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Super Grains

Eight Awesome Alternatives

It wasn’t that long ago when to most consumers “grains” meant wheat and rye.  Today everyone has expanded their idea of grains to include 'super grains' – which offer so much more! High fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants along with more complex rounded taste profiles.

Quinoa is the popular sister in the “super grains” family and has become ubiquitous on store shelves and in recipes.  Unfortunately the rest of the whole grains and super grain families have an image problem:  despite being delicious and abundant in nutrition, they’re perceived by many as difficult or time-consuming to cook.  However, their health benefits and flavour variety are beginning to trump ease of use and they are making a strong comeback. Also known as Ancient grains, these staples of the past bring the mystery and romance of historic old worlds into our kitchens. They add new (actually old, but new to us) interesting flavours to our meals, connect us with the past and put us in touch with a slower more natural way of life.

Although technically not a true grain, Amaranth is on this list because it can be used the same as grains and most view it in the same light.  Amaranth has been cultivated for over 8000 years.    Significantly higher in protein (14%) than most grains, ridiculously high in calcium and high in iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, Amaranth is also a source of vitamin C and lysine, an amino acid rarely found in grains.  Amaranth has been researched for cholesterol reduction.   Naturally gluten-free, Amaranth has a mildly nutty taste and readily absorbs the flavours of other ingredients.  

Despite the name, Buckwheat is not related to wheat, as it is neither a grass nor grain.  Buckwheat is actually a fruit seed related to rhubarb and is naturally gluten-free.  Part of the traditional diet of many cultures, noodles made from buckwheat are a staple in Japan, Korea and Italy.  Buckwheat groats are commonly eaten in western Asia and Eastern Europe while buckwheat pancakes are eaten throughout Western Europe.  Buckwheat is high in protein, iron, zinc and selenium as well as the antioxidant rutin.  With an earthy flavour stronger than wheat, it is popular as a primary component in beers and whiskies.  Roasted buckwheat has an even stronger taste, somewhat malt-like which works well in strong breads (Russian black bread), rich baking and beer.

Teff is the primary grain and source of nutrition in Ethiopia and Eritrea.  It is used to make a spongy flat bread-like product called injera.  While easy to grow, Teff's grains are incredibly small (less than 1/100 the size of wheat kernels) and quite difficult to mill into flour, thus they are eaten whole.  Incredibly high in calcium and vitamin C, Teff has been researched for blood sugar management, weight loss and colon health.  Possessing a unique slightly sweet molasses-like taste, Teff is naturally gluten-free.

Farrow (or Faro) is an ancient type of wheat and was the staple grain for the Roman legion.  It is more difficult to hull than durum wheat (today’s common wheat) which is why it fell from favour over the centuries.  Farrow is not gluten-free but is making a comeback due to its rich nutty flavour and nutrient profile.  High in fibre, vitamin B3 and zinc, it is believed to help ward off diabetes, heart disease, asthma, inflammation, cancer and high blood pressure.

Spelt is another ancient variety of wheat that was first cultivated over 9,000 years ago.  Imparting a light sweet and nutty flavour, spelt is often used as a direct substitute for wheat in recipes - especially biscuits. Spelt is not gluten-free but is high in fibre, protein, vitamin B2, niacin, manganese, thiamin, copper, zinc, phosphorus and magnesium.

Kamut is a registered trademark for an ancient variety of wheat called khorasan.  Kamut is certified organic, grown by a cooperative of farmers in Montana, Saskatchewan and Alberta. High in protein, selenium, magnesium and zinc, Kamut has been clinically researched for reducing total cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and inflammation.  Similar to wheat in taste,  Kamut has a slightly smoother, nuttier flavour.  Kamut is not gluten-free.

Freekeh (pronounced free-kah) is created through a special process performed on young green grains (primarily wheat).  The process consists of picking, parching and roasting.  By harvesting the grains when they are young and green, they are at the peak of nutritional value.  Freekeh is high in protein, fibre, calcium, iron, zinc and lutein while being low on the glycemic index.  With a nice chewy texture, Freekeh has a nutty, slightly smoky taste but because it comes from wheat, Freekeh is not gluten-free.

With all the wonderful possibilities out there, go to your local store and bring home some super grains.  Try them in your favourite recipes (or look online for specific recipes) and enjoy the delicate taste differences, while your body enjoys the health benefits. Once you enjoy the taste explosion and reap the nutritional benefits of super grains there will be no going back to regular grains. You will enjoy being the “super chef” with super grains.