Not everything old should be new again, but ancient grains definitely deserve a spot in the modern kitchen. Also known as heritage or heirloom grains, ancient grains are a group of seeds and grains beloved for their history, nutrition and absence of genetic modification. As a group they are versatile, rich in minerals, fiber and antioxidants and vitamins. Some ancient grains are also low in gluten or gluten-f ree. And some, like amaranth, black barley and chia seeds, are also high in protein, making it easy to reduce or eliminate animal protein from the diet. Experimenting with ancient grains will bring an array of flavors and textures to your favorite dishes. Though the size, shape, color and nutritional value of each grain differs, one thing they all have in common is simple, healthy nutrition they way nature intended food to be.
Chia seeds were a prized food source for ancient Mayan and Aztec peoples. Recently, chia seeds have climbed the top of the super-foods chart thanks to their energy-enhancing nutrition. Chia seeds provide a complete protein, are high in dietary fiber and are rich source of antioxidants and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Their light nutty taste work well in smoothies and puddings, to top a salad or add extra nutrition to baked goods. And if you ever had a Chia Pet, you know they’re also great for sprouting!
It sounds like a villain’s name in a spoof of an old western move, but black barley is a nutritional hero. Originating from the Nile River Valley thousands of years ago, this heirloom grain contains important beta glucans to fight cholesterol and it provides a whopping 15% protein per serving. Not perfectly named, black barley is actually a purplish-blue in color and offers many of the same benefits as similarly colored foods like blueberries and red grapes.
Farro is a type of wheat more ancient than the pyramids. In fact, caches of this grain have been found in the tombs of Egyptian kings. The term is a catchall for three types of grain known as einkorn (the smallest), emmer (medium sized) and spelt, (the largest variety). These three are often referred to as the ancestors of modern wheat. Farro is lower in gluten than modern wheat and high in protein—higher than quinoa or brown rice. Emmer farro is often used as an Arborio rice substitute since it is roughly the same shape and size. Try farro as a breakfast cereal, in soups or grind your own farro flour for baking.
These three examples represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ancient grains. There are so many kinds to try and enjoy, you may never go back to plain old rice again.
*Much of this information was sourced from the Kandarian Organic Farms website, a local grower of organic, ancient grains.
Kandarian Organic Farms products are harvested in Los Osos and can be found in most local health food stores. The next time you’re driving down Los Osos Valley Rd take notice as the fields change color and imagine what’s growing there.
At Kandarian Organic Farms the cycle never ends. Sowing and harvesting is constant. They provide a much desired product, an old but new trend, growing right before our eyes, making it available to the world.
The final comments were added by Sandra Marshall who took two tours of the farm with Larry Kandarian, a bountiful source of knowledge with endless energy.