What are heirloom and ancient grains?

What are heirloom and ancient grains?

Ancient Grains

Ancient grains, which include spelt, emmer and einkorn, are older grain varieties that have been cultivated for centuries. Some have even been around for thousands of years. You may have also heard these grains collectively referred to as farro. Originating in the Fertile Crescent, these early ancestors of the wheat we know today trace back to Egyptian pharaohs, and were also said to have fed the ancient Roman Empire.

Today, farro grains are a favourite in several parts of Europe especially Italy, and are gaining popularity as a heathy and flavourful option in other parts of the world including here in North America.

Ancient grains are said to have several healthy, immune-boosting benefits. A great source of fibre, B vitamins, iron, magnesium and zinc. They are also higher in protein than the modern varieties of wheat we know of today. While they are definitely not “gluten free”, they are lower in gluten and are often used by people with gluten sensitivities or allergies.

Heirloom Grains

Aside from ancient grains, there are also heirloom and heritage grains, which have been passed down from generation to generation, without being altered. A notable heirloom grain our region is Red Fife wheat, which came from a grain brought to Upper Canada from Scotland in the early 19th century and believed to be an ancestor of wheat originating in the Ukraine and Turkey. It was first cultivated in Peterborough County, only a few short miles from our farm. It thrived in the region and became a flour staple from the 1860s to the turn of the twentieth century.

Stone milled Red fife wheat is a nutritious alternative to common flour varieties, packing loads of fibre, B vitamins and other minerals. Not to mention a hearty nutty flavour that makes for fantastic artisan bread!

It’s even become a royal favourite. On a recent trip to Canada, Prince Charles became so taken with the flour and it’s Scottish connection that he took some bags home. Since then, other members of the royal family have requested the flour when visiting Canada.

Ancient and heirloom grains are NOT genetically modified, and bring a healthy, earthy, rich flavour to recipes. Hungry yet? I am!


photo credit: Staff of Life via photopin (license)

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