Ancient grains may be called like that, but some of them are, in fact, just grains, while others are pseudo-cereals. Buuut - they all are considered very healthy. And can be also very tasty if you know how to cook them.
The Inca people used quinoa in their religious ceremonies around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, because the plant was considered sacred. They called it ‘chisoya mama’, which means ‘mother of all grains’. Amaranth was also considered sacred by the Aztecs and was used in religious ceremonies. Both are what we now call now ancient grains.
Ancient grains are grains and pseudo-cereals considered to have not changed in time, by selective breeding, according to scientists. In contrast, widespread cereals such as corn, rice, and modern varieties of wheat, are the result of thousands of years of selective breeding.
Until 1996, not many people paid attention to the ancient grains. But ever since then, when the New York Daily News made its first reference to ancient grains as a healthy food, everybody has become interested. Now, ancient grains are en vogue and marketed as healthier than modern grains. And, thanks to the hype, everybody wants to try them.
Some people stick to them, often using quinoa and amaranth in their diets. Other say ancient grains are not very tasty on their own. But to like them, you need to know how to combine them with other foods, so the result becomes tastier.
According to Wikipedia, ancient grains include the grains spelt, Kamut, millet, barley, teff, oats, freekeh, bulgur, sorghum, Farro, einkorn, and emmer; and the pseudo-cereals quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and chia seeds. We chose the most popular 5 popular ancient grains. Stay close to learn how to use them to enhance their taste.
5 ancient grains and how to eat them
Quinoa comes to us from the Andes, where it has long been cultivated by the Inca. It’s a small and light-colored round grain, but some varieties are red, purple, and black. According to the Whole Grains Council (which is a nonproﬁt consumer advocacy group in the USA working to increase consumption of whole grains for better health) quinoa contains complete protein and all the essential amino acids our bodies can’t make on their own. That’s why it’s a good source of protein, especially for vegans. It’s a pseudo-cereal, same as amaranth and buckwheat.
How to cook quinoa
Quinoa cooks in about 10-12 minutes. It has to be simmered in a double quantity of salty water, creating a light, ﬂuﬀy side dish. Before cooking it, rinse it to remove its bitter flavor. It’s even tastier if you cook it in broth instead of water, and you add a bay leaf.
You can eat it as a side for shrimp, fish, or grilled halloumi. Add it to omeletes or use it to stuff vegetables such as zucchini, butternut squash, or tomatoes. Quinoa can be also used in casseroles, breakfast porridges, salads, soups, and desserts like chocolate pudding, chocolate chip cookies, brownies.
You can even make quinoa burgers by mixing cooked quinoa with mushrooms, beaten egg, cheese, crushed pecan nuts, oats, and soy sauce. Of course, this is only one example!
It’s thought that amaranth represented up to 80 percent of the Aztecs energy food source before the Spanish conquest. After the Spanish conquest, cultivation of amaranth was outlawed and revived in the 1970s.
Amaranth kernels are tiny and, when cooked, they resemble brown caviar. This pseudo-cereal is gluten-free and has a higher level of protein compared to most other grains. It’s also high in fiber and amino acids. Cooked, it has an earthy, nutty, and peppery flavor.
How to cook amaranth
In South America, amaranth is often sold on the streets, popped like corn. But this isn’t the only thing you can do with it. Amaranth can be roasted, popped, boiled, and added to other dishes.
Simmer it and it’s ideal for porridges, combined with honey, nuts, or fruit. You should use a ratio of 1 to 3 amaranth to water, and simmer it for 20 minutes.
Add it to soups, salads, combine it with veggies and stuff some bell peppers with it, add it to scrambled eggs or fritters. You can use it in breads, muﬃns, crackers, and pancakes, if you mix it with wheat – because, having no gluten means it won’t rise your dough enough. You can also use amaranth to make gluten-free crackers.
Common buckwheat was domesticated and first cultivated in inland Southeast Asia, possibly around 6000 BC. Then, spread to Central Asia and Tibet, and then to the Middle East and Europe.
Buckwheat looks, acts and tastes like a grain, but it’s not. It’s a pseudo-cereal that has high levels of a rare antioxidant called rutin and more fiber than even oatmeal. Studies show that it improves circulation and prevents LDL cholesterol from blocking blood vessels, says Wholegrainscouncil.org. It’s also gluten-free and that makes it perfect for people who have celiac disease.
It has a nutty flavor and it’s versatile in cooking. Because of its strong taste, most people use it in moderation.
How to cook buckwheat
If you ate soba noodles, but think you’ve never tasted buckwheat, you’re wrong. Because that’s what soba noodles are made with.
It is recommended to soak buckwheat overnight because of its hard texture - 1 cup of buckwheat requires a triple amount of water. If it’s not soft enough for you, the next day you can drain and rinse it well, then boil it in 1/4 - 1/2 cup of veggie stock or water. Use it in salads, porridges, to replace rice in ‘risotto’ recipes, add it to meat casseroles or stews.
You can also toast it in a skillet with some butter, and then make a salad out of it. Or add it to your homemade granola.
If you’re on a gluten-free diet, you can count on buckwheat flour for baking goods or making pancakes, waffles, or crepes.
Millet refers to a group of cereals. The most widely grown is pearl millet. Millet has been an important food staple in human history, particularly in Asia and Africa. These cereals have been cultivated in East Asia for the last 10,000 years.
It’s a gluten-free whole grain, high in protein and antioxidants, that tastes like sweet corn.
How to cook millet
Millet is a versatile cereal. If you want a fluffy side dish, cook 1 cup of millet in 2 cups of water. If you want to make a creamier porridge, increase the water quantity to 3 cups. The cooking time is about 30 minutes, but keep an eye on it while on the stove.
So, you can use it to make porridges, side dishes, salads, desserts, ﬂatbreads (ground and used as ﬂour), and even alcoholic beverages (fermented). If you don’t want to eat corn, replace it with millet and make polenta. Combine it with meat, eggs, veggies, and fruits to make it tastier.
Oat is a cereal that appeared relatively late, in Bronze Age Europe. According to Glutenfreesociety.org, oats aren’t completely gluten free, but they have a very small amount of gluten, compared to wheat. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity report less negative reactions when consuming oats.
Most commonly, oats can be found as rolled oats or oatmeal, which means flat flakes of oats. They can also be ground into fine oat flour. In the U.S., most oats are steamed and ﬂattened to produce regular oats, quick oats, and instant oats. Oats have a mild sweet ﬂavor that makes them perfect for breakfast cereals.
How to cook oats
Oats are perfect for porridges. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and add 1/2 cup of oatmeal. Cook until they reach the desired texture, then add your favorite toppings. Oats may also be used in baked goods, such as oatcakes, oatmeal cookies, and oat bread. You can also make homemade granola with them.
But don’t use oats exclusively in sweet dishes. You can make savory meals if you cook them like you do rice. You can make curry oatmeal or combine them with sautéed mushrooms, onions, spinach, eggs, tofu, or cheese. They’re delicious in the right combo!
You can also read How to Eat Like a Nutritionist and Make Your Meals Exciting.