Ancient Grain Awakening

“Curious dietitians, cooks and amateur bakers like me are drawing inspiration from the history books and cooking up ancient grains to add texture, variety and extra nutrition to our meals.”

Writing in Canada’s Bakers Journal, dietitian Jane Dummer tells the story of her personal discovery of pure ancient grains. For the consumer market, it’s a hot new trend. For Jane, it’s been a delicious culinary revolution, bringing quinoa to her breakfasts, amaranth to her baking, and chia to almost everything. Here’s what she’s learned:

“Quinoa and amaranth have excellent nutrition profiles with the added bonus of being gluten-free. [Khorasan] and spelt offer interesting textures and flavours to breads and crackers. Bulgar and wheat berries are ancient grains offering chewy textures and nutty flavours. Bulgar cooks up like rice and it is available in coarse, medium or fine grinds. Wheat berries are a true whole grain and the flour can be used in a variety of baking.

“My favourite ancient grains are quinoa and amaranth. Quinoa and amaranth are two very old, high-protein plants that hail from South America. . . . Quinoa has been referred to as a superfood and is an excellent food source due to the nutrition it provides. Grown in Canada, quinoa is an excellent source of protein. That’s why I like it for a hot cereal: the combination of carbohydrates and protein keeps me energized all morning long. Quinoa is a great food for the celiac community and other people who follow a gluten-free diet. It is a good source of the B vitamins niacin and thiamine, and the mineral zinc. It has a nutty, smoky flavour, which makes it a delicious side dish for any meal. Quinoa flour is used by many artisan bakers in bread, cookies and muffins.

“Amaranth, also called Chinese spinach and once considered a lowly weed in North America, is another rock star when it comes to nutrition. It can be grown in the warmer regions of Canada, for example, on the west coast’s Salt Spring Island. Not only does amaranth provide protein and three times more fibre than wheat, but it also contains iron, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and C. . . . Amaranth is also gluten-free and is used by many artisan bakers and commercial bakers to create products such as cakes and muffins for the celiac and gluten-free population.

“Next on my ancient grains list is millet. I’ve had to get past it being the star grain in bags of birdseed. This tiny grain isn’t just for the birds, as it is gluten-free and packed with fibre and magnesium. The seed must be hulled before we can eat it. It is so versatile it can be used in anything from hot cereals (quinoa, you’re still my favourite) to savoury side dishes. Creative bakers are using the flour form to develop a variety of gluten-free products.”

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