Firstly, what are ancient grains? Because the words themselves don’t do them any justice. Ancient usually means old and grains are food. Old food. We can understand why most people are put off straight away. But really, the word ancient has many connotations. If we are talking antiques, then ancient is great! But food, not so much. Well, let us help dispel those thoughts and make ancient grains something that you want to understand and even try for yourself.
Whilst an official definition of ancient grains is actually elusive, in layman’s terms it refers to grains that have not changed over time, and by time we are talking ‘centuries’. The Neolithic Revolution, back in 10,000 BC, was a period when hunter/gatherers moved from just hunting meat to farming the land. Ancient grains back then were more than just a food with medicinal properties. The Aztecs worshipped them and in fact the ‘Amaranth’ grain they considered sacred, and farro grains are even mentioned in the Old Testament.
But back to modern times, some of the ancient grains are ones you may already have heard of such as millet, barley, buckwheat, chia and quinoa. Quinoa in fact has grown in popularity over the last decade and people now regularly consume it as an alternative to rice. Chia is another popular grain – especially great for adding bulk to your diet and making you feel full. You can add its little seeds to your breakfast yoghurt or blend a tablespoon in a smoothie. Any good health food shop will stock these products and if you are a regular visitor you will be quite familiar with them. However, there are some odd ones out there that may have you wondering just what they are, how to pronounce them and exactly how to use them!
This blog is to help you get those answers, because it can be mind-boggling when you are just trying to be the healthiest version of yourself. Merely attempting to navigate and understand your way around a health food aisle is like trying to drive down a dark unlit road at night wearing sunglasses. So hopefully these definitions of the most popular ancient grains will help.
This variety of wholegrain wheat was discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs. It’s healthier than conventional wheat, with 30% more protein, and more fatty acids (which are good). It helps decrease gut inflammation due to its antioxidant benefits. You can use it in either soups, salads, stir-fries or even baking.
Pronounced ‘free-kah’ it is a greenish cereal made from wheat. It is great with easing constipation and diarrhoea and is also rich in minerals and a fabulous source of protein. Due to it helping you feel fuller for longer, it also aids with weight loss. Freekeh can be part of sweet or savoury dishes. You can make it as a hot breakfast cereal, add it to soups, or even use it to make waffles.
Whilst sorghum is the name given for a variety of grasses, there is only one harvested for humans to consume. It is an extremely powerful grain in relation to health, with one serving equivalent to half your daily recommended requirement of fibre. It also helps with circulation and controlling blood sugar levels. Sorghum is often cooked as a porridge and is good for those who are gluten intolerant.
These are tiny yellow seeds which can be steamed like you would rice, or used as a salad ingredient with other grains and seeds. As millet is high in magnesium, it can aid in heart health and help to regulate muscle and nerve function. It can be eaten as a porridge, made into a cous-cous or used in baking cakes for a richer taste.
Amaranth looks a bit like bird seed; tiny white/yellow balls. In its grain form, amaranth can be eaten like oatmeal, or tossed with vegetables or through a salad. You can even use it to coat a meat of your choice, often fish or chicken. If used as a flour, it’s great for pizza dough or gluten free bread. It is high in protein, calcium, iron, potassium and fibre.
Teff is a grain originating from Ethiopia. It may look small (like little poppy seeds) but packs a big punch. Like chia, it can make you feel fuller for longer, therefore aiding and supporting weight loss. It can be ground into a flour or cooked like polenta. It is a great source of iron and is considered “a runner’s superfood.”
Farro is considered “the mother of all wheat” and was a part of the staple daily diet of ancient romans. It has a nutty taste and chewy texture and is rich in protein. It complements dishes like risotto.
There are some nutritionists who believe that modern day grains are just as rich in health benefits as their ancient counterparts and this is a debate that is likely to continue for a while. Needless to say, whether it be modern varieties or ancient ones, they are going to be more beneficial than adding anything sweet and processed to your diet, let’s be fair! So rather than get confused and spend time trying to figure out which one you should buy, just commend yourself on the fact that you are choosing to go outside (your comfort zone) to do something good for your inside!