Ancient grains with new bite

Ancient grains with new bite

Ancient grains amaranth, freekeh, farrow,quinoa, Kamut. Photographed at the Great Lakes Culinary Center.(Photo: Jessica J. Trevino, Detroit Free Press)Buy Photo

Are you familiar with freekeh? How about Kamut? And amaranth or emmer?

Known as ancient grains, and found in the rice and grain aisle at grocery stores, these old grains are new again. With roots that trace back centuries and once found mainly at health food and specialty stores, ancient grains are becoming more mainstream at your local grocery stores.

Ancient grains, a staple in cultures worldwide, have many health benefits. Some have even called them a super food. While most ancient grains carry a list of essential vitamins and minerals, “Labeling these grains as super — the latest trend — is hyperbole. All whole grains are healthful, each in its own way,” according to a 2014 University of California Berkeley Wellness report.

“Ancient grains are certainly more nutritious than refined grain products (like white flour or refined crackers), but the health benefits of whole grains need not come with high price tags or mythic origin stories,” Kelly Toups, a registered dietitian and program manager for Boston-based Oldways Whole Grains Council, said in an e-mail.

The health benefits of whole grains, says Toups, include reduced risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. A lower risk of colorectal cancer is also associated with whole grains.

In the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it’s recommended that half the grains you consume should be whole grains.

In terms of popularity, first came quinoa and little-by-little, lesser known grains like freekah, farro, kamut and amaranth cropped up. You will find them on their own or paired with others in grain medleys. Some of these grains, like quinoa and kamut, are also ground into flours and used to replace other flours in ingredients like pasta. Many of these ancient grains, like millet and amaranth, are also gluten-free.

Evidence is mounting that more Americans are making whole grains a part of their diets.

Ancient grains were named a top food trend in the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 Culinary Forecast. According to a report from data research firm Packaged Facts, sales growth of kamut for the 52-week period ending July 2014 was up 686%. Freekeh sales increased 159%, and amaranth was up 123%.

Flavor profiles of ancient grains range from farro’s hearty and earthy nuances to aramanth and quinoa’s mild flavor. You can use ancient grains as a side dish or swap them out for rice in most recipes.

Today’s Feast recipes include using quinoa to make cakes and mixing farro with spinach and tahini. Freekeh is paired with caramelized onions and chickpeas for a protein-packed dish. And tiny aramanth lends its texture to cornmeal muffins. Kamut adds interest to a breakfast bowl with avocado and quinoa. Any leftover cooked grains are great addition tossed in a salad.

So up your grain game and give these ancient grains a try.

Contact Susan Selasky at 313-222-6872 or sselasky@freepress.com. Follow @SusanMariecooks on Twitter.

Amaranth (ama-ranth)

Botanically speaking, amaranth is considered a pseuodo-grain because it’s a seed, not a grain. But it’s thought of as a grain because its nutritional profile is so similar to cereal grains. Amaranth is also eaten like a grain. Amaranth is tiny, smaller than the size of a pin head. Has a porridge-like consistency and is often used in a such a way.

Advantages: Gluten-free and high in protein. Amaranth is also noted for potentially lowering cholesterol.

Cook it: Amaranth cooks quickly. Place 1 cup amaranth in 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and cook 20 minutes. You can pop it like popcorn in a dry skillet and stir it into melted chocolate or granola.

Recipe to try: Amaranth-cornmeal Muffins

Farro (far-ro)

Cultivated in Italy, farro is often called emmer and einkorn. You will find farro in whole, pearled and semi-pearled varieties. Whole takes longer to cook because it still has the germ and bran. It’s hulled, but the process keeps the germ and bran intact. Pearled and semi-pearled have some of the nutritous germ and bran removed. Use it in place of rice in risotto, in pilafs, in stuffings and salads.

Advantages: High in fiber and protein, has no fat and has more calcium than quinoa. Farro has a hearty, yet nutty flavor. It’s also a little on the chewy side.

Cook it: Place 1 cup farro in 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer about 1 hour for whole farro, 30 minutes for pearled and 30 to 40 minutes for semi-pearled. Drain any excess water.

Recipe to try: Farro with Tahini and Spinach

Quinoa (keen-WAH)

Quinoa is called the mother of all grains because it’s a complete protein and contains all the essential amino acids. This grain is grown mainly in South America and is considered sacred by the Incas. Its annual harvest starts in late March, according to the Whole Grains Council. You will find white, red and black quinoa varieties or a medley of all three.

Advantages: Gluten-free and a nutrient all-star containing protein and fiber. One cup of cooked quinoa has 5 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein. It has a slightly crunchy texture that’s more pronounced in the black variety. Based on its health properties and ease of growing, quinoa is thought of as an important crop as a world food source. Use it in soups, salads and as a side dish.

How to cook: To cook 1 cup of quinoa to serve as a side dish, place it in 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Recipe to try: Quinoa Cakes with Roasted Garlic Aioli.

Freekeh (free-kuh)

This is the newest to the grain aisle. The name freekeh means “to rub” in Arabic, so this grain is named after how it’s made — not the variety of wheat. Young green grains are parched and roasted and then rubbed to reveal the roasted grains. You’ll find it on its own in whole or cracked varieties. Freekeh has a smoky and nutty flavor.

Advantages: Fiber-rich with a low glycemic index according to “Simply Ancient” by Maria Speck (Penguin Random House, $27.50).

How to cook: Freekeh is sold whole or cracked. The latter cooks faster. Add 1 cup of freekeh to 2½ cups water or broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer. Cover and cook about 20 minutes or until just tender

Recipe to try: Freekeh with Caramelized Shallots, Chickpeas and Greek Yogurt.

Kamut (ka-MOOT)

Kamut is a trademarked name for Khorasan wheat. It’s about twice the size of a wheat berry and closely related to wheat. Kamut is fatter than a grain of rice and puffs up a little once cooked. There are two references of Kamut’s origins: called the Prophet’s Wheat because it’s thought that Noah brought Kamut kernals on the Ark. It’s also called King Tut’s Wheat because of claims that it was found in the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh.

Advantages: A good source of protein and fiber. Some sources say that people who are wheat-intolerant may be able to tolerate and digest Kamut.

How to cook: Kamut is best if you soak it overnight before cooking. Place 1 cup Kamut in a bowl, cover with 3 cups water and soak overnight. Drain off the water. In a saucepan bring 3 cups water or broth to a boil. Add the Kamut, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 30-40 minutes (about 1 hour if you didn’t soak it). Drain off any excess water and serve.

Recipe to try: Avocado Breakfast Bowl with Kamut and Quinoa.

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