What Are ‘Ancient Grains’?

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 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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Publication explaining Whole Grains

whole grain breadMagazines and cooking shows are full of articles and recipes about whole grains, some of which I have never tasted. If you are like me, and wanting to know more about using different whole grains, you will be interested in a publication by Iowa State University Extension. The free, downloadable Whole Grains publication provides the basic cooking directions, yield when cooked, nutrition notes and facts, and serving suggestions for 20 different whole grains. It also explains the difference between whole and refined grains.

Here’s some information from the publication:

1. Is cornmeal a whole grain?

The stone-ground variety is a whole grain.  Regular cornmeal is degermed (has the germ of the grain removed) so it is not a whole grain.

2. What’s the difference between steel-cut oats and old-fashioned rolled oats?

Steel–cut oats are cut into small pieces with a steel blade.  Rolled oats are steamed, than rolled into flakes. Quick-cooking oats are rolled thinner and cut into smaller pieces to cook faster.

3. Is wild rice a grain?

No, but it offers similar nutritional benefits as whole grains and it is gluten-free.

4. Is whole wheat couscous a grain?

No, it is tiny pasta made from semolina.

If you have questions about amaranth, quinoa, faro, or wheat berries, check out the publication.

Peggy Signature

Schools Back in Session

Here in Iowa, schools are back in session. For some families this means packing lunches, although the cost of school lunches is hard to beat, and packed lunches are not automatically healthier than school lunch.

I think the key to getting kids to eat what is in their lunchbag—rather than trading it or throwing it away—is involving them in choosing the food. I take my lunch to work almost every day and I’m sure that no one else could guess what I would like!

Consider letting your kids choose what they want from a list of healthy alternatives, and even take them with you to shop for it. Ideally, a lunch would include food from at least 3 food groups. Use MyPlate as a guide.

Here are some ideas to get you started…

  • Low fat dairy: nonfat or 1% milk; low-fat yogurt (even a smoothie or drinkable yogurt);
    low fat cheese; cottage cheese
  • Fruits: fresh fruit that travels well such as apple, grapes, orange, banana; fruit canned in juice; single-serve applesauce; cut-up fruits served with a fruit-flavored yogurt as a dip
  • Vegetables: baby carrots; colored pepper strips; broccoli or cauliflower; lettuce and tomatoes in a sandwich; V-8 or tomato juice; cherry tomatoes; zucchini slices (don’t forget to include a little ranch dressing as a dip)
  • Protein sources: turkey, lean ham or roast beef; peanut or other butter; nuts; tuna; hard-boiled egg;  bean soup or chili;  leftovers; mashed beans with salsa rolled in a flour tortilla; peanut butter and banana wedged between slices of cinnamon raisin bread or a pita
  • Grains: pretzels; popcorn; cereal; trail-mix with dried fruit chips
    Think whole grains! More nutrition and more fiber!—whole wheat pita bread; whole wheat bagel; whole wheat or corn tortilla; whole grain crackers

If a “treat” is a must and fruit just doesn’t cut it, consider something very small like a couple of
chocolate kisses or a cookie. It shouldn’t take much to satisfy the sweet tooth!

A few recipes from Spend Smart.Eat Smart. that are ideal for packed lunches are:
Wraps “Your Way”
Make-ahead Mexican Rollups
Popcorn Trail Mix
Fruit Kabobs with Yogurt Dip
Crispy Granola

Finally, don’t forget food safety when packing your lunch.

-pointers from Peggy

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