Ancient grains are a term used to describe a category of grains and pseudocereals that are purported to have been minimally changed by selective breeding over recent millennia, as opposed to more widespread cereals such as corn, rice and modern varieties of wheat, which are the product of thousands of years of selective breeding.
This means that modern wheat (constantly bred and changed) is not an ancient grain, while einkorn, emmer/farro, Kamut®, and spelt would be considered ancient grains in the wheat family. Heirloom varieties of other common grains — such as black barley, brown, red and black rice, blue corn — are also considered ancient grains. Other grains largely ignored until recently by Western palates (such as sorghum, teﬀ, millet, quinoa, amaranth) would also be widely considered to be ancient grains. Sometimes less-common grains like buckwheat, or wild rice, are also included.
An ancient grain hasn’t been refined like white rice, white bread, or white flour; thus, they tend to be higher in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and zinc because they haven’t been stripped. They’re also a good source of fiber. Like other whole grains, they’re absorbed into the body more slowly because of their fiber content, which helps regulate spikes in blood sugar. This is particularly important for those with diabetes or other chronic conditions. These types of grains also aid in digestion and the production of certain fatty-acid binding proteins. Millet in particular is rich in magnesium, which strengthens bones, and sorghum helps to lower cholesterol and promote heart health.
Quinoa is a very hearty grain, so you can use it instead of meat in a vegetarian chili. Like many of the ancient grains, it’s also a great base for salads. Farro, with its chewy texture, can be used to make risotto. Chia is an interesting one because it absorbs water and becomes somewhat gelatinous. You can put it in smoothies, yogurt, or tea. It can also be used as a binder in certain baked goods. Lots of Mediterranean and Indian dishes incorporate ancient grains, too.
You can enjoy the delicious benefits of this superfood group by trying the ancient grain recipe below for yourself.
Yield: 10 servings
- 2 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed in a fine-mesh colander
- 4 cup water
- 2 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained, or 3 cup cooked chickpeas
- 2 medium cucumbers, seeded and chopped
- 2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 ½ cup chopped red onion (from 2 small red onion)
- 2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (from 2 large bunch)
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup lemon juice (from 4 to 6 lemons)
- 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- To cook the quinoa: Combine the rinsed quinoa and the water in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then decrease the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, until the quinoa has absorbed all of the water, about 15 minutes, reducing heat as time goes on to maintain a gentle simmer. Remove from heat, cover, and let the quinoa rest for 5 minutes, to give it time to fluff up.
- In a large serving bowl, combine the chickpeas, cucumber, bell pepper, onion and parsley. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic and salt. Whisk until blended, then set aside.
- Once the quinoa is mostly cool, add it to the serving bowl, and drizzle the dressing on top. Toss until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Season with black pepper, to taste, and add an extra pinch of salt if necessary. For best flavor, let the salad rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
- This salad keeps well in the refrigerator, covered, for about 4 days. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
- Garnish with olive oil, lemon zest and chopped herbs.