The 5 Ancient Grains You Should Be Cooking With Right Now (What’s Old is New Again!)

Heirloom Grains to Try
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You’re already the Queen of Quinoa, and you’ve been getting your freak on with freekeh, but there are some ancient grains that might not be on your radar yet. From a new-and-improved quinoa (you read that right!) to an alternative to one of summer’s most bountiful staples, here are five of our favorites.

kaniwa
image via PeregNatural/Instagram

1. Kañiwa

Also known as baby quinoa, kañiwa, which is about half the size of the familiar pseudograin, has a unique benefit as compared to its bigger sibling: it doesn’t have saponins, that coating that can give quinoa a soapy, bitter flavor. It’s also a better source of iron than regular quinoa.

Try it in our sweet quinoa breakfast bowl or as the base for a spicy vegan burrito bowl.

Injera Teff bread
iStock/JeffKearney

2. Teff

Teff is the staple grain of Ethiopian cuisine, ground into flour and fermented to create tangy, gluten-free injera bread. But teff can also be enjoyed whole: with a texture somewhere between cornmeal and poppy seeds, teff is makes great porridge or pilaf.

Teff comes in two colors – ivory and brown. Brown teff has a subtle hazelnut or chocolate flavor, while ivory is a bit milder. Both are richer in protein than wheat.

Try teff as a porridge, in place of oatmeal, or use it to mix up a batch of gluten-free peanut butter cookies: the natural sweetness of teff adds a touch of molasses flavor. You could also try your hand at making an authentic injera recipe – just be sure you plan at least a week in advance, as the dough needs time to ferment.

Smorrebrod
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3. Rye

Rye flour may be common in sandwich bread, but whole rye berries are a horse of a different color. Common in Scandinavian cuisines, whole rye berries have a slightly tangy flavor and are loaded with phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and iron.

Try rye in traditional Danish rye bread as a base for traditional smorrebrod sandwiches, or sprout the rye berries and toss them with a light sherry vinegar and shallot vinaigrette for a nourishing salad.

einkorn
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4. Einkorn

One of the oldest ancient grains is einkorn: this wheat variety was one of the first forms of wheat to be cultivated by humans, beginning in about 7500 BC.

Along with emmer and spelt, einkorn is one of three common ancient wheat forms, all of which are – sometimes confusingly – referred to as farro in Italian. Einkorn, as the smallest, is referred to as farro piccolo. While all three are lower in gluten than modern wheat, einkorn has a few unique benefits, with a higher concentration of beta carotene and lutein than modern wheat varieties.

Try einkorn in place of spelt in our spelt salad recipe, or use einkorn flour to make a tasty challah.

polenta
iStock/sf_foodphoto

5. Heirloom Corn

Corn is part of our heritage in America, but the varieties we find on farm stands today are far from what Native Americans once consumed. That said, heirloom varieties like New England Eight Row Flint recapture the flavors that first caught on with settlers in New England and are quickly gaining in popularity.

While this variety is too tough to be eaten as sweetcorn (as its name – flint corn – suggests), it has long been used to make extremely flavorful polenta in Italy. Other varieties, such as Black Mexican or Oklahoma Delaware Blue can be enjoyed like other sweet corn: in your favorite recipes or right off the cob.

Try heirloom corn in this heirloom corn and bacon relish, which highlights the ingredient’s natural sweetness. If you’ve got your hands on heirloom flint corn, try Dan Barber’s polenta recipe – he was one of the first American chefs to put New England Eight Row Flint on the map.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.