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What Are ‘Ancient Grains’?

October 26th, 2015

quinoa seed grainsThere is no official definition of ‘ancient grains’. However, the Whole Grains Council defines ancient grains loosely as grains that are largely unchanged over the last several hundred years. Therefore, modern wheat, which has been bred and changed over time, is not an ancient grain. Grains like quinoa, amaranth, Kamut®, spelt, farro, millet, and teff would be considered ancient grains.

Here is some information about 3 of the more common ancient grains:

Quinoa: A versatile grain that cooks quickly and is good in soups, salads, and baked goods. Quinoa is a small round grain that is similar in appearance to sesame seeds. It is also high in protein.

Kamut®: It is a large, oversized grain that is two to three times bigger than wheat. It has a rich, buttery flavor and is easily digested.

Farro: This grain is popular in Italy. It is a dark, earthy grain that is often used in salads and risottos.

Ancient grains are certainly healthier than refined grain products like white bread or refined crackers. However, healthy whole grains do not need to be exotic. Common foods like brown rice, whole grain pasta, oatmeal, popcorn, and whole wheat bread offer many health benefits and often at lower prices. To get the different nutrients each grain has to offer and balance cost, eat a variety of grain foods.

Try an ‘ancient grain’ like quinoa or Kamut® in our Zesty Whole Grain Salad.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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  1. I had no idea that modern wheat was not considered to be an ancient grain, because wheat is something that has pretty much always been a part of the human diet. However, I am not sure that I quite understand the difference between whole wheat and ancient wheat. Within the last two centuries, what changes have been made to our wheat? Also, can it be expected that Qinoa and other ancient grains will change as well? http://neeralta.com/

  2. Thanks for your question. In a larger sense all grains can be considered ‘ancient’ since they can trace their roots back thousands of years. However, modern wheat is frequently bred for favorable characteristics, such as improved yield or to withstand certain weather conditions such as drought. Thus, it has changed overtime. Ancient grains are considered those grains that are largely unchanged over the last several hundred years. Making half your grains whole grains is what is nutritionally important. This can be done by eating ancient grains or foods made with whole grains such as whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, and brown rice.