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Exploring the Future of Food: Rethinking Ancient Grains

Exploring the Future of Food: Rethinking Ancient Grains

In the second part of her series on the future of food, Julianka Bell explores some implications of this increase in popularity and offers some new grains to expand your repertoire.

Alas, ancient grains are making a comeback. Farmers are introducing new varieties to their grain portfolios. Chefs are challenging diners to explore grains in a whole new manner (think buckwheat pasta). And grocery store grain aisles are getting an upgrade now that consumers are on the hunt for the next super grain.

Take the case of quinoa. In recent years, the high protein, gluten-free grain has seen a surge in sales in the United States. Its appeal is immense. In fact, it’s so nutritionally complete that it has been approved for space by NASA. And in 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa.

But, quinoa is complicated. Its popularity boost has its own fair share of disadvantages. Although the escalating prices have boosted farmers’ income, locals are consuming less of the staple and farmers are scrambling for new land to cultivate to meet demand.

As the challenges of sustainably feeding a growing population continue to increase, a range of experts from different fields are rising to the challenge of finding more sustainable grains along the way. If grains supply more than half of the world’s energy, then perhaps diversifying the local food grain system can alleviate the problem and encourage new and better standards in farming.

As consumers, you can help by trying new grains. Below is a glimpse of 5 grains that show great promise for the future:

1) Amaranth

  • Flavor: Earthy and nutty
  • Sustainability: Drought resistant and adaptive
  • Nutrition Profile: Gluten-free and high in calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and protein. Also, one of the only grains to contain vitamin C.
  • Innovative Companies: Puente à la Salud Comunitaria is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping local farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico cultivate and process amaranth.
  • Cost: $$


2) Freekeh

  • Flavor: Firm and slightly chewy, with an earthy, nutty, and slightly smoky flavor
  • Sustainability: Takes 50% less water to grow than rice and wheat.
  • Nutrition Profile: Low in fat and high in fiber, iron, calcium, and zinc. Also has more protein and twice as much fiber as quinoa.
  • Innovative Companies: Freekeh Foods is providing organic and conventional freekeh based products to our customers around the US.
  • Cost: $$$


3) Millet

  • Flavor: A mild corn flavor
  • Sustainability: Incredibly resilient in a variety of climates. Drought tolerant.
  • Nutrition Profile: High levels of antioxidants, iron, protein, calcium, B vitamins, and higher levels of protein and micronutrient than corn or rice. Gluten free.
  • Innovative Companies: The Millet Project is currently working with six California farmers, like the Mendocino Grain project, to grow millet with the help of funding through the grant.
  • Cost: $


4) Sorghum

  • Flavor: Mild flavor
  • Sustainability: An alternative to corn in drought-prone areas and requires less nitrogen than corn.
  • Nutrition Profile: Gluten-free and high in fiber, protein, and B-complex vitamins
  • Innovative Companies: Scientists at the Land Institute in Kansas are working to grow a perennial seed that would persist year to year without the need for re-sowing.
  • Cost: $$


5) Teff

  • Flavor: Nutty
  • Sustainability: A highly adaptable, low-yield crop, that thrives in high altitudes, dry heat, and droughts.
  • Nutrition Profile: High in calcium, iron, fiber, and protein
  • Innovative Companies: Love Grain is working with local Ethiopian farmers to create a sustainable cycle of farm-to-family business
  • Cost: $$$

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