The ancient grains are back with a bang. Grain varieties such as amaranth, millet, quinoa and buckwheat have been around for centuries but have experienced a comeback in recent years. In contrast to many modern grains that have been bred selectively over thousands of years, these varieties are virtually unchanged from their ancient forms.
Hitting store shelves around the country, these grains tote many benefits. Their protein, fiber, vitamin and mineral content meets or exceeds the content of popular grains such as wheat. These grains are available in forms ranging from the whole kernels to flours, bringing a variety of textures and flavors to the market. Additionally, amaranth, millet, quinoa and buckwheat are gluten-free, so they are great choices for individuals with celiac disease.
Amaranth is a very small, light-colored grain with a peppery flavor whose use dates back to the Aztec civilization. Amaranth can be cooked like a cereal or ground and used in baking. While it can be cooked alone, amaranth easily absorbs water and can become gelatinous, so it is most often used in combination with other grains. Amaranth seeds, similar in size to poppy seeds, can also be toasted until they pop like popcorn. One half cup of raw amaranth provides 14 grams of protein, 9 grams of fiber and is a good source of folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc.
Millet is a small, round grain that is yellow in color. Believed to be the first grain domesticated by man, millet has been a staple in both India and Africa for more than 4,000 years. While most commonly used as birdseed in the United States, millet is a great source of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. One half cup raw millet contains 11 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber. With a mild flavor and a texture similar to rice (when cooked), millet can be used in countless ways. It can be prepared like oatmeal, ground and used in breads, added to soups and stews, or used as stuffing.
Quinoa is a disk-shaped grain with a nutty flavor. Its light taste that takes on the flavors of ingredients it is prepared with, so quinoa can be substituted for almost any other grain in a variety of dishes. Quinoa can be used in sweet, salty or savory dishes such as pilafs, salads, cereals or stuffing. When preparing quinoa, it should be rinsed thoroughly before cooking to remove its bitter coating. Look for quinoa in a variety of colors including red, black and ivory. Although small in size, quinoa contains all the essential amino acids and is a complete protein. One half cup dry quinoa contains 12 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber. Additionally, quinoa is a good source of B vitamins, iron, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, folate and zinc.
Buckwheat has an earthy, grassy flavor that is intensified when roasted. Indigenous to China where it is still used in bread making, buckwheat also became very popular in Eastern Europe as a porridge or side dish. Buckwheat kernels are triangular in shape; the kernels can be hulled and purchased whole as groats, toasted and purchased as kasha, or milled into light and dark flours. As a flour, buckwheat is often used in pancakes, crepes, muffins and soba noodles. Buckwheat groats and kasha are commonly used for hot cereals. One half cup of raw buckwheat contains 12 grams of protein and 8 grains of fiber. It is a great source of magnesium, phosphorus and iron.
Try a taste of the past with these ancient grains. You may find a new favorite!