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Ancient Grains have had a significant resurgence in recent years. Their value to the modern diet lies mainly in their benefits for digestion, but their flavour and texture has also proven beneficial in salads, as rice and wheat grain substitutes and for wider use in baking. Below we outline the benefits and uses of three of the less common ancient grains.
Spelt was first cultivated in Western Europe around 4000BC. It is often confused with Farro but has a much firmer texture and takes much longer to cook. It is also a standalone grain in that it does not take up the flavour of other ingredients. Spelts application in recipes comes down to texture. It is an extremely firm grain that can be used in multigrain breads, added to salads and soups and incorporated into recipes where rice is traditionally used, but a firmer texture is preferred. Spelt is especially valued for its high protein content vs traditional bread wheat.
Farro or Emmer Wheat is considered the second oldest cultivated wheat grain. It was traditionally grown in warmer climates around the Mediterranean including Northern Africa, Italy and as far as the Eastern edge of the Ottoman Empire (modern day Iraq). It was superseded by Durrum Wheat at the beginning of the Roman Empire, but is still cultivated in parts of Europe. Farro is a much softer grain than spelt and is an excellent carriage of flavour. It also contains a higher percentage of protein. Farro can be used as a substitute for rice in risotto, a dish aptly named Farrotto. It can also be used in pilaf, as a pulse substitute and makes for a delightful replacement for pearl barley in soups.
Buckwheat, to spite its name, is neither cereal nor is it grain. It is in fact a herb that is more closely related to rhubarb. The edible part of buckwheat is the seed which when milled can be turned into everything from rice substitutes to porridge. It can be incorporated into soups to add bulk and a thicker texture and best of all is gluten free. Buckwheat is extremely nutrient rich consisting of 11% protein and 15% carbohydrate. It is an excellent carriage of flavour and is easy to cook reaching ideal texture in as little as 18 minutes.
Why are they called ‘Ancient Grains’?
A Note on Ancient Grains
Some 8000 years ago a common wheat variety emerged that today dominates wheat production worldwide. That variety is the common bread wheat which currently makes up 90% of global wheat supplies. However all the way up until the early 19th century it was grains like barley, bulgar, spelt, emmer and einkorn wheat that were the staple foods. It is these grains and many more that are categorized as ancient grains and each one can be traced back to the dawn of civilization and beyond.