The Grain Event

Wow, {{ count }} of you have read this

The Grain event.jpg

Ancient grains have been cropping up everywhere for the last couple of years, if you haven’t heard of quinoa then I am not entirely sure which rock you have been hiding under. But whether these are included in premade salad jars, or as an alternative to cous cous, they are no longer just on the radar for hipsters and health junkies, instead they are becoming much more mainstream.

 

Ancient grains are a difficult one to define, but essentially they are grains that have been unchanged for several hundred years. While this leaves modern wheat out in the cold, it means farro and spelt along with einkorn and kamut are ancient grains of the wheat family. Others include millet, quinoa and amaranth and all of these are gaining traction with the modern palate.

 

But what do ancient grains bring to the table?

 

Farro

Would a grain by any other name taste as good? Well yes is the answer, as farro is also known as emmer. There is often confusion over farro and spelt, mainly as the names are interchangeable in Italian, this is not the case in real life as many have found out to their misfortune, for one example just head to this New York Times article.

 

Though farro is not gluten free, it has a lower content of gluten than other popular grains. It is prized for its nutty flavour and as a source of protein, fibre and magnesium. I spoke to the Whole Grains Council about why these grains are gaining such prominence:

 

“Much of the momentum for ancient grains is due to the widespread national attention that has been given to food and nutrition over the past couple of years, as well as the growing food literacy of the average consumer. Additionally, ancient grains have been named a hot trend by chefs year after year in the National Restaurant Association’s Culinary Forecast, moving up to the #14 spot in 2017.

 

“While it might seem contradictory at first, the gluten-free fad has also opened the door for many ancient grains. Since wheat, barley, and rye, contain gluten, people trying to follow a gluten-free diet have to get a bit more creative with their grain choices. Thus, gluten-free ancient grains, like quinoa, teff, and amaranth, have become more familiar to consumers.”

Quinoa

Quinoa salad

“While no single food can supply all the essential life sustaining nutrients, quinoa comes as close as any other in the plant or animal kingdom.”

 

This quote by Philip White back in 1955 is taken from an article ‘Edible Seed Products of the Andes Mountains’. Though few have read the original article, quinoa’s health benefits have long been known and have taken the nutritionally conscious by storm. Though it is most often perceived as a grain, the leaves can also be eaten. According to the Whole Grains Council:

 

“Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, or goosefoot) is in fact not technically a cereal grain at all, but is instead what we call a “pseudo-cereal” – our name for foods that are cooked and eaten like grains and have a similar nutrient profile. Botanically, quinoa is related to beets, chard and spinach, and in fact the leaves can be eaten as well as the grains.”

 

Quinoa is a fantastic wheat free alternative and is among the least allergenic of all grains while also containing all nine essential amino acids.

 

I spoke to Kelly Toups from the Whole Grain Council about what ancient grains can offer both businesses and consumers:

 

“The great thing about ancient grains is that they are introducing people to the wide spectrum of whole grains available, encouraging folks to branch out beyond their tried-and-true favorites. While ancient grains are not necessarily any healthier than other whole grains, whole grain variety is something that most people could benefit from nutritionally, to make sure all of their needs are being met.  Each whole grain has something different to offer (from the calcium in teff, to the soluble fiber in barley), making it impossible to play favorites.

 

“Plus, ancient grains are typically eaten in their whole grain form (you don’t see refined quinoa, after all). This means that you’re getting the health benefits of whole grains, a food group associated with lower rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and more.”

 

Being able to choose a favourite grain is the next step for customization, and while you can choose how you like your eggs, or if you would rather have jacket potato or fries, the staple carbs have often been left out of this element of personalization.

 

The British Quinoa Company is serious about quinoa and is the UK’s first grower and supplier of high quality quinoa. The site shows the entire growing process and the trial and error they experienced. Supplying Pret A Manger for their quinoa range shows just how mainstream the product has become.

 

Spelt

Though spelt has a similar gluten level to ordinary wheat, it should not be discounted as a healthy alternative. Ignoring horror stories of spelt/farro mix ups, it actually requires less fertilizers, making it a champion in the organic community. With a distinctly chewy texture, spelt has a lot to offer giving depth to salads or substance to porridge.

 

Spelt comes in many different forms, allowing you to experiment with spelt flour or the whole berries. Though spelt is quite well known, twenty years ago it laid in relative obscurity. Kelly was quick to point out that grains could pave the way for other forgotten foods:

 

“The trend towards ancient grains seems to be in line with the larger trend of embracing other forgotten foods across various food groups. We are also seeing this play out with local and heirloom grains. Farmers markets have long carried heirloom tomatoes, but it wasn’t until recently that you started hearing about specific varieties of heirloom wheat, or locally grown grains.”

 

Hungry Ghost Bread is a bakery that specialises in incorporating grains into their products. I spoke to Cheryl about how it all began:

 

“We began using spelt as an option for people who have a wheat intolerance. Research has shown that spelt and in particular naturally leavened spelt bread is digestible for wheat sensitive people. Korasan (also known as Kamut) became available and the taste was wonderful as well as adding another option for the wheat sensitive people.”

 

“Customers with both wheat and gluten sensitivities tell us that they are able to tolerate both spelt and Korasan. All customers find these varieties special in flavour. As for mixing there are always differences in the approach regardless of the flour. Hungry Ghost Bread puts a high priority in the process of the 24 hour slow fermentation rather than a specific type of wheat. It is this process that increases the digestibility of bread.”

 

Amaranth

Amaranth.jpg

Amaranth is one of the lesser known grains that is native to Peru and is gluten free. It is most prized for its iron content, containing up to ten times the quantity found in white rice. The one down side of amaranth is it is rarely a stand-alone grain due to density. Amaranth flour is often used in conjunction with grains of lighter textures for best results.

 

Amaranth is great as a thickener for stews, soups and sauces. Atole (pictured above) is a traditional Mexican drink made from amaranth and is often eaten as a breakfast due to its filling and nutritious properties.

 

Millet

Millet is best known in the UK as bird seed but it can be a lot more versatile. Creeping into porridges and stir fries, it is high in protein like other whole grains but takes more care in the cooking process than other ancient grains.

 

As these ancient grains are seen on salad bars and hipster hideouts, what will that mean for the restaurant industry? Kelly believes this can only be a good thing:

 

“If someone has never heard of an ingredient, or had a chance to try it at a restaurant, it is unlikely that they will be willing to purchase it or cook with it at home. Therefore, having that exposure at restaurants is important for helping people branch out and eat a wider variety of grains. Consumers are embracing new cuisines and ingredients because they’re inspired by things they eat at restaurants, try in meal delivery kits, see on TV shows, or read about in food blogs and magazines. Restaurants are often one of the first places people try new foods, as fine chefs are often the trendsetters of the food industry.

 

“Already, many ancient grains are making a play on restaurant menus. According to Datassential’s 2016 Trending Grains Report, quinoa appears on 9% of all menus, and an impressive 22% of fast casual menus. Farro and Barley each appear on 3% of all menus and farro has a place on 13% of fine dining menus. (You can learn more in this presentation at our September 2016 conference.)

 

“The great thing about ancient grains is that they are introducing people to the wide spectrum of whole grains available, encouraging folks to branch out beyond their tried-and-true favorites. While ancient grains are not necessarily any healthier than other whole grains, whole grain variety is something that most people could benefit from nutritionally, to make sure all of their needs are being met.  Each whole grain has something different to offer (from the calcium in teff, to the soluble fiber in barley), making it impossible to play favorites.

 

Plus, ancient grains are typically eaten in their whole grain form (you don’t see refined quinoa, after all). This means that you’re getting the health benefits of whole grains, a food group associated with lower rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and more.”