Most of us are familiar with whole grains such as oats, corn and rice. But have you heard of farro, spelt, or bulgur? Ever tasted buckwheat or amaranth?
If not, you are missing out on delicious flavors as well as healthy nutrients.
Ancient grains are making a comeback. Other ancient grains gaining popularity include barley, millet, quinoa, teff, kamut and rye. As the name implies, ancient grains are, well, ancient! They have been in existence for thousands of years and were the staple foods of ancient civilizations such as the Incas and Egyptians. Millet, for example, originated in East Asia 10,000 years ago. Barley, considered by some to be the most important grain of ancient civilizations, was cultivated as early as 8000 B.C. Burned rice grains discovered in Korea, have been dated back 15,000 years! Compare these to oats, familiar to all of us, which date from a more recent 1000 B.C. Let’s face it, in my book, all grains are ancient.
All whole grains are packed with flavor and texture. Brown rice is slightly chewy. Delicately nutty farro is great in everything from salad to risotto to soup. Barley has a slight sweetness and makes a wonderful hot cereal. Amaranth and sorghum can be popped and are traditionally eaten as a snack in India and South America.
If tastiness and versatility aren’t reasons enough to add ancient grains to your diet, here’s another bonus. Ancient grains are nutritional powerhouses. Whether in the form of flour or the whole kernel, berry, or seed, they are packed full of fiber, antioxidants, protein, minerals like iron and magnesium, and vitamins like B and E. Research shows that incorporating whole grains into your daily diet can protect against heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke and cancer. Because whole grains are packed with fiber, they are filling and keep you feeling satisfied for a longer time, thus helping with weight management.
Amaranth, quinoa, millet, teff, and buckwheat (despite its name) are gluten-free. So are oats and corn if processed separately from wheat products. These are friendly grains for those with gluten sensitivities.
I’ve incorporated whole grains into my families’ diet for years with delightful results. Ancient grains have added even more deliciousness. What could be better for breakfast than a stack of buckwheat blueberry pancakes? Topped with real maple syrup or a simple fruit compote, they are divine. A creamy risotto made with farro, mushrooms and peas is a comfort food that warms the soul on a rainy evening. Tabouli salad made with bulgur is a family favorite, especially during the summer, when garden-fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley and mint are tossed with the nutty tasty grain. Paired with grilled lamb chops, sausages, or fish, it’s a dish to savor.
Give ancient grains a try. I guarantee you’ll be amazed.
The Douglas County Master Food Preservers winter classes, beginning in January, cover the topics of ancient grains, homemade pasta, gumbo making, and Greek cooking. For more information and to register for classes, visit the Douglas County Oregon State University Extension Service website, extension.oregonstate.edu/douglas, or call the OSU Extension office at 541-672-4461.
Diana Pierce is a volunteer Master Food Preserver for the Oregon State University Extension Service of Douglas County. Questions about this column can be answered at 541-672-4461.