What Are Ancient Grains?

We hear this question all the time. Even as “ancient grains” have become more widely known, there is no formal, universal definition. Responses to the question “what are ancient grains” vary greatly depending on who you ask. Having worked with “ancient grains” for over 35 years Nu-World Foods aims to bring some clarity to the matter.

The Whole Grains Council unofficially defines ancient grains as: “Grains that are largely unchanged over the last hundreds of years.”

Though this definition is a good start, we at Nu-World would expand that definition to include the following:

“Ancient Grains are crops utilized in antiquity which may have been lost and found again; restocking the “world pantry” for countless functional and nutritional attributes AND which remain unchanged by modern GMO technologies.”

Quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, teff and millet are generally agreed upon as ancient grains that fit well into our definitions, each of them having been long ignored and recently re-introduced on our store shelves. Chia, flax, buckwheat and even oats, corn, or rice can also rightfully be considered ancient.

One reason ancient grains have seen an increase in popularity is that many of these grains are naturally both gluten-free and allergy-friendly. However, this does not mean that all grains and pseudo-cereals described as ancient can be assumed to be either. Others like spelt, Kamut, Eikhorn, farro, Khorasan, and Emmer are certainly ancient in origin but are varieties of wheat or otherwise contain gluten. As such, we at Nu-World do not choose to work with them, but nevertheless believe they should be included in a comprehensive definition of Ancient Grains

Many ancient grains are also commonly recognized for their nutritional benefits. Often providing higher fiber, protein and vitamin content than many more common choices, inclusion of these grains into existing products can help boost health claims. Seeds such as quinoa, amaranth and teff are frequently in the news for their superior nutritional attributes. However just as not all ancient grains are allergy-friendly, neither are they all super-foods. Some are simply heirloom varieties of existing commodities.

Whatever the appeal, functional, nutritional or otherwise, formulators and chefs alike are continuing to find new and creative ways to incorporate ancient grains into their product launches and menus. Being an ancient grain supplier and manufacturer for such a long time, we are excited to see the trend for inclusion continuing to grow and as a provider of these unique ingredients Nu-World Foods is excited to meet that demand.

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