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article imageDiscover what's so special about 'ancient grains'

By Karen Graham     Dec 19, 2014 in Food
The American food market has gone ga-ga over so-called "ancient grains" the last few years, so much so that one cereal maker has even taken its marketing to a new level. Is this only a fad, or will these old grains become part of the world's diet?
According to many nutritionists, ancient grains are making a comeback. Many have been around for thousands of years, some of them ancient strains of the familiar wheat we all eat today. But interestingly, the biggest advantage these ancient grains have over grains we grow today is that in most cases, they are gluten-free, and supposedly not genetically modified.
Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutritional strategies at the non-profit organization, the Whole Grain Council, told the BBC "It's been a positive perfect storm for these ancient grains. They fit with our desire to look for a super-food, a magic bullet we should be eating." And she is probably right because the Internet is inundated with websites detailing what constitutes the perfect diet.
But what is the fascination with eating something the archaeologists discovered in King Tutankhamun's tomb? No one really knows who thought up the term, "ancient grains," But the term does add a certain air of mystery to them. Even Maria Speck, author of the cookbook "Ancient Grains for Modern Meals" admits it would be better to call them "whole grains."
Ancient grains are the opposite of modern wheat
At least it is the perception people have about modern wheat and ancient grains. Actually, modern wheat is descended from three ancient strains of wheat, spelt, einkorn and emmer, and is very heavily refined. And of course, the wheat we use today is genetically modified and unrecognizable from its original form.
Grains such as sorghum, teff, millet, buckwheat, chia, kamut, bulgar and amaranth are all making a comeback today. Some, most people will recognize, like millet, Bulgar and buckwheat. And because they are unprocessed, they contain more vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein, making them better for us. Let's look at a few of these "ancient grains."
Teff is widely grown in Ethiopia.
Teff is widely grown in Ethiopia.
Unknown
Teff is the main source of nutrition for over two-thirds the people of Ethiopia. The sweet, molasses-like flavor, and the fact that it is virtually gluten-free is making it a very popular choice for many consumers in America. The grains are 1/150th the size of a wheat kernel, and the grains are easy to grow as well as being nutritious.
Ripe head of proso millet.
Ripe head of proso millet.
Kurt Stuber
Millet is most familiar to us as an ingredient in wild bird seed. But it is commonly eaten in India, China, South America, Russia and the Himalayas. It has a mild flavor and is often mixed with other grains. It is gluten-free and has antioxidant properties.
Chia is native to southern Mexico and Guatemala.
Chia is native to southern Mexico and Guatemala.
Dick Culbert/Gibsons, B.C., Canada
Chia is an interesting plant. It a member of the mint family, native to Mexico and Guatemala. It is believed to have been cultivated by the Aztec in pre-Columbian times and was as important a crop to them as maize. It has so many positive nutritional benefits there isn't enough space to do the grain justice.
Kamut is grown by a co-op of farmers in Montana  Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Kamut is grown by a co-op of farmers in Montana, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
POM
Kamut is very high in protein and has a high percentage of lipids. It is grown as an ancient Khorasan wheat variety and is used to market grains with a certified protein level between 12 and 18 percent. Consumption of this grain has been found to reduce cholesterol and blood-sugar levels.
Amaranth has been cultivated for nearly 8 000 years after it was first discovered in Mesoamerica.
Amaranth has been cultivated for nearly 8,000 years after it was first discovered in Mesoamerica.
Kurt Stuber
Amaranth is a truly remarkable plant, but it is not really a grain. Not only can the pseudo-grain be eaten, but the leaves and stems as well. Three amaranth grains are still grown today, in Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru, as well as India, China, Nepal, and other tropical countries. Amaranth seed has 30 percent more protein than rice, sorghum or rye. In China, the leaves and stems are stir-fried or used in soups.
More about ancient grains, King tut, Glutenfree, trendy, superfood
 
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