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A Guide to Ancient Grains

Remember when whole grains weren’t mainstream? When they were available only in bulk at natural-food markets and eaten more for health reasons than for flavor? Times sure have changed. Thanks to newly “discovered” ancient grains like the now-ubiquitous quinoa, but also up-and-comers like freekeh and kamut, whole grains have never been more popular or accessible. While whole grains are still full of fiber, protein, and antioxidants, what gets more attention now is their nutty-sweet flavor and interesting textures. Whole grains contain three parts of the kernel: the bran, germ, and endosperm, and though there’s no official definition for “ancient” grains, the name implies the grain has not been tinkered with and so has remained the same over time.

  • Ingredient

    Teff

    Teff is the smallest grain in the world. Native to Africa and an integral part of Ethiopian cuisine (it’s used to make their national bread, injera), it can be white, red, and even purple. The most common variety is chocolate-brown. It’s a nutritional powerhouse, full of iron and protein, and a good source of fiber and calcium.

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  • Ingredient

    Farro

    Farro, an ancient Italian grain that’s nutty, nubby, and nutritious, has become popular with restaurant chefs and home cooks alike. It has a nutty flavor and a firm, chewy texture that resembles barley more than wheat. Italians put farro in soups, salads, and stuffings.

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  • Ingredient

    Freekeh

    Freekeh, a roasted young (green) wheat, is an ancient grain gaining in modern popularity.

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  • Ingredient

    Chinese Black Rice

    Known as “forbidden” rice because it was originally served only to the emperors of ancient China and forbidden to their subjects, this unmilled, medium-grain rice comes from northern China’s Zhejiang province.

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  • Wheat Berries
    Ingredient

    Wheatberries

    Whole wheatberries have a nutty flavor and resilient texture that many people adore.

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  • Ingredient

    Amaranth

    The tiny, gold, black-flecked seeds of the amaranth plant are an ancient food. At one time sacred to the Aztecs, amaranth has been cultivated for millennia in Central and South America. It’s very high in protein, calcium, and fiber. Amaranth is grassy, herbal, and slightly peppery. The seeds have a pleasing crunchy texture.

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  • Ingredient

    Barley

    Barley is probably the oldest grain on the planet. It has a mild sweetness and, when cooked properly, a chewy but tender texture. Barley soup is standard diner fare, but this grain is also an excellent candidate for a creamy risotto or a simple pilaf.

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  • Ingredient

    Millet

    A small, round, yellow grain, millet is eaten daily in Africa and in its native Asia. Until recently, Americans used millet only as bird feed. It’s an excellent plant protein, rich in iron, B vitamins, and several minerals. Millet has a mild, creamy flavor.

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  • Ingredient

    Kamut

    Pronounced “ka-moot,” this ancient strain of wheat has large, golden kernels, a buttery flavor, and a toothsome bite.

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  • Quinoa
    Ingredient

    Quinoa

    This South American grain is a nutritional powerhouse.

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