Ancient Grains Are Never Out of Style
Grains, also called cereals, are the harvested seeds of grasses. This includes everything we can harvest out of the 9 cereal categories: teff, rice, oat, barley, sorghum, maize (corn), rye, millet and wheat. When we talk about grains, we also commonly talk about buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa, but those are technically considered “pseudo cereals,” but for all intents and purposes they act the same and are used in relatively similar ways. Let’s not get caught up in semantics, huh?
Grains are some of the oldest cultivated foods, with cereals in Syria having been produced approximately 9,000 years ago (over 2,000 years after figs, though!).
The majority of the world gets most of its carbohydrate intake from grains (especially back when we really, really needed caloric intake to survive), and in almost every culture grains are heavily represented — often served alongside some sort of legume.
Cultural Anthropology Food Science Note
Many grains are deficient in the essential amino acid lysine, but contain methionine. In contrast, many legumes contain lysine but lack methionine. Because of this, the combination of legumes and grains when eaten together forms a well-balanced diet (especially for vegetarians), where the body can absorb ample amounts of protein — many cultures have naturally developed these sorts of food staple arrangements as they often reflect a healthier, more physically satisfying meal structure.
In South India, you’ll see rice served alongside lentils. In Pakistan and North India you’ll see lentils with wheat. Tofu (soy beans) and rice in Taiwan, corn tortillas with beans in Mexico… and the traditional Peanut Butter sandwich on white bread that you can find anywhere in the United States. Lysine biosynthesizes proteins and methionine plays a critical role in regulating metabolism and making crude proteins ready for our bodies to utilize.
Together, the right combination of grains and legumes together help form complete proteins!
And maybe that’s why humans are drawn to putting together these groups of foods. But there’s an interesting underlying question that we can ask today, which is: in our modern culture where corn is by far the most consumed cereal (often without the aid of legumes’ lysine), should we consider widening our grain selection?
The option is there, but the main reason we tend to stick with corn, rice, and wheat in the U.S. is relatively simple — it’s what we often already know how to cook. They’re not bad to eat by any stretch, but there’s so much more out there!
But other grains are easy to cook too! We like to keep things simple and accessible, so let’s break it down with this handy chart:
Here are a couple of grains rules to follow:
- 1. The majority of grains are cooked in the same way that you would prepare rice. Put the dry grain into a pot with cold water or broth, bring it to a low boil, then simmer until the liquid is fully absorbed.
- 2. Pasta is cooked in a larger amount of water and then strained when finished — you can also do this with hearty grains like brown rice or barley.
- 3. Polenta sometimes requires the addition of water partway through (it can soak up a lot of water) and likes to be stirred often.
- 4. Don’t be afraid to batch cook! You can cook lots of extra grains and then put them in the fridge — warm them up with a little added water in a pan, use in cold salads, with chopped vegetables, or in soup.
- 5. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Have fun! Try somethin’ different in your diet and find your new favorite food!
So that’s it! Don’t be afraid to experiment and feel free to reach out if you have any questions or want to share ideas/recipes/excitement!
A Few Grains We’re Excited About
Multi-colored stone-ground polenta made from Heritage Abenaki Flint Corn (non-GMO). The red and orange flecks look darn good on the plate, but the superior taste and texture will really blow you away.
This beautiful barley is fragrant, slightly smokey, nutty, chewy (but not gummy) and quite frankly – delicious. Add it to soup or porridge, or just treat it like brown rice, toss it with herbs, and serve roast chicken or sausages over it.
Ah, the classic incredible grain providing all nine essential amino acids as well as a good source of protein, iron, and dietary fiber. It’s a staple in our pantry and so, so good tossed with cucumbers and tomatoes in a salad.