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Mix It Up: A fresh look at ancient wheat



By Carie Birkmeier EBS STAFF

When you hear of “ancient grains,” you might think of the bag of rice that’s been in your kitchen cabinet for three years. But there are a vast range of whole grains that have been consumed for centuries, even millennia, that are making a trendy comeback in many home kitchens.

Quinoa, amaranth and millet are some common grains that don’t come from the wheat plant, but here are some varieties of the wheat grain itself to try that will also add a punch of fiber and protein to your diet. If you’re gluten intolerant, you’ll want to avoid these options.

Farro comes from emmer, einkorn or spelt wheat that is left as a whole kernel. Like barley, farro maintains a slightly chewy texture when cooked, and these two grains can be used interchangeably. It is available in whole grain, which is the least processed; semi-pearled’ and, the most common type, pearled—which refers to the removal of the fibrous outer hull and bran. This grain is particularly high in iron, and completely cholesterol free, making it a heart healthy option. A single cup of farro contains up to 24 grams of protein, making it a great supplement to plant-based diets.

Wheat berries, like farro, are whole kernels of wheat, but come from the common wheat plant rather than a specific variety. Because they are largely unprocessed, they maintain their high levels of fiber. This grain requires a longer cook time than others; soaking it beforehand can help expedite the process. The end product is a slightly firm and chewy grain that works well in salads and soups, or as a fiber-rich alternative to rice.

Bulgur is a further processed, and pre-cooked, form of wheat that is cleaned, steamed, dried and crushed before going to market. This process has been around for thousands of years, originating in the Mediterranean region. It can be purchased in different levels of coarseness, all of which lend themselves to different applications. Coarsely-ground bulgur is a great starch addition for soups, while fine is better suited as a rice substitute. Commonly used in tabbouleh salad, this grain contains copious amounts of fiber and protein—up to 75 and 25 percent of the recommended daily value, respectively.

Kamut is an oversized grain almost three times as big as a common grain of wheat. Its name is trademarked, and actually refers to the grain from Khorasan wheat, originating in northern Africa. Its grains are used to create flour and in their whole form, they are abundant in protein and essential nutrients. Kamut is similar to bulgur and is a nice alternative to oatmeal for breakfast when mixed with fruit, nuts and a touch of honey.

Freekeh, pronounced “free-kah,” is wheat that is harvested while still green. After harvest, it is roasted, rubbed of its hull, and either left whole or cracked. Because it is harvested young, freekeh maintains more protein and fiber content than wheat that has matured. Because it is pre-cooked during the roasting process, this variety cooks quite quickly, especially if its cracked, making it a good option when you’re in a hurry. Freekeh is versatile, and can be used as a substitute for quinoa, oats and rice.

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