If you were asked to name three or four grains you routinely eat, most likely your answer would include wheat, corn, rye, rice and oats. Yet modern humans live in a world that is wide open for variety and distinct flavors in grains that would not previously have been available. You might want to consider adding Ancient Grains to your list.

Modern grains such as wheat have been changed with hybridization, breeding and even genetic engineering in the past fifty plus years. They share very little resemblance to the grains of centuries past.

There is no actual definition of an Ancient Grain. In general they are lesser-known grains that were cultivated in centuries past and remain unaffected by science and genetics. They are just as they were when eaten by the Incas, Aztecs, or Egyptians thousands of years ago.

Some Ancient Grains are actually more of a broad leaf plant rather than a grain but in general they are all known as Ancient Grains. Favorites you might have heard of are Kamutâ, spelt, amaranth, millet, and quinoa. All are whole grains with significant sources of minerals such as selenium, manganese, magnesium, calcium, as well as vitamins, protein, fiber and cholesterol fighting Phytosterols.

Legend says Kamutâ, a close relative of wheat, was recovered in King Tut’s tomb. Others believe it was kept alive by small peasant farmers in Egypt. For certain is was grown from 4,000 BCE in the Fertile Crescent of the Old World, from Egypt to the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. It was rediscovered after World War II, and revived in the 1970’s by a Montana farmer and his son who began growing it with seeds that were untouched by plant breeding or modern agriculture. They gave it the name Kamutâ from the Egyptian for “wheat” which means “soul of the earth.” All Kamutâ is grown organically. Kamutâ, has a rich buttery, chewy flavor. It does contain gluten, but also 20-40% more protein than wheat.

Spelt is an early non-hybridized different species of wheat introduced to the US by Swiss immigrants. One of the original 7 grains in the Bible, history suggests spelt was cultivated over 9,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent and later in Europe for centuries. It went by the wayside with industrialization when wheat was more compatible with machines and farmers found higher yields with commercial wheat varieties. Spelt provides 25% more protein than white wheat. It may be better digested by those sensitive to wheat, but is not to be used by those with gluten issues. Spelt flour can be substituted for all purpose flour. The spelt berries are nutty and sweet.

Amaranth is a broad leaf plant, thus technically not a grain. Like Kamutâ it is thousands of years old, being a staple of the Aztecs in Central America with evidence of use in cultural and religious ceremonies over 8,000 years ago. The Aztec “super food” fields were burned by the Spanish conquers in the 16th century. Amaranth came back to the US market in the 1980’s when the National Academy of Science recommended it as one of 20 foods to be reintroduced into the American diet. With its notable nutrients of amino acids, iron and calcium, gluten free amaranth is a great Ancient Grain to try.

Millet is believed to be one of the first grains cultivated by man. Evidence traces it back to 5500 BC in China and may go as far back as the Stone Age. Millet is a staple that helped to sustain people in Asia, Africa and Europe. It has a short growing season of ten weeks from seed to maturity. Millet is easily digested and does not contain gluten. It is considered to be one of the least allergic grains.

Quinoa (keen-wa) is another one of those broad leaf plants considered an Ancient Grain. It has been referred to as the “mother of all grains.” Cultivated by the Incas in the Andes in Peru it was considered to be a sacred grain. It gets the status of “super grain” as it is a complete protein food and contains more protein than any other grain and 50% protein more than wheat. Quinoa is gluten free and has a nutty, mild flavor.

In the United States two-thirds of all grains consumed are refined. Be selective. Choose whole grains and add variety with Ancient Grains. Be adventurous and incorporate Kamut, spelt, and the gluten free amaranth, millet and quinoa into your diet. You can find these Ancient Grains in packages and bulk at health food stores.

This article was written by:  Ruth Ann Clayton is the Registered Dietitian at Nature’s Way. Reach her at natureswaymh@gmail.com. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.

Ruth Ann Clayton, Registered Dietitian, is active in both the American Dietetics Association and Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine Dietetic Practice Group. Her nationally accredited Dietetic Internship and her years of experience in public health and hospital settings reflect her commitment to your health and well being.

As the co-owner of Nature’s Way, she uses her comprehensive background to research products, read labels, investigate manufacturers and provide information for her customers.