What are ancient grains?
There isn’t any regulatory definition of what ancient grains or heritage grains are, but Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies at the Whole Grains Council, says that they are grains “that have come down to us largely intact, as opposed to grains that have been extensively modified and cross-bred more recently.”
Probably the most well-known of the ancient grains is quinoa, but millet, sorghum, amaranth, teff, freekeh, chia seeds, farro, spelt and Kamut also qualify as ancient grains. The ancient pedigree of these grains is noted in written history, for example, the Greeks and Romans offered spelt to the gods; Aztecs considered chia seeds worthy of tribute, and farro is noted in the Old Testament.
Why are they so special?
Ancient grains are considered special now because of their nutritional value. As Chris Chapman, a nutrition project officer with the Grains, Legumes and Nutrition Council, points out “they contain lots of essential vitamins, particularly B vitamins, minerals like magnesium and potassium, more amounts of iron and they also contain protective elements like fibres and antioxidants.” They also have high plant-based protein content and several of them – including quinoa, amaranth, teff, millet and sorghum – are gluten-free.
The following infographic summarizes the benefits of five important ancient grains.