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Go With the Grain


Tens of millions of people in North America are sensitive to wheat. This is not just because the seed has been extensively modified, but because most wheat products are processed beyond recognition.

Tens of millions of people in North America are sensitive to wheat. This is not just because the seed has been extensively modified, but because most wheat products are processed beyond recognition.

Ancient varieties of wheat are often tolerated by people otherwise sensitive to common bread wheat. And there are quite a few ancient varieties from which to choose. All kinds of wheat, other than the common bread variety, descended from a wild form of einkorn (meaning "single grain")–the most ancient wheat. As its name implies, there are only one to two kernels per spike spindle, in contrast to four or five in common bread wheat. But in return one kernel offers almost double the amount of minerals and a lot of precious protein if grown in healthy soil. Moreover, einkorn kernels are encapsulated in a tightly fitting husk, which protects them from negative outside environmental influences like chemical pollution.

Here in Canada we are lucky. A group of dedicated organic farmers in Saskatchewan is growing einkorn again. Due to its exceptionally soft outer bran layers, einkorn is easily digestible and makes an ideal grain for perfect whole wheat chapatis.

The next evolution of wheat from ancient einkorn is called emmer, which is possible to grow yourself. But if growing your own isn’t a viable option you can try kamut–another ancient member of the durum wheat family which is widely available in health food stores.

Planters from Montana gave this golden, oversized kernel of wheat the Egyptian name kamut, meaning "soul of the earth," to highlight its ancient origin. Even though the story about kamut coming from King Tut’s tomb is fabulous fiction, its rich nutritional profile is fact. Kamut is about 30 per cent higher in protein and higher in eight out of nine minerals than common wheat. It’s great for sprouting and is a perfect ingredient for any type of pasta, especially if homemade with freshly ground flour.

The third major group of wheat to which common bread wheat belongs also boasts an ancient ancestry, namely spelt. In the 12th century Hildegard von Bingen, a visionary abbess from Swabia, recommended spelt as the ultimate grain. Just like all the other ancient wheats, spelt also features a balanced protein profile and high fat content with a large proportion of essential linoleic acid. Its extremely high fibre content is powerful in absorbing toxins from the body, especially heavy metals.

In contrast to common wheat, whose nutrients are mainly concentrated in its outer layers, spelt offers a more even distribution of its nutrients throughout the whole kernel. Therefore, freshly ground spelt flour with the coarser bran sifted out is a good start for people new to whole grain food. Gradually more and more of the valuable bran can be left in your flour until you are consuming the whole grain.

Introduce Variety

There are also other ancient grains bursting with nourishing goodness and abundant nutrients: wild rice, amaranth, quinoa and teff (an African cereal). Botanically speaking, some of them are not true grains but who cares? You can prepare and eat them like grains!

Let me introduce you to the ones that are native to the Americas.

Wild rice sustained native tribes in the lake areas of Ontario and Minnesota for thousands of years. This water grass does not like to be cultivated. It is still grown the ancient way in flood areas and harvested by hand from canoes! The darker its color, the better the quality. In comparison with cultivated rice, it has much more protein to offer and is richer in minerals and B vitamins. It’s a hardy food for cold climates and can be prepared just like other rice.

Further south, ancient cultures have thrived on tinier seeds. The Aztecs highly revered amaranth and the Incas ate quinoa for their magical powers. The protein profile of both grains reads like a recommendation for an optimal protein diet. The calcium in amaranth is higher than in milk. And 99 percent of the fat in quinoa is unsaturated. Both are rich in many other minerals and B vitamins including vitamin E. Both seeds are easy sprouters. Steamed, they are ready to eat in less than 20 minutes.

There are many more ancient grains and heirloom varieties either growing in remote areas or hibernating in seed banks, waiting to be rediscovered. And you need not wait till an allergy forces you to discover their healing powers. Make ancient seeds or grains part of your daily diet now to prevent ill health in the future. Their unique nutritional profile and high nutrient density will truly nourish you and their abundance of phytochemicals will boost your immune system. Celebrate this month’s Thanksgiving with ancient grains. The harvest is in and it’s yours to discover.

The figures in this table are given for a general overview only. The actual nutrient density of a given grain not only depends on the health of its genetic blueprint, but also on the health of the soil it is grown in.

  einkorn kamut spelt wheat
carbohydrates 63 68.2 67.7 72.7
protein 19 17.3 13.1 12.3
fat 2.6 2.6 2.4 1.9
minerals n/a 1.82 1.75 1.66
fibre n/a 1.8 8.8 2.1

If you have difficulties locating ancient grains, send an email to Grain Cuisine at or a self-addressed envelope to 5237 Mt. Matheson Rd., Sooke BC V0S 1N0 for a list of suppliers.



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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD