers looking for healthier alternatives to wheat. Consumers have had a change of attitude and are seeking out ancient whole grains for their nutritional value, increased fiber and taste. This means in recent years, these easy to prepare and digest grains have experienced a renaissance of sorts to become more commonplace in our daily diet.
To define ancient grains is a little bit of a misnomer as all whole grains are “ancient” – meaning they each can trace their roots back to the beginning of time. The Whole Grains Council defines ancient grains as grains having been being largely unchanged over the last several hundred years. No matter how you describe them, they are making a strong comeback with huge sales growth and for good reason – they are delicious, nutritious and if you have a gluten allergy, most are safe to consume.
If ancient grains are brand-new to you, this is the perfect time o try them. Many supermarkets are selling these grains due to their ever-increasing popularity. The American public is eager to reduce refined grains from their diets and to experiment with grains offering a unique taste with an impressive nutritional profile.
What health benefits do ancient grains offer?
· They are considered a whole grain meaning when you consume them, they contain all three parts of a grain – the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains usually have the germ and bran removed which results in a loss of 25% of their protein and dozens of nutrients.
· Whole grains are digested slower making you feel fuller longer. This prevents overeating resulting in excess calories and weight gain.
· Whole grains are fiber-rich helping to reduce blood cholesterol and risk of heart disease.
· Many are grown with lower levels of pesticides, fertilizers, and use less irrigation.
· Certain grains – amaranth, quinoa, and teff – are gluten-free making them safe to eat for people with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
· Ancient grains are good to excellent sources of fiber, protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and zinc along with various antioxidants.
Ancient grains to add to your diet
If you’re looking for food that is more natural and pure, ancient grains are a great place to start. These nutrition-rich alternatives to modern wheat are a nice change of pace. Ancient grains can be prepared for use in salads, soups, stews, (just boil as you would rice) and some like amaranth and teff can be cooked up and used as a hot cereal. There is even flour made from ancient grains that can be substituted for wheat flour, increasing the nutritional value of breads, muffins, and other baked goods.
Here are some ancient grains to try for yourself:
This gluten-free grain resembling fine couscous but with a crunchy, nutty taste, is an excellent source of calcium for a grain – about 60 milligrams in 4 ounces, cooked. Its high protein content – 13-14% - is much higher than most other grains. It also contains high amounts of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. In addition, it’s the only grain to contain vitamin C. Amaranth has seen a sales growth increase of 123%.
Farro, also known as emmer in the United States, is an ancient strain of wheat and is not gluten-free. Also nicknamed Pharaoh’s wheat, farro has a pleasing chewy, nutty taste. Italians use farro in soups and is said to make the best pasta. This ancient grain offers the highest amount of fiber and nutrients like vitamin B3 and zinc. Farro has experienced a sales growth increase of 39%.
The word freekeh meaning “to rub” refers to a harvesting process rather than an actual grain. The grain typically used is wheat (it is not gluten-free) where it is harvested when it is young, then is parched, roasted and rubbed off the grain. This process helps retain more of its nutrient content. Freekeh has a high fiber content making it an excellent choice for weight loss. It’s also rich in protein along with lutein and zeaxanthin, important in preventing age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Freekeh has seen a sales growth increase of 159%.
Kamut has a chewy, buttey flavor that is from a strain of wheat called Khorasan, making it not suitable for people with Celiac disease. Its protein content is about 30% higher than wheat and it has a higher percentage of lipids or fat. Studies have shown consuming kamut is associated with reductions in cholesterol, blood sugar levels, decreased inflammation, and reduced symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Kamut’s sales growth is extremely impressive at 686%.
One of the more popular and well-known grains around, quinoa was called the “mother of all grains” by the Incas due to its rich, high-quality protein content. Gluten-free, quinoa is a very good source of potassium and is easy to cook in about 15 minutes. It has a nutty flavor but it is recommended to rinse the seeds before cooking to prevent a bitter taste. Quinoa has had a continued sales growth increase at 35%.
Spelt dates back to over 7,000 years ago and was one of the first grains to be used for bread. Its light sweet, nutty flavor makes it a favorite along with its outstanding nutritional profile – high in protein, and is a good source of vitamin B6, iron, zinc and phosphorus. It is a cousin of wheat and is not gluten-free. Spelt’s sales growth increase is very strong at 363%.
Teff, also known as taff, originated in Ethiopia more than 2,500 years ago. This tiny grain similar in size to poppy seeds, can only be consumed as a whole grain since the germ and endosperm cannot be separated. This gluten-free grain is praised by Ethiopia’s long distance runners for giving them the energy for endurance. Teff, like amaranth, has one of the highest calcium contents of all grains at 60 mg in 4 ounces. Its slightly sweet molasses-like flavor is well-received and its high fiber content helps manage blood glucose, weight and colon health. Teff has had a strong sales growth increase of 58%.