Heirloom Grains: Our New Heritage All Over Again?

GIVEN THE RECENT ACQUISITION of quinoa in many pantries, there’s an increased interest in healthful heirloom grains. For the most part, these grains have been harvested and eaten for hundreds, if not thousands of years. What do they have in common? These grains are unaltered, neither through hybridization, nor genetic engineering. In whole grain form, they provide more fiber, protein, calcium, vitamins, and nutrients than modern-day wheat. And they are gluten-free.

The major drawbacks of these heritage grains: they’re sometimes difficult to obtain and they have to be cooked longer. But the cooking time can be decreased if soaked overnight. Also, some can be fried before boiling, similar to fried rice. If these heirloom or heritage grains aren’t soaked or fried first, it may take hours to cook them. But they are usually more flavorful, often with a nutty taste. Also, these grains are less likely to cause weight gain.

Throughout most of history man has been close to famine and the answer was the development of hybrid wheat, corn, and rice that packed on the pounds. In most of the first world nations today, there is an abundance of food; consequently, the consumption of those hybrid grains causes weight gain and, in some cases, morbid obesity.

These heirloom grains can be found in some breads, soups, cereals, snacks, and salads. They include:

· Spelt, ancient wheat grown as long as 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia.

· Teff, a minuscule grain that has been grown for hundreds of years in Ethiopia.

· Farro, precursor of wheat, one of the first cultivated grains grown in ancient Egypt.

· Millet, grown in northern China over 5,000 years ago, and in Africa for at least the past 2,000 years

· Some of the others include sorghum, amaranth, einkorn, emmer and, of course, quinoa.

Following is one of my favorite heirloom grain recipes.

Millet with Mixed Mushrooms

· 2 cups dried mixed mushrooms, soak 15 minutes in pre-boiled water

· 4 tablespoons flaxseed oil

· 4 tablespoons butter, that’s ½ stick

· One large Walla Walla sweet onion, chopped

· 2 cups millet, soak 1 hour

· 2 tablespoons minced garlic

· 2 cups sliced baby Portobello mushrooms

· 1 tablespoons soy sauce

· ¼ cup cream sherry

· 1 teaspoon thyme

· Salt and pepper to taste

1) Remove and wring mixed mushrooms into the remaining water, keep the water in reserve, and chop the reconstituted mixed mushrooms.

2) In 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil sauté onion for 5 minutes. Add the pre-soaked millet, the mushroom soaked water, and one cup water, bring to boil, cover, simmer for 30 minutes, and salt to taste.

3) In the remaining butter and oil, add garlic, all mushrooms, and sherry, sauté for ten minutes, and add pepper and thyme.

4) Place the millet on plates, top with the mushrooms, and enjoy a healthful meal.


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