‘Ancient’ super grains

Add nutritional variety to your diet

Grain–based foods make an essential contribution to the diet of Australians. Wheat, oats and rice predominate but interest is increasing in ‘ancient’ grains such as quinoa.

Ancient grains such as quinoa, amaranth and millet are often referred to as ‘super grains’ – a reputation that stems from their excellent nutritional attributes. The heritage of these grains goes far back to biblical times. Not technically true cereal grains, pseudo cereals are broadleaf plants used in much the same way as grains like wheat, barley, rye, oats and rice. Nutritionally superior in some aspects but very similar in others, they offer a wealth of essential vitamins and minerals as well as fibre and phytonutrients.

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a small disc-shaped grain first cultivated in the Andes of South America. A staple food of the Inca peoples and referred to as the “mother of all grains”, quinoa has a slightly higher protein content than other grains, and a more ‘complete’ amino acid profile. Like other grains, quinoa is low in fat and high in fibre and also gluten free for those with coeliac disease. With a light fluffy texture and slightly nutty flavour quinoa can be eaten as an alternative to rice, pasta, barley, cracked wheat and even porridge. You should always soak and rinse quinoa before eating or cooking as the grain has a naturally bitter-tasting outer layer, designed to deter birds from enjoying the crop.

Amaranth is one of North America’s oldest crops and a staple grain of the Aztec people that has been cultivated for over 8,000 years. A tiny, (1-2mm) round ball, amaranth is one of the highest protein grains (14%) and has a slightly peppery taste. The protein found in amaranth is of very high quality – containing the essential amino acid lysine (often lacking in many grains). Amaranth is versatile and can be used for a variety of food uses – as a substitute for rice, popped like pop corn as a snack, or puffed for use in breakfast cereals. Amaranth flour can be used as a gluten free alternative to wheat flour for baking.

Millet is a staple in the diets of some African and Asiatic people but eaten much less commonly in the western world. It features in the traditional cuisine of western India in flat breads, sweet desserts or savoury stews with meat, beans and vegetables. The protein content of millet compares favourably with that of corn and wheat. The tiny grain comes in a variety of colours and has a mild flavour, which is why it is often toasted before cooking. You will find millet in the health foods aisle of the supermarket in some gluten free breakfast cereals and as an alternative to wheat flour for baking.

Buckwheat is most familiar to Australians in the form of Japanese ‘soba’ noodles. The name buckwheat comes from its triangular seeds which can be toasted to bring out their earthy rich nutty flavour, made into honey or even flour – commonly used to make buckwheat pancakes. Buckwheat is more closely related to rhubarb than to wheat, but has similar nutritional properties to other wholegrains in terms of quality protein, fibre and is rich in antioxidants. Buckwheat, like other pseudo cereals, is also gluten free for people with coeliac disease.

Chia (pronounced chee-ah) was first used as food as early as 3500BC by the Mayans, Aztecs and Southwest Native Americans. Chia seeds were eaten as a grain, drunk as a beverage when mixed with water, ground into flour, included in medicines, pressed for oil and used as a base for face and body paints. Chia seeds have a bran, germ and endosperm. What makes them so special is that they are full of fibre, protein and omega 3 fats as well as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The protein in chia is of high quality, containing all 8 essential amino acids, which is rare for a plant source of protein. Chia can be sprinkled over salads, cereals and muesli or incorporated into breads, muffins, slices, cookies or porridge. Visit http://www.thechiaco.com.au/ for recipes and ways to incorporate chia into your diet.

If you are keen to add variety to your diet, most pseudo cereals are available from health food stores or the health food aisle of your supermarket. They tend to be more expensive than traditional grains such as wheat, oats and rice which although perhaps less trendy, are just as nutritious but more affordable.

Go Grains Health & Nutrition recommends all Australian adults and teens aim for at least 48g of wholegrains every day. The amount for smaller children is less; however children should increase the amount of wholegrains as they grow. For more information on wholegrains and your health, check out http://www.gograins.com.au.

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