What is an Ancient Grain?
There is no official definition of ‘ancient grains.’ All whole grains in the larger sense are "ancient" -- they all can trace their roots back to the beginnings of time.
However, here at the Whole Grains Council, we generally define ancient grains loosely as grains that are largely unchanged over the last several hundred years.
This means that modern wheat (constantly bred and changed) is not an ancient grain, while einkorn, emmer/farro, Kamut®, and spelt would be considered ancient grains in the wheat family. Heirloom varieties of other common grains -- such as black barley, red and black rice, blue corn -- might also be considered ancient grains. Other grains largely ignored until recently by Western palates (such as sorghum, teff, millet, quinoa, amaranth) would also be widely considered to be ancient grains. Sometimes less common grains, like buckwheat, or wild rice, are also included.
Are ancient grains healthier than modern grains?
Ancient grains are certainly more nutritious than refined grain products (like white flour or refined crackers). But healthy whole grains need not be exotic. Common foods like brown rice, whole grain pasta, oatmeal, popcorn, and whole wheat bread offer the same whole grain goodness, and often at lower price points.
Many ancient grains thrive with lower levels of pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation, making them an attractive choice to consumers who choose to shop with their carbon footprint in mind. However, the best way to ensure that you’re getting the full spectrum of nutrients available in nature is to eat a variety of different grain foods. After all, each whole grain has something different to offer (from the calcium in teff, to the soluble fiber in barley), making it impossible to play favorites.