“A grain of poetry suffices to season a century.” – (Jose Marti)
Now that we’ve been introduced, let’s jump straight into it, shall we?
Over the next couple of weeks, we will travel to several continents unveiling the secrets behind the ancient grainsmaking a healthy comeback into our pantries: Quinoa, Freekheh, Spelt, Amaranth and Farro.
From the Incas to the Roman legions, across the middle-east and the rugged mountains of Italy, ancient grains have long been a staple part of a healthy diet and a nutritional resource we have just begun rediscovering.
Often described as super-foods, these grains pack a serious punch in terms of nutritional value but being good for your health isn’t enough, food should also taste good. Easily prepared, these grains can be used in sweet or savory dishes, in salads or casseroles, popped like corn or puffed like cereal, adding a light nutty flavor and a slightly crunchy texture to your favourite winter and summer recipes.
We’ll start by giving an overview of the different types of grains we find especially interesting. This is the part about understanding why they are so good for you and we’ll follow up shortly with recipes and preparation tips to make sure your taste buds aren’t feeling left out.
A small seed available in several varieties (white, red or black) with a slightly crunchy texture and nutty flavor ideal as a substitute for rice or couscous.
Referred to as the ‘Mother of all grains” by the Incas, this grain-like seed has long been a staple of the Andean region diet (about 4000 years), despite being relatively unknown in the Western world.
Quinoa might be small but it certainly packs a punch. The seed of a leafy green plant related to spinach and silver-beet, it is considered a ‘complete protein’, containing all nine of the essential amino-acids. It has a high protein content (18%) and is a great source of dietary fiber, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. Quinoa naturally contains calcium, making it a good addition to a vegan or lactose-intolerant diet and is gluten free, making it safe and easy to digest.
A whole grain harvested before maturity and smoked resulting in a distinctive smoky flavor and a nutty toasted taste. Prepared similarly to rice.
Freekeh is not a type of grain but rather a process undergone by the young buckwheat grain. Picked before maturity, the grains are traditionally piled and carefully lit on fire, letting the straw and chaff burn while keeping the seed intact. The chaff is then rubbed off to reveal a soft green grain. This roasting and rubbing process is what defines ‘Freekeh’ which is widely used throughout the Middle-East.
The process undergone by the wheat results in great nutritional values, essentially capturing the grains at their peak in terms of nutrition and taste. Freekeh is low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. It has a low glycaemic index assisting in the prevention and management of diabetes. It has a high protein content and is a good source of calcium and iron.
A crunchy nutty grain which can be used as a substitute for rice, pasta or couscous in a variety of dishes.
A primitive form of wheat originating in Europe, spelt was once the wheat of choice to make bread, about 9000 years ago. As farming techniques developed, the more common wheat for bread took over, as it produced greater yields. As a result of being largely tossed aside, spelt has hardly changed at all in thousands of years and retains its genetic authenticity.
Spelt flour can essentially become a substitute for anything wheat might be used for, however, it has a much higher protein content (17%) and contains 8 essential amino-acids, making it a complete protein. Spelt has alow glycaemic index (30), is an excellent source of fiber with large amounts of B complex vitamins and is very easily digestible, making all of its nutrients easily available to the entire organism. Spelt contains small amounts of gluten, making it unsuitable for coeliacs however it is a better alternative to wheat for people experiencing sensitivity. As a grain, spelt can be used as a substitute for rice, pasta or couscous in a wide variety of recipes: risottos, casseroles, soups, salads etc…
Sold as a seed, flour or puffed cereal, amaranth has a nutty toasted flavor.
Amaranth seed is raised from amaranth grain, mostly cultivated in South America and Asia. Before the conquest, amaranth seed is thought to have represented about 80% of the indigenous population’s calorie consumption. Today, it is cultivated on a small scale in Mexico, Guatemala and Peru, as well as in India, China and Nepal. Amaranth is gaining in popularity due to it’s ease of preparation, gluten-free properties and specific protein content.
Amaranth is a good source of protein as it contains an unusually high amount of Lysine, an essential amino-acid often lacking in other grains and cereals. It contains about 30 percent more protein than grains like rice, sorghum and rye, and is very easy to cook. Amaranth is gluten-free, ideal for coeliacs.
A chewy grain, delicate in texture, which tastes similar to barley. Ideal for a wide variety of recipes and for baking.
Farro is credited for fueling the Roman Legions and is still considered a staple crop in some regions of Italy, albeit mostly poor and rugged areas. In recent years, farro has gone from being a poor man’s food to gracing the tables of some of the finest restaurants in the world. However, there is a lot of confusion surrounding this grain and it is often mistaken for spelt. While the grains look very similar, they are in fact quite different. Most notably, farro is known for its chewy texture which remains even after long hours of cooking, unlike rice or spelt which eventually become soft. Farro is closest in taste and texture to barley.
In addition to vitamin B and E, farro is a great source of magnesium, a natural muscle relaxant important in avoiding cramps. It is also rich in fiber, is easily digested and is so low in gluten that it can be tolerated by people with an intolerance. As a flour, farro can be used to make bread or pasta.
Visit the blog over the next few weeks for recipes and tips on how to use these grains. And why not share your own recipes or questions with us and the other readers?