What the heck are ancient grains?
Long ago, civilizations used grains such as quinoa, spelt, Kamut and barley as staples to nourish themselves. Today, we refer to these products as “ancient grains” because they’ve existed, unchanged, for centuries.
America is rediscovering these grains, not only because they’re delicious, but because they pack extra protein, fiber, zinc and magnesium.
“People are looking for healthy options,” says Dawn Dirkx, a commodities specialist within the General Mills sourcing team. “Ancient grains are simple and wholesome, offering many wellness benefits.”
Here are some facts about ancient grains:
Quinoa – Native to the Andes, quinoa has been cultivated in Central and South America for more than 5,000 years and was considered a sacred plant by the Incas. It’s actually a member of the same family as beets! Easy to cook and versatile, slightly crunchy quinoa has a nuttier flavor than other grains and resembles a cross between sesame seed and millet.
Its high levels of lysine and other amino acids make it a good plant source of protein. In fact, it contains more protein than any other grain. It’s also gluten-free, rich in phosphorus, calcium, iron, vitamin E and assorted B vitamins. Quinoa is often used in soups, salads and stews.
Spelt – Spelt is a non-hybridized ancient form of wheat and it has more than 9,000 years of history in the Middle East and Europe. It is believed to be the first flour used to bake bread and has long been considered premium bread flour in Europe. Known for its nutty flavor, spelt contains more protein, fiber and fat than wheat. It also contains gluten.
Kamut – This is the U.S. trademarked name of Khorasan wheat. It is grown in parts of Montana and North Dakota as well as Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. In the late 1970s, a Montana farmer, whose company served as the main grower of the grain, came up with the Kamut trade name.
Little is known about the origins of this huge-kerneled ancient relative of modern durum wheat, but it likely grew wild and may have been harvested as early as 4000 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent region, which stretched from Egypt to the Tigris-Euphrates valley. Kamut has a mild, buttery flavor and a delicate, chewy texture. It’s high in protein, potassium, zinc and magnesium. Like spelt, Kamut is not gluten-free. Highly valued by athletes and fitness buffs, Kamut is often used in cereals, pastas and baked goods.
Across multiple grocery store aisles, you’ll find Cheerios+Ancient Grains, Cascadian Farm Ancient Grains Granola, three Betty Crocker Suddenly Salad varieties and several Food Should Taste Good Snacks containing quinoa, spelt or Kamut (Khorasan wheat). Ancient grain barley is used in Multi Grain Cheerios and several Progresso soups.
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