These types of grains are considered “ancient grains”—here’s what that means, their health benefits, and how to eat more of them.
Have you heard the buzz about ancient grains? These kinds of grains are steeped in history and have been gaining in popularity as incredible sources of nutrition and come with some added sustainability perks, too. But what actually qualifies as an ancient grain, and what makes these healthy carbs so nutritious compared to other types of grains? Here’s everything you need to know.
What Are Ancient Grains?
While there’s no official definition of ancient grains, many will categorize them as grains with indigenous origins grown using the same techniques for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Some use the terms “ancient” and “heirloom” grains synonymously, while others believe that there’s a distinct difference between the two—with heirloom or heritage grains being those brought to the West by immigrants (versus those grown indigenously in the West and Americas). Given those definitions, some ancient grains will, of course, also be heirloom or heritage grains.
A general rule of thumb to understand what sets ancient grains apart from their conventionally raised counterparts (like modern wheat) seen around every corner in our food supply is that ancient grains are never, and have never, been modified in any way. So you’ll never find a GMO ancient grain (thank goodness).
Common Ancient Grains to Know—and Their Top Health Benefits
While there are dozens of varieties of ancient grains, we’ll highlight some of the most common ones (plus a few unique choices) and the nutrition facts associated with each. You’ll see many through lines between the nutrition profiles of these grains, and they all contain many different types of plant compounds, or phytochemicals. These bioactive compounds are antioxidants with potent anti-inflammatory benefits that can help to ward off chronic disease. And then each grain also comes with its own unique benefits to love.
Though technically not a grain, chia seed is often included as an ancient grain as it meets all the other criteria. You might already know just how much nutrition is packed into these tiny seed packages, since they’re especially popular these days. Chia seeds are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, calcium, and zinc. These nutrients combine to help our cholesterol levels stay within normal limits, provide us with lasting energy throughout the day, build strong bones, and boost our immune systems.
This ancient grain is one that is slowly leaving its niche shadow behind and becoming more mainstream. Naturally gluten-free, amaranth is full of protein and fiber and also boasts impressive levels of manganese, iron, and magnesium. Iron is key to healthy blood cell formation while magnesium supports healthy sleep, digestion, and muscle and nerve function. Manganese is a mineral that is linked to strong bones as well as blood and hormone formation.
Similar to chia, quinoa is also technically a seed. It’s often referred to as a pseudo-grain because this gluten-free option is prepared using the same methods as rice and other grains. Quinoa is one of the few plant-based complete protein sources, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids necessary to build strong muscle and tissue throughout the body. It’s also full of manganese and magnesium, alongside phosphorus, folate, and zinc. Phosphorus is a key player in healthy bone formation while folate helps to build healthy cells and is vital for neural tube development in growing babies in utero. Meanwhile, zinc is a well-known mineral due to its ability to boost our immune systems.
Here's a full breakdown of quinoa's many nutritious benefits.
Another gluten-free option, millet is not just for bird seed anymore—it’s actually delicious and nutritious for humans as well! Again, you’ll find lots of magnesium and manganese in this grain, but it also provides notable amounts of thiamin, which aids in energy metabolism throughout the body. Research has also shown that millet can help regulate blood sugars, especially in those with metabolic concerns like type 2 diabetes.
While it’s not as popular in the United States (yet!), sorghum is actually one of the most consumed grains worldwide. It’s high in protein, magnesium and manganese, and also provides copper and selenium. Copper helps us absorb iron and is vital for energy metabolism in the body, while selenium supports thyroid and immune function.
A more common ingredient in soups and grain bowls, due to its natural chew and nutty flavor, barley is actually not gluten-free, as some might assume (that’s not a bad thing for most people not sensitive to gluten, but important to note for anyone with a gluten allergy or intolerance). This grain is full of beta glucan, a fiber that helps to improve cholesterol levels, and also offers iron and selenium.
Kamut (Khorasan Wheat)
Kamut is a kind of wheat often referenced in the conversation about ancient grains. Kamut offers all the health benefits of whole wheat, and then some: loaded with fiber, zinc, niacin, and 100 percent of your daily selenium needs in just one cup (cooked). Niacin is super beneficial to digestive, skin, and nervous system health.
Bulgur is another variety of ancient wheat that’s not only a perfect grain salad base, but also packed to the brim with nutrients. With fiber, magnesium, manganese, and copper, this grain will keep your heart, immune, and digestive health on point. It's no surprise RDs are pointing to this grain as an up-and-coming superfood to watch out for.
Staying on the wheat train here, farro is another type of wheat (containing gluten) that looks similar to bulgur and lends itself nicely to many of the same dishes due to its equally nutty, delicious flavor. In this tasty grain you’ll find lots of fiber, zinc, niacin, and magnesium to support your best health.
A lesser-known grain to most, teff is a gluten-free ancient grain with origins in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where it remains a staple food to this day. And it’s no wonder it’s such a cornerstone in the diet of these countries as in only 100 grams of uncooked teff you’ll find over 400 percent of your daily manganese needs, nearly 100 percent of your daily vitamin C and copper needs, plus tons of fiber magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. This unique combination of nutrients lends itself to supporting nearly every body system.
To many midwesterners, this history-rich grain is a staple in the classic recipe chicken and wild rice soup—a creamy broth paired with chicken, veggies, and the satisfyingly chewy texture of wild rice. Naturally gluten-free and higher in protein than white and brown rice, wild rice also offers fiber, zinc, manganese, and phosphorus.
Ancient Grains Are More Sustainable Grains
As if the nutrition of these grains weren’t alluring enough, ancient grains also offer so many sustainability benefits. To give you a bit of context, modification of grains in the U.S. began during the Green Revolution in the mid 20th century. During this time, farmers started to selectively breed grains with shorter stature to encourage more seed or harvestable grain production. With these modifications, the root structure and density of these plants decreased to the same degree. This combination of less root structure and plant matter above ground yielded less organic (or living) matter that could reenter the soil after harvesting. This, in part, started the soil health crisis we face today as organic matter is key to soil’s productivity and capability to store carbon in the ground.
Given that ancient grains have not been adulterated in this way, they have maintained deep root systems and taller plant structures above ground. This enables them to reintroduce more organic matter into the soil, leading to improved soil health and ability to sequester carbon. This is so important because soil is one of the greatest carbon sinks on our beautiful planet.
Plus, these deep root systems help ancient grains to be more drought-resistant, as they can reach deeper water sources in the ground. Certain varieties will be more drought resistant than others—teff, for example, is a particularly drought-tolerant ancient grain.
Easy Ways to Eat More Ancient Grains
Because of their impressive health and sustainability benefits, these grains are becoming increasingly trendy, landing them on more grocery store shelves, superfood lists, and meal plates across the country. You’ll find at least one, if not several, varieties of ancient grains at nearly every market these days.
Once you’re ready to cook, there’s so many delicious ways to use ancient grains. Some tasty options include adding them to soups or salads, using them as a base for hearty grain bowls, serving them up as a side dish with herbs and aromatics, or even using the flour of these unique grains in whatever baked good your heart desires.
Some of favorite recipes starring ancient grains include:
- (Video) What are ancient grains? Are they healthier?
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An ancient grain hasn't been refined like white rice, white bread, or white flour. Thus, they tend to be higher in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and zinc because they haven't been stripped. They're also a good source of fiber.What ancient grains are good for you? ›
- Spelt. This ancient grain is one of this list's leaders for fiber and protein, and it provides essential micronutrients such as iron, magnesium and zinc, says Newell. ...
- Bulgur. ...
- Barley. ...
- Farro. ...
- Quinoa. ...
- Buckwheat. ...
Ancient grains in their “whole grain” form provide fibre, vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats. Research shows that people who eat more whole grains may have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers. Look for the words “whole grain” in the ingredient list (such as whole grain amaranth).What is the definition of ancient grains? ›
Ancient grains are a group of grains and pseudocereals (seeds that are consumed like grains) that have remained mostly unchanged for thousands of years. They're dietary staples in many parts of the world, such as China, India, Africa, and the Middle East.What was considered the most useful grain the world and why? ›
Wheat was one of the first domesticated food crops and for 8 000 years has been the basic staple food of the major civilizations of Europe, West Asia and North Africa. Today, wheat is grown on more land area than any other commercial crop and continues to be the most important food grain source for humans.Why are super grains good for you? ›
Dietary fiber helps lower total and LDL cholesterol, which helps prevent heart disease. Barley provides insoluble fibers that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut, which can help with immunity, digestion, and regularity. It's also a good source of minerals like selenium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese.What are the 5 ancient grains? ›
Ancient grains include varieties of wheat: spelt, Khorasan wheat (Kamut), einkorn, and emmer; the grains millet, barley, teff, oats, and sorghum; and the pseudocereals quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and chia.What are 4 ancient grains? ›
Not to mention, many are known for their robust texture and flavor. Four of the most popular are Amaranth, Quinoa, Buckwheat and Millet.Can diabetics eat ancient grains? ›
According to nutritionist Heather Hanks of USA Rx, ancient grains "can be incorporated into your diet if you have diabetes or need to control insulin levels. Ancient grains are high in fiber, which helps slow down the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream."What are the ancient grains in the Bible? ›
The two main grains here in Biblical times were barley and wheat. Barley ripened first, and then wheat, and both after the rainy season — in Israel, we only get rain in the winter, virtually never in the summer. Right now, we are in the period between the barley and wheat harvests.
Grains are important sources of many nutrients, including fiber, B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate) and minerals (iron, magnesium and selenium). People who eat whole grains as part of a healthy diet have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases.How are ancient grains different from grains? ›
What are ancient grains? Unlike modern grains such as wheat, corn, and rice, ancient grains have never been processed through hybridization or genetic modification; they're grown just as they were a thousand years ago.How do you eat ancient grains? ›
It can be cooked like a whole grain, or ground into a flour for baking. Whether you're cooking with emmer or baking with it, it's one of those grains that's great with savory flavors such as onions, garlic and other aromatic spices.Can you eat ancient grains raw? ›
Cooking is the only way to be sure that foods made with ﬂour or grains are safe. This is because raw grains and raw ﬂours are not intended for human consumption as-is, as they have not undergone a “kill step” (such as boiling, baking, roasting, or heat-treating).What is the most important grain? ›
Rice. Rice is the single most important source of calories for humans. Among cereal, rice is grown mainly for direct human consumption with very little making it to other uses. Rice contributes approximately 21% of world per capita caloric intake, and 27% of per capita calories in the developing countries.Why are grains precious? ›
"Grain" is precious to us because when it when harvested give us the food that we require for our survival. It is more precious than rubies and pearls because we would not survive without grain and harvest.What are the most common ancient grains? ›
Some of the most popular ancient grains include amaranth, barley, buckwheat, farro, millet, and quinoa, all of which are good sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.Which is healthiest of all grains? ›
Oats are among the healthiest whole grains you can eat. They're not only packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber but also naturally gluten-free. What's more, oats are rich in antioxidants, especially avenanthramide.What grains were in Jesus time? ›
In Jesus' time, there were three major wheat varieties: Einkorn, Emmer, and Spelt. These grains had and have a higher protein content and lower anti-nutrient content than the grains of today. This is because today's 25,000+ species were created in a lab to be disease resistant or produce higher yields.What are the 5 grains in the Bible? ›
Since European medieval times, Orthodox Jewry accepts the five grains as wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt.
Grains to avoid are wheat (such as wheat berries, spelt, kamut, farro and bulgur), rye, barley and triticale.What is the oldest grain known to man? ›
There are a lot of grains out there that have existed since time immemorial. But do you know which among them is the oldest? Farro Monococcum, also called Einkorn, Small Farro and Little Spelt is the oldest grain that exists today.What is the mother grain of ancient? ›
Chenopodium quinoa (keen-wa) is known as the mother grain of the Incas.What are the ancient grain superfoods? ›
Amaranth, millet, kamut, sorghum, teff, farro and freekeh are just a handful of the many ancient grains that can still be found.Does peanut butter raise blood sugar? ›
Individuals with diabetes need foods that can help manage blood sugar and weight. Peanuts and peanut butter can be a powerful ally to reaching success. Peanuts and peanut butter have a low glycemic index, which means they don't cause blood sugar to rise sharply.What grains don't spike blood sugar? ›
A better choice is brown rice, a whole grain with more fiber than white rice and a lower glycemic load. Other whole grain alternatives to white rice are barley and farro. “Whole grains are absolutely preferred over refined, but shouldn't be consumed in unlimited quantities said Dr. Devries.Do oats spike blood sugar? ›
Oatmeals have a low glycemic index of about 55. It means that consuming oatmeal does not cause sudden spikes in blood sugar levels. In addition, oatmeals are high in fibre content and help prevent spikes in blood sugar levels and fulfil the daily ideal fibre intake.What happens if you don't eat grains? ›
A grain-free diet may reduce inflammation, aid weight loss, and improve digestion and blood sugar levels. It may also promote mental health and alleviate pain in people with fibromyalgia or endometriosis, though more research is needed.What are the three most important grains? ›
Rice, corn, and wheat are the most common staple foods on Earth.Is Oatmeal considered a whole grain? ›
Oatmeal is a whole grain that can be a delicious, warm way to add whole grains to your eating patterns during the cold winter season. Oats are full of important nutrients like vitamins B and E, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
One Saturday, on the day of rest, Jesus and his disciples were walking through a field of wheat. The disciples were hungry, so they plucked off some heads of grain and rubbed them in their hands to eat.What kind of seed did manna look like? ›
According to the book of Exodus, manna is like a coriander seed in size but is white (this is explained by ancient commentaries as a comparison to the round shape of the coriander seed).What does the Bible say about grains? ›
From the NIV: Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.What are the 7 main grains? ›
There are a number of different types of grains found within the true cereal grains which are from the botanical family 'Poaceae' including wheat, oats, rice, corn (maize), barley, sorghum, rye, and millet.Do we really need grains? ›
Despite widespread consumption, many people remain unsure whether grains support health. Some think they are an essential component of a healthy diet, while others believe that they cause harm. The truth is, whole grains in particular are linked to numerous health benefits and are mostly considered very nutritious.What are the top five grains? ›
- Barley. Barley is a nutritious whole grain, high in beta-glucans, which are a type of fiber that helps to maintain cholesterol levels and gut health. ...
- Oats. ...
- Bulgur. ...
- Quinoa. ...
Whole grain berries will store for many years, even decades, if stored properly. Our grain will last up to 2 years packaged in paper bags and up to 30 years in our Super Pails. We recommend rotating your Super Pails every 5-10 years but we have tested them up to 30 years and found them to be in good condition.Where are ancient grains grown? ›
As most ancient grains do not thrive in our part of the world, our quest led us to Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary, where the soil and the climate are more suitable. Grains such as einkorn, emmer and wild rye do well in the poorer ground found in this region.Which two ancient grains are considered super foods but are not really grains? ›
Buckwheat, wild rice, amaranth, chia and quinoa are technically not true grains but are included here as they are grown and cooked in the same way.What do ancient grains taste like? ›
It has a sweet, nuttiness that is milder than einkorn but has what I would describe as a faint buttery flavor. Like all three of the farro grains, the gluten proteins have a different composition and are more water-soluble, making it easier to digest. It is rich in fiber, protein, magnesium, and vitamins.
Until agriculture was developed around 10,000 years ago, all humans got their food by hunting, gathering, and fishing.What ancient grain has the most protein? ›
Quinoa. Quinoa is a well-known ancient grain that's packed with protein and easy to cook. "It has more protein and fiber than most other grains," Davis says.Can ancient grains cause bloating? ›
Grains: wheat, rye, barley
Grains are common culprits when it comes to flatulence and bloating. The fibre in grains can be difficult to digest, and it often makes it to the large intestine intact—ready to be fermented by bacteria.
Previous archaeological evidence has suggested that grains entered the human diet perhaps 23,000 years ago (and grain storage started more recently, around 11,000 years ago).Why are ancient grains so expensive? ›
The extra work required to dehull the grain, plus the reduced yield of non-hybrid wheat to begin with, means that flour made from ancient and heirloom wheat is generally significantly more expensive than regular wheat flour. “When you 'combine' a field of modern wheat, the combine hopper is full of wheat.What is the difference between ancient grains and regular grains? ›
What are ancient grains? Unlike modern grains such as wheat, corn, and rice, ancient grains have never been processed through hybridization or genetic modification; they're grown just as they were a thousand years ago.Is oatmeal an ancient grain? ›
Ancient grains include varieties of wheat: spelt, Khorasan wheat (Kamut), einkorn, and emmer; the grains millet, barley, teff, oats, and sorghum; and the pseudocereals quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and chia.What are ancient grains for weight loss? ›
Ancient grains are high in calories and whole grains contribute to weight gain. Fact #3: Ancient grains can help you lose weight because they contain fiber, fat, and protein, which together promote satiety.What are the ancient grains of the Bible? ›
The two main grains here in Biblical times were barley and wheat. Barley ripened first, and then wheat, and both after the rainy season — in Israel, we only get rain in the winter, virtually never in the summer. Right now, we are in the period between the barley and wheat harvests.Why are ancient grains becoming popular? ›
These resilient crops pack a nutritional punch and provide more protein, fiber, and vitamins than modern grains. They're also a whole lot better for the planet.
Groats are the purest form of oatmeal. They are made from hulled grains, which are then toasted to make them more edible. Groats are considered the healthiest oatmeal because they go through very little processing. Because the grains are still whole, nutrients stay intact.Is ancient grains good for diabetics? ›
According to nutritionist Heather Hanks of USA Rx, ancient grains "can be incorporated into your diet if you have diabetes or need to control insulin levels. Ancient grains are high in fiber, which helps slow down the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream."Is oatmeal the healthiest grain? ›
Oats are among the healthiest grains on earth. They're a gluten-free whole grain and a great source of important vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Here are 9 evidence-based health benefits of eating oats and oatmeal.What grain is best for belly fat? ›
Want a flatter, leaner tummy? Ditch refined grains like white bread and white rice, and eat more whole grains such as oatmeal, barley, bulgar, 100% whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, and brown rice, research has found.What are the top 5 healthiest grains? ›
- Amaranth. The oils and phytosterols in amaranth help reduce cholesterol levels. ...
- Barley. Packed with fibre and essential minerals like selenium, copper, and manganese, Barley gives you energy as well as calms your nervous system. ...
- Oats. ...
- Quinoa. ...
- Barley (Jau) ...
- Finger Millets (Ragi) ...
- Brown Rice. ...
- Buckwheat (Kuttu) ...
Packed with numerous health benefits for your healthy eyes, immunity, natural detox, Spirulina is considered to be the King of Superfoods.What is the healthiest whole grain in the world? ›
Oats are among the healthiest whole grains you can eat. They're not only packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber but also naturally gluten-free. What's more, oats are rich in antioxidants, especially avenanthramide.
Farro Monococcum, also called Einkorn, Small Farro and Little Spelt is the oldest grain that exists today. Cooked farro looks and tastes like barley, but has a slightly more chewy texture and caramel notes. There are different types of Farro available now, however, Farro Monococcum is said to be the oldest.