Did you know that the United States Department of Agriculture Food Pyramid recommends that adults have between 6-11 servings of grains each day? Since this is National Whole Grains Month, I’d like to look at the recommendation through new eyes; because, to be honest, 11 slices of whole wheat bread just doesn’t look appealing to me—even my homemade from freshly-ground flour bread.
Wheat is not the only grain
When someone says “grain” most people envision wheat, rice, or corn. But there are so many more choices than that. What about the wide array of ancient grains that most Americans have never heard of?
Amaranth—Cultivated for thousands of years, amaranth was a staple food of the Aztec people. After the Spanish Conquistadors invaded Mexico in the 1500s, it almost disappeared as a crop. Amaranth seeds contain from 14-16% protein. And, according to the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute, “the protein is well balanced in amino acids, and is high in lysine, an amino acid most grains are deficient in.” This ancient grain is also high in fiber and contains high levels of tocotrienols (members of the vitamin E family). Some folks like to cook it as porridge. It can also be popped like popcorn, milled into flour and added to bread products, and boiled and served like rice. Amaranth is also gluten-free.
Millet—Better known as bird food in this country, millet has been cultivated in Asia for thousands of years. With a protein content similar to wheat (around 11%), this cereal grain is also high in B vitamins. Because it is gluten-free, you cannot use millet flour for making raised, yeast breads. However, you can add millet flour to your wheat for a multi-grain bread or use it to make flatbreads or pancakes. To cook millet like you would rice, first toast it in a dry pan to bring out the flavor. Then cook with three times the water as grain for 30 minutes.
Quinoa—Though technically not a true cereal grain because it does not come from the grass family, no grain article would be complete without mentioning quinoa. Domesticated by the Incas in ancient times, quinoa is one of the only plant foods to contain a balanced set of amino acids—making it a complete protein. Since quinoa is a very good source of manganese, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus, this food is valuable for a person’s arterial health. To cook quinoa, first thoroughly rinse the seeds. Then, combine 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and cover. The quinoa should be ready in about 15 minutes. For a nuttier flavor, try dry-roasting the seeds prior to adding the water. Add fruit and nuts to make a breakfast cereal. Add the seeds to vegetable soup. Or, grind into flour and add to your multi-grain bread.
Spelt—Actually a cousin to wheat, spelt has been used in Europe from ancient times. Because this grain does not normally cause the intolerance issues that wheat causes in some people, it has made a comeback as a replacement for wheat in making yeast breads. This grain offers a whopping 62% of the Daily Value for manganese, as well as an impressive amount of protein, B vitamins, and copper.
I hope this gives you a few new grains to think about adding to your diet. I like to purchase them in little bags at the bulk food store and mill them mixed together to add to pancake or bread flour—enhancing the nutritional value of my wheat. Here is one of my favorites.
For an incredible multi-grain pancake combine ½ the wheat you would normally use with a mixture of several other grains. A few of my favorites are millet, brown rice, and whole oats. Mill this mixture into flour. Make your batter as you normally would. Serve with generous amounts of real butter and maple syrup.
Photo by digiyesica