This ancient grain is most commonly known from its use in Ethiopian cultures, as the grain of choice for the Ethiopian flatbread called Injera. This bread is made by fermenting teff flour, and then steaming the fermented batter in a small pan until soft and tender. The result is a slightly sour bread which the Ethiopians use as a plate, and then pile all their delicious food on top. Teff isn't just good because it makes delicious bread however: teff flour is also good because it is high in protein and is a great source of iron and calcium. It is gluten free as well, making it a healthy nutrient dense choice for vegans and celiacs alike.
This one is for all you popcorn lovers out there who are looking to move away from the corn, but not away from the satisfying pop and crunch. Sorghum is a small, round grain, which is often ground into a flour, but when left whole, behaves very much the same as corn kernals: simply place the grains in a pan, cover and shake and you'll be popping in no time. Drizzle with a little coconut oil and some salt and you will have a delightful afternoon snack at the ready. Sorghum is a gluten free grain and is high in B vitamins, iron and fiber and aids in maintaining heart and blood health.
Ground into a flour or left as small grains, amaranth is an ancient grain which is often found in cereals. The grains themselves can be cooked whole and made into a hot cereal like porridge, or the flour can be used to make bread as well as several other savoury baked goods. Amaranth is a gluten free grain option, which grows in some places as a weed. It is a great source of protein, and fiber and contains healthy fats. It also is a source of magnesium, which helps you sleep, eases muscle cramps and aids in adrenal health.
This ancient grain, often used in Mediterranean cooking, is similar to bulgur or cracked wheat. It is a larger grain in comparison to sorghum or amaranth, and although not gluten free, is far lower in gluten than the traditional grains like whole wheat. Its high fiber content makes it a great grain to aid in digestion and reducing cholesterol, and it is also a source of iron and zinc. Farro can be ground up into a semolina consistency, as it is in some cultures, and used to make bread or pasta. Finally, farro is also a source of antioxidants due to its content of lignans.
This is one of my favourite grains to bake with due to its high protein content and versatility in recipes. I use it as a flour in everything from muffins and cakes to cornbread and use it as a whole grain to make granola bars, hot breakfast cereal and crunchy granola. It's a small round grain, which is gluten free and can be cooked the same as rice to use as a healthy gluten free option to accompany savoury dishes. It is a great source of manganese – the mineral which helps ease cracking joints – and is also a high source of magnesium, offering almost one quarter of your daily requirements in just one cup of cooked millet. Because millet is high in fiber, it also fills you up, making it a great choice for people looking to lose weight and have a low glycemic index healthy grain alternative.
Another ancient grain often used in ancient grain breads, and found in specialty bakeries, kamut is a gluten containing wheat. It has a stronger nutrition profile than typical wheat and is often less processed, making it more nutrient dense when consumed. It is high in protein, phosphorus and zinc, among other minerals, and like several other grains, is a great source of B vitamins, including niacin and thiamine.
Given it's name, you may have thought this grain was just a joke and didn't actually exist, but it is indeed a real thing! Freekeh is essentially wheat harvested in its early stages before it is ready as our typical wheat that is used for flour, bread and pasta. When it is harvested, it is roasted to soften it up some, giving it a slightly smoky flavor, which comes through in the cooking. It is not gluten free, but it is a lower glycemic option than full-grown wheat and is often used in rice dishes and pilafs, as it lends well to the spicy flavours of these dishes.
Look out quinoa, there's a new guy in town! Quinoa may have been all the rage (or maybe it still is), but the latest is baby quinoa, known as kaniwa. This grain is much smaller than traditional quinoa, meaning it cooks quicker and is less chewy. It is still high in protein, but unlike quinoa, which comes in different colour options, kaniwa tends to be only in the red option. The big thing with kaniwa though, is that it is exceptionally high in antioxidants, even more so than quinoa itself. It is also supercharged with B vitamins, in the case of B1, providing nearly half your daily intake in just 100 grams, and is also a great source of calcium and iron.