Ancient Grains are making their way back onto the grocery store shelves. There are many reasons for it but I think the main reason is that people are more interested a wider variety of food options. Gone is the day where the only type of flour you could buy is bleached white flour. There are many more options available that are manufactured by companies like Bob’s Red Mill, located in Milwaukie, Oregon.
When looking at the subject of why these grains have rebounded so well recently, I found quite few ideas that have been tossed around.
One of the reasons given is that many people are discovering that they are gluten intolerant. They began searching for alternatives to high gluten grains and a new need was discovered. Naturally, the grain manufacturers saw this trend and created a market for this need. Amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet and teff are all gluten free. And due to this new discovery of people’s intolerance, their popularity has soared. People suffering from Celiac disease have also found the benefits of omitting gluten from their diets and have jumped on the ancient grain train. People with Celiac Disease develop an immune response to gluten when they ingest it. This immune response occurs in the small intestine which damages the villi that line the wall of the intestine. When these little tentacle-like fingers get damaged, they fail to correctly absorb the nutrients found in the food.
One of these newly discovered grains that those that are gluten intolerant is amaranth. Yes, amaranth contains absolutely no gluten and consumers are discovering that it readily absorbs the flavors from other foods you serve it with.
But this “new trend” isn’t new in all cases. Ezekiel 4:9 Bread has been around forever.
Not only does it not contain any sugar, it’s made from organic, sprouted whole grains. There is an advantage to sprouted grain bread as the sprouting process breaks down the proteins and carbohydrates found in them which increases the vitamin content. By sprouting these grains through soaking in a highly controlled environment in set temperatures and sprouting times, the broken down proteins and carbs are much easier to digest.
Let’s get to the heart of what these “grains” actually are. Technically they are not all grains at all, but grasses. Wheat, spelt and kamut are indeed grains. However, amaranth and quinoa are not grains. Yes, it gets confusing. I think it is best simply to refer to them all as grains and chalk it up to the way we prepare and serve these grains for meals. They all get cooked in water are sprouted or baked in bread.
But why are some of these grains referred to as “Ancient Grains?”
Many of these grains have been around for eons. They have been used in various cultures in different ways. But with the onset of highly processed foods, many of these grains have lost favor with the grocery-buying public and they were grown and processed less and less as time went by.
Their revival has been a very recent phenomenon. When the gluten intolerance and celiac disease sufferers discovered them, their popularity went up and with that, people who were concerned with finding non-GMO foods made their popularity climb even higher. They have yet to be genetically modified as there isn’t a big enough market to warrant it so they are pretty much the same as they always were. In other words, if you purchase spelt, it’s going to be pretty much the same grain people consumed centuries ago.
Unlike corn and wheat, they have not been selectively bred to alter their taste, texture and size or to make it more durable for shipping and with standing harsh climates. Many of these grains do not look like they originally did. You might notice a surge in the heirloom vegetable market as well.
“Ugly Tomatoes” are making a comeback in the supermarkets. And you’ll see tomatoes that are different colors and shapes you’ve never seen before in the Farmer’s Markets.
This is another part of this more natural and non-GMO trend that we’ve been witnessing for a few years now.
There is another advantage to these ancient grains. They are extremely tough and sturdy crops able to withstand swings in temperature as well as thriving despite lack of water or the extensive use of pesticides. They do very well for themselves without the normal amount of fertilizers and irrigation used in commercial farming as well. These are some tough plants and they have been thriving for centuries!
Quinoa flour is now available commercially but it doesn't rise, so it does need to be mixed with wheat or spelt flour before doing any baking with it. And should you decide to grow it, the leaves of the quinoa plant are beneficial as well. You cook quinoa just like rice, with two cups of water to one cup of the quinoa and bring to a boil. After it has come to the boil, turn down the heat, cover it and let it simmer until all of the water has been absorbed. You can add it to Chop, Grain Bake or simply added to cut up vegetables or fruit.
Quinoa is notorious for being a tough and sturdy grain. Originally cultivated in Bolivia, it has been growing up at high altitudes on the plateaus of the Andes Mountains for centuries. It has thrived despite extremely harsh conditions such as drought and it has gained a wild popularity amount those interested in a better diet as well as among companion bird families. It has many advantages, one being that it contains all nine essential amino acids and in good amounts. As a matter of fact, due to its high protein level, it was chosen by NASA to be included onboard in future space voyages. There are about 120 different varieties of quinoa, but the most common varieties found commercially are the red, black and white versions.
It is indeed a new trend to return back to these once frequently eaten grains that seem to have fallen by the wayside in popularity in the past.
In doing research, I have found that there are now cookbooks being written using these recently rediscovered grains. These popular cookbooks offer new twists with recipes for kamut, farro, bulger, quinoa, buckwheat as well as quinoa, wheat berries and millet.
Consider kamut for instance. Kamut, a type of wheat that has never seen hybridization has recently been rediscovered and is now being frequently used in pilafs, casseroles, salads and soups.
However, there is something else to consider. Just because they have not changed over the centuries and haven’t been genetically “improved” doesn’t mean that they are better for you or your bird than they ever were. They are the same. Ancient grains are loaded with fiber and have a wonderful complement of antioxidants and phytochemicals that you simply aren’t going to find in fruits and vegetables. They have a completely distinct offering of nutrition and this is why they are important in our diets as well as our birds. Ancient grains are simply a wonderful addition to your pantry for your family as well as being a good source of nutrition for your companion birds.
But as with all foods we feed our flocks, ensure you read the package labels carefully. Ingredients on package labels are required to be listed in “most-to-least” order. There is far more of the first ingredient in the product than there is the last ingredient listed.
So, take a look at some of the ancients grains for your birds such as quinoa, spelt, kamut, teff, millet, amaranth and farro. Your bird as well as your family just might grow to love them.