Ancient grains. Sounds like something you stuck in the back of the fridge and forgot about. But that? not the case when discussing these newly rediscovered grains that are popping up all over the place in groceries stores and online. You can find them at specialty stores, gourmet shops and they come both as whole grain and flours. I can see the trend. More and more people are finding they are gluten intolerant and are seeking alternatives to the wheat route. Amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet and teff are free of gluten, so their popularity has soared among the gluten-free crowd, as well as people suffering from celiac disease. Well, due to this new trend of avoiding grains, the grocery stores are jumping on the “Ancient Grain” bandwagon and offering these alternatives to wheat (although some companies have been on that particular bandwagon forever). There is a company that makes a bread called Ezekiel 4:9 Bread, inspired by a list of grains in the Bible and it contains wheat, barley, rye, oats, millet, corn and rice.
But let’s set a few things straight about some of these so-called “grains.” Technically speaking, grains are not grains. They are grasses. Even wild rice isn’t technically a grain, it’s an aquatic grass. Kamut, spelt and wheat are all grains, but quinoa and amaranth are not. (Not to worry, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this, too.)
Still, the common term “grain” has stuck for all of them. I’m thinking that they’re referred to as grains due to the way we cook them. We make bread products out of them or, like oats, we cook them in water and serve it as a hot cereal.
And why are they called “ancient?” Well, they’ve been around for centuries, and with the onset of food processing, many of these grains ceased to be used in many food products.
So the amaranth you get is still the original product from eons ago. This is unlike corn and wheat which have been genetically modified to withstand harsh weather and transporting. Corn and wheat have also selectively bred them to taste differently as well as making a change in their appearance. You probably wouldn’t recognize corn as it was centuries ago. As I have travelled extensively, I can attest to this. The corn you are served in Ecuador doesn’t look like the corn you buy at your local Kroger’s. The kernels are fatter, it’s chewier and it seems to have more of a drier texture than the Kroger corn.
And they are supposed to be better for you. But the jury is still out on that one. Just because they’ve remained unchanged for centuries doesn’t necessarily make them any better for you.
Here’s why: they are what they are. The level of protein in hard red spring wheat is comparable to the the protein levels found in spelt and quinoa. So these “everything-old-is-new-again” grains will be about the same as they always were. So there is really nothing magical about them. They are just a nice alternative to have and anything you make from these whole grains has the same benefit of any whole grain.
One grain that isn’t mentioned much is rye. I’ve always liked rye toast. I find it crunchy, chewy and pretty tasty who made into a sandwich. However, rye bread has never really gone the way of these other grains because if you walk into any Jewish Delicatessen, you’ll find rye bread as an available alternative for your egg salad sandwich. And I’ve always liked the snappy addition of caraway seeds to be a nice touch to the bread.
The one piece of advice I can pass along to you is this: Read labels carefully. Some products contain some flour made from the ancient grains. That’s nice, but some contain the more nutrient-rich whole grains themselves. Only by reading the label will you know how much of the grain it actually contains. If it advertises ancient grains but the grain is waaaay down the list, they are only there to suck you in. They are only making an appearance. Food labels work “most to least” in the ingredients department. If the grain is way down on the list of ingredients there isn’t much of it in the product.
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