What Are Ancient Grains?

We read cereal boxes, snack labels, and hear about these “Ancient Grains” all over the place these days. But, what exactly are they? And, are they as good for us as these sources are claiming?

Ancient Grain Overview

There is a collection of unrefined whole grains that fit into this “ancient” category. Basically, these are grains whose roots trace back to before we kept track of time. Ancient grains have not been mutated, bred, refined, and have been left greatly unchanged over the centuries.

Many ancient civilizations such as the Greek, Egyptians, and the Aztecs used (and worshipped) these grains. The Incas considered quinoa sacred and actually named it “the mother of all grains.” Some say faro was mentioned in the Old Testament.

Not all ancient grains are gluten-free, but fortunately, most are.

Gluten-free grains include amaranth, buckwheat, chia seeds, freekeh, millet, and teff. (Oats, spelt, einkorn, faro, and Khorasan wheat “Kamut” contain gluten.)

Are Ancients Better?

It depends on how one defines better. If we’re discussing the environment, then the answer is yes, ancient grains are better. Many of them thrive with less fertilizer and irrigation, as well as lower levels of pesticides in comparison to the modern, hybrid, selectively-bred grains, like wheat.

Various health experts will debate whether ancient grains compose a healthier diet than other whole grains. Many nutritionists, however, assert that ancients provide more vitamin B, potassium, magnesium, iron, fiber, protein, and antioxidants.

The Grains, Legumes, and Nutrition Council, leading experts in this aspect of health, explains that all the whole grains are similar. However, some ancient grains are considered pseudo-cereal grains because they’re actually derived from plant seeds, and not prepared or use like “true” grains.

Are they healthier? At the very least, the benefits range from superior levels of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a high omega-3 content. They are also an excellent form of complex carbohydrates. For the benefits and list of complex carbs click here.

Quick Guide To Ancient Grains

1) Teff. GF (Gluten-free). It’s so tiny, it can’t be processed, which is great. One cup packs in over 100mg of calcium. It’s starch resistant, high in fiber, and can help if you’re trying to shed pounds.

2) Quinoa. GF. Can be prepared in a rice-cooker. Comes in red, black, or white, and can be eaten cold like a traditional pasta salad, or warm with veggies and a lean protein. Extremely nutritious.

3) Millet. GF. It’s rich in magnesium and used in many “bread” products. It also hydrates the colon. Comes in red, white, gray, and yellow whole. Can be used whole or crushed into flour.

4) Amaranth. GF. It’s high in protein and can be used in desserts like cookies and cakes.

5) Sorghum. GF. It grows and thrives without much water. It can be utilized from a flour or syrup base, and can be used to make bread, desserts, and even beer.

6) Freekeh. GF. It’s harvested young so it tends to provide high amounts of nutrients. It’s also low in sugar carbs.

Other ancient grains include spelt, faro (also called emmer), Khorasan (also known as Kamut), and Einkorn. Sometimes these too are considered ancient grains: black barley, buckwheat, blue corn, black rice, and wild rice. (Remember, these are not all gluten-free!)

Hope this brief article on ancient grains helped answer some of your questions about this mysterious-and-healthy, old-yet-trendy food. Check back with Get Thrive soon for some delicious recipes using ancient grains, along with other healthy food tips.