What’s old is new again. Ancient grains, a group of grains with a long history of cultivation that have remained unchanged over the last several hundred years (even thousands), are trending on the food scene. First with quinoa and now farro. But quinoa and farro are just two examples of these chewy, nutty, nutrient-packed whole grains. There’s amaranth, Kamut, freekeh, sorghum, spelt, teff and more.
I spent my Sunday cooking several of these grains. I wanted to see how long they would take to cook, taste them for texture and flavor and experiment with recipes for future posts. I make no apologies for my food nerdiness.
Note: I have steel cut oats in this picture but they are not considered an ancient grain (but they are a whole grain).
From top clockwise: farro, steel cut oats, freekeh, sorghum, Kamut, spelt flour
Top of picture spelt muffins; top left farro; top right sorghum; bottom right Kamut; bottom left freekeh
Used widely in Africa and India, this gluten-free grain has a hearty, chewy texture. Use it in pilafs, cold salads and soups. Pop it like popcorn in a pan over the stove or in a white paper lunch bag in the microwave.
Kamut (registered trademark of khorosan wheat)
Kamut is an organic, sweet, nutty, buttery tasting grain with a firm texture and crunch. Carotenoids (antioxidants) help to provide Kamut’s beautiful rich golden color. It has less gluten than wheat so may be better tolerated by those with wheat sensitivity but not suitable for anyone with celiac disease. Soak the grains in water overnight to reduce the cooking time to 30-40 minutes. I’ve been enjoying Kamut tossed in my salads. It adds a crunchy satisfying texture. Kamut might be my new favorite grain.
Freekeh is made from green durum wheat, similar to bulgur, and is used widely in Middle Eastern dishes. It has an earthy smokiness so it can stand up to bolder flavors. It is widely sold in a cracked version so cooking time is only 25 minutes.
Farro is also known as emmer wheat. It is beloved in Italy and when cooked, it has a soft but crunchy texture. If purchased semi-pearled, it cooks in about 30 minutes. Farro can be used as an alternative to rice in risotto called farrotto.
Spelt is a species of wheat cultivated since 5000 B.C. and has never been hybridized. This heirloom grain has a unique, nutty flavor lighter tasting than wheat flour. Spelt is more easily digested than other forms of wheat and may be better tolerated by those with a gluten-sensitivity, however, it is not gluten-free so should not be eaten by anyone with celiac disease. Use spelt flour in place of wheat flour in breads and baked goods. I made these very simple spelt muffins so I could taste the spelt without competing flavors in the muffin. They turned out sweet and tender requiring very little added sugar and oil.
- 2 ¼ cups spelt flour
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ cups milk
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- ½ cup chopped walnuts, almonds, dates, raisins (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup muffin tin or line with papers. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix together milk, eggs and oil and combine with dry ingredients, only stir for about 20 seconds. For variety, add any ½ cup of chopped almonds, walnuts, dates, or raisins. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Freezing Cooked Grains
Make the cooking process of ancient grains faster and easier. Cook them in batches, freezing in 1 or 2 cup portions. Defrost in the microwave when needed.
Nutrition Note: Ancient grains are often higher in protein and other nutrients compared to common wheat. They supply a rich source of B vitamins including B6, thiamine and niacin as well as iron, magnesium manganese, zinc and selenium. Many of these nutrients are antioxidants, protecting against oxidative stress as well as helping to improve blood pressure.