You know quinoa from superfood salads, popped amaranth as delicious bowl topping and you regularly mix spelt flakes into your porridge? If so, you already have a few (pseudo)cereals on your menu.
- What are ancient grains?
- Types of ancient grains
- Are ancient grains healthier than other types of grains?
- How can I add ancient grains to my diet?
Ancient grains not only provide more variety on the plate or in the bowl, but are also packed with important nutrients and minerals. The forgotten grains are not only the perfect fit for your muesli, but also for cooking and baking. Reason enough to probe the old grains.
What are ancient grains?
You can use quinoa, buckwheat or amaranth to create delicious dishes such as porridge, bread or risotto. They are similar to classic cereals in the way they are prepared, but they belong to a completely different plant family and are therefore called pseudocereals. Some species have earned a place in our list not only because of their nutritional content (lots of protein and fiber). Indeed, quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat also have a long history as delicious and healthy foods.
History of the ancient cereal
The first finding of ancient grain date back to around 8,200 BC. In the Near East, people mainly cultivated amelcorn and one-grained wheat. From there, the precursors of today's cereals spread to many parts of Europe.
But because ancient grains yield less than wheat or rye, emmer, einkorn and so on became less important from the Middle Ages on.
In recent years, organic farmers have rediscovered the benefits of these ancient grains. Since the organic boom of the 1970s consumers also appreciate the rediscovered ancient grain in form of whole grain flour or bread, grains and flakes.
Different Types of Ancient Grains
In this table you will get an overview of the most popular types of primal grains, their origin, their main characteristics and tips on how to use them.
|Type of (pseudo)cereals
|Origin and History
|Taste + Useage
|predominant in the Bronze Age, later replaced by spelt
|high amount of carotenoids and lutein
predominant in the 10th century, first cultivated type of grain
good source of potassium, calcium and vitamin E
|very intense, slightly spicy, also suitable for stews or pattys
|already grown in ancient Egypt and by the Celts
|good source of protein and zinc
|good replacement for wheat or rye for all kinds of bakery products
|includes several different genera
|gluten-free, rich in protein, lysine and essential fatty acids
|millet flakes for flour or cooked grains as porridge, popular substitute for rice, do not eat raw!
|discovered in the 17th century as immature spelt
|longer shelf life
|spicy and aromatic, good for stews or as pattys
|over 6,000 years old, probably originates from Central Asia
|rich in magnesium (up to 30% more than other whole grain products), as well as in zinc, selenium and phosphorus
|slightly nutty, often used as an admixture in original grain breads
|together with emmer, one of the oldest cereals, widely grown in Europe in the 10th century
|rich in carbohydrates, iron and beta-glucan
|ingredient for soups, stews or as flakes, for beer production, as feed for animals
|originates from China, cultivated in Europe since the Middle Ages
|gluten-free, high in carbohydrates and protein, potassium, magnesium and B vitamins
|whole grains are processed like rice, briefly fried as topping, as flour for baking
|Cultivated by the Incas for about 5,000 years
|gluten-free, plant-based source of protein and minerals
|Preparation similar to rice, as a side dish, for pattys
|already cultivated in Mexico about 9,000 years ago
|gluten-free, high amount of iron, essential amino acids (lysine) and antioxidants
|slightly nutty, puffed as topping or in granola, cooked as side dish, flour better as admixture
Are ancient grains healthier than other types of grains?
Ancient grains are considered to be easier to digest and more nutritious than other cereals. Especially the widespread wheat is a thorn in the side of many with regard to healthy nutrition. We took a look at how well or poorly it actually compares with the highly praised ancient grains.
Ancient grain vs. wheat: nutritional values in comparison
A look at the macronutrients reveals: whole grain wheat is often on par with amelcorn, spelt and Co.
In terms of trace elements and minerals such as iron, magnesium or zinc spelt is a nose ahead compared to wheat.
Tip (not only) for athletes: Spelt contains more protein and essential amino acids than wheat. Essential amino acids are involved in many metabolic processes and are considered as building blocks for proteins. However, the body cannot form them itself, but must absorb them through food.
As you can see, contrary to its bad reputation, wheat is comparable to ancient grains. However, it's important that you go for organic quality and reach for whole grain products. Of course, the white toast bread from the supermarket can't compete with a gently prepared whole-grain bread from the small organic bakery next door.
As always in terms of healthy eating keep in mind: the mixture is king! Try to incorporate as many different foods as possible into your daily breakfast routine.
Are ancient grains easier to digest?
A study by researchers at the University of Hohenheim found that the production of baked goods has a greater influence on their digestibility than the type of grain which is used. Baked goods made from ancient grains are often offered in organic bakeries that rely on traditional baking methods and whole grain flour. Thus, the dough often gets more time before it is further processed. The longer fermenting time can reduce the amount of short-chain carbohydrates that increase irritable bowel symptoms such as flatulence, diarrhea or cramps.
Which type of grains suits you best is very individual.
What are the benefits of ancient grains?
Digestibility Products made from ancient grains are a good and healthy alternative to industrially produced bakery products.
Nutrient richness: The variety of ancient cereals offers a colorful mix of valuable vitamins and trace elements that you should integrate into your diet.
Intense Taste: Some ancient grains have a very intense flavor that will enhance your cooking and baking skills. Amelcorn, for example, tastes particularly hearty and nutty, while the gently nutty flavor of kamut enriches bread and rolls in particular.
Environment and biodiversity: Anceint grains require fewer nutrients, do not leach the soil as much, and promote biodiversity.
Local farming: If you choose cereals such as emmer, spelt or einkorn, you can obtain them from local farming in Germany, Austria or Switzerland.
Are ancient grains free from gluten?
No. Although there is evidence that einkorn is less toxic to celiac patients than conventional wheat, ancient grains are not gluten-free.
If you suffer from celiac disease, an intolerance or simply want to consume less gluten, you should rely on pseudocereals such as quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat or rice.
How can I add ancient grains to my diet?
Do you want to eat a more balanced diet and find yourself always ending up with the same foods in your shopping basket? We have a simple recipe with just a few ingredients for a blackberry cobbler with spelt cinnamon crunch that you can enjoy as a delicious dessert or sweet breakfast.
7 ideas on how to use ancient grains
Base for Porridge: You prepare your daily Porridge with oat flakes? Just use flakes from spelt or millet instead. You can also conjure up a delicious breakfast porridge from quinoa, amaranth or buckwheat. If you don't feel like cooking grains or flakes for a long time, our hot bowls with whole spelt semolina are a good choice for you. Just boil them briefly, garnish with fresh fruit and enjoy!
Toppings: Popped amaranth or toasted buckwheat are a delicious change of pace to add to your smoothie bowls or hot breakfast.
For baking: Mix Emmer flour easily with spelt flour to a delicious ancient grain bread. Many of the ancient grains are also suitable for sweet dishes. You can prepare pancakes or waffles even with little experience well with one-grained wheat flour.
Side dish: Many pseudo-cereals are delicious side dishes for your vegetable stir-fry or a creamy curry. As an alternative to rice, they are a satisfying addition to your crunchy salad.
Stews and soups: A delicious chili sin carne with green spelt or a hearty soup with emmer or quinoa bring variety in your bowl.
Pattys: You can nock up delicious and dimensionally stable vegan patties out of emmer, green spelt or einkorn.
Stuffing for vegetables: peppers or tomatoes can be wonderfully stuffed with rice and then bake in the oven. Instead of rice, just use one of the above-mentioned types of ancient grains.
Can I find ancient grains in any Wholey products?
Are you positive about the benefits of ancient grains and would like more of them in or on your breakfast bowl? Then Crunchy Granola is a crunchy enrichment for the first meal of the day or as a snack in between. With spelt, amaranth and quinoa, three kinds of ancient grains are combined in one crunchy topping.
Neumann, E., Schächtele, J.(2020): Urgetreide: Alte Getreidearten neu in der Küche, Bundeszentrum für Ernährung, https://www.bzfe.de/lebensmittel/trendlebensmittel/urgetreide/
Ziegler, J., Steiner, D., Longin, F., u.a. (2016): Wheat and the irritable bowel syndrome – FODMAP levels of modern and ancient species and their retention during bread making. In: Journal of Funcional Foods, Volume 25, August 2016, S. 257 ff. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1756464616301463
Cooper, R. (2015): Re-discovering ancient wheat varieties as functional foods. In: J Tradit Complement Med, S. 138 ff. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4488568/