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In the Western World, it’s hard to escape grains. They are everywhere and so convenient so inevitably we rely on them more than we might even be aware of. Porridge, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, rice….all easy and ready in minutes. However, alongside our love for grains, gluten intolerance, wheat allergy and celiac disease are on the continual rise. Inevitably, the question arises; we have been consuming wheat and grains for thousands of years, so what’s changed? This blog post takes a look at the question ‘what are ancient grains?’ with insights into modern agriculture, world trade and the art of traditional cooking methods we need to return to.
What are Ancient Grains: Historical Overview
From a historical overview, humans have only been consuming grains as a staple in their diet for around 8-10,000 years. At this time, our species left behind the hunter gatherer lifestyle in favour of farming. However, the type of wheat we are consuming has not been the same all this time. To cope with growing demand, the type of farming and the type of grain has changed.
With regards farming, we touched on this in an earlier post. Unfortunately, the growing demand for food has created mass production practices; farms spanning thousands of acres, bigger machinery, automation and minimal waste. The goal is to create massive crop yield with minimal waste product and zero care for the nutrient quality of the grain itself. And to do this requires pesticides, sprays, minimal care for the soil and even genetic modification.
Over the last century, we have been manipulating the wheat grain in an effort to create a seed that can meet the demand, resist pest attack, make mass farming easier and survive the rigorous industrial milling and baking processes. So overall, this hybridization has favoured the process and not the consumer.
Finally, the grain is processed to create a finished shelf product. This stage requires heat and heavy machinery. In fact, you might often even notice that certain products like flour are ‘fortified with’ certain nutrients. This would indicate that the heavy processing has killed of the natural occurring nutrients and required the manufacturer to add them back synthetically.
Modern Farming: What’s the result?
Research on the current wheat genome is still in its infancy. In fact, there is little around the health effects of these modifications. Nevertheless, it appears to shed some light on the increased celiac and wheat intolerance.
With all this modification, some diets recommend avoiding grains altogether. In this case, there is also the argument that while we have hunted and gathered certain foods for hundreds of thousands of years, farming is still very new to the human species (10k years) and our digestive system just hasn’t adjusted quite yet. This argument has some merit to it if put beside the farming and production developments explained above. Can our systems truly handle the wheat and wheat based products on the market today?
To conclude, grains are a carbohydrate, a macronutrient that is in many ways misunderstood. One specific reason is the processing. Did you know that there is no definition for bread for example? While a typical homemade recipe might call for 3-4 ingredients, a store bought product might have 15-20+ on the label and yet we classify these as the same product!
This is the perfect moment to turn to ancient grains.
Ancient Grains: What’s the Difference?
As the name suggests, ancient grains refers to the varieties that were available to us many thousands of years ago. For example, the Old Testament talks of Farro! But there is more to it than just history; these cereals and seeds also have a robust texture and fantastic nutritional profile. What makes them different to modern grains is the lack of modification.
The following cereals and seeds are considered to be ancient grains: buckwheat, quinoa, millet, sorghum, amaranth, teff, freekeh, chia seeds, farro, spelt and Kamut. Most are gluten free but even those that aren’t are often tolerated by people who are wheat/gluten sensitive. All of the latter contain protein, fibre and nutrients like vitamin B, iron and minerals like magnesium and potassium.
What are Ancient Grains: Preparation
Not only is the type of grain important (as per previous section), the preparation method also matters. While we love convenience and making meals quick and easy, this moves away from the ancient methods that maximise the nutrient bioavailability. Grain preparation tactics like soaking, sprouting, and fermentation were part of ancient cultural practice for good reason. These methods ensure the neutralization of enzyme-inhibitors and other anti-nutrients found in seeds.
Spotlight on Buckwheat
Buckwheat is the grain of choice for iRaw and features in a number of our products including: beetroot brownie, creamy caramel rawl ups, superfood rawl ups, crunchy onion snack, spicy chocolate rawl ups and salted caramel brownie.