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The appeal of ancient grains


Ancient grains are those which have changed little through selective breeding over time. Corn, rice, and the wheat varieties often used to make modern bread products have changed greatly through farming practices over thousands of years. Others, such as quinoa, amaranth, and farro, have changed little. Recent popularity of ancient grains has been driven by the belief that ancient grains are more nutritious than modern grains and the search for gluten-free grains. Like wheat, most ancient grains are good sources of manganese, phosphorus, copper, and fiber. Ancient grains are sometimes higher in protein, antioxidants, magnesium, and iron. Not all ancient grains are gluten-free. Amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, and sorghum are gluten-free.

Amaranth was a staple food of the Incan, Mayan, and Aztec peoples. It is rich in protein and fiber. Amaranth has a nutty flavor and is easy to prepare. Cooked amaranth may be used in place of rice or pasta, mixed into soups and stews, added to smoothies, or used as a breakfast cereal.

Buckwheat is not really a kind of wheat. Compared to other grains, it is high in some minerals and antioxidants but not high in vitamins. Dry groats (hulled buckwheat seeds) are often sprinkled onto salads, soups, and breads to add crunch and texture. Ground into flour, buckwheat may be made into Soba noodles or baked products.

Millet describes a group of small-seeded, hardy grasses that today are grown mostly in India, China, and Nigeria. However, they are mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible and in texts from ancient Rome and medieval Europe. In the United States, millets are grown largely for animal and bird feed. Teff is one kind of millet. Cooked teff contains about half as much calcium as milk and is especially high in copper and manganese. Cooked millets lend themselves well to porridges and baked products.

Quinoa is one of the most popular ancient grains. First cultivated around 5,000 years ago throughout the Andes, it was a staple of the Incan people. Quinoa is one of the few plant sources of complete protein. It is also higher in fiber and healthy fats than other grains. Quinoa is covered in protective saponins, which have a bitter taste. Before cooking, you should rinse quinoa with water to remove any saponins remaining after processing. You can then cook and eat quinoa just like rice.

Many Kentuckians grow sorghum for animal feed, or to be turned into ethanol or sweetener. They may never have used it as a grain. It is high in protein. It may be milled into flour with or without its hull. White sorghum flour lacks the protein, fiber, and nutrients of whole grain flour. Both can be combined with other flours in a variety of baked goods. The grain can be cooked like rice and used as a side dish, hot cereal, or addition to other recipes. Whole grain sorghum can be popped into tiny white kernels like popcorn.

Spelt, kamut, farro, einkorn, and emmer are varieties of wheat. They are not gluten-free.

Like all grains, ancient grains in their whole form provide fiber, vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats. With rising popularity, you can buy many of the grains mentioned above at most grocery stores. However, if they aren’t available at your grocery, you can order them from sources on the internet. If it is medically necessary to avoid gluten, be sure to read the product’s label. Often, gluten-free grains are processed in plants that also process wheat. Find recipes for ancient grains on websites such as and Talk to your Family and Consumer Sciences agent for more information about cooking with gluten-free grains.


Amaranth: An Ancient Grain with Impressive Health Benefits,

Are Ancient Grains Gluten-free,

Buckwheat 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits,

Millet and Teff-November Grains of the Month, Oldways Whole Grains Council,

Source: Jackie R. Walters, MBA, RDN, Extension Specialist for the Nutrition Education Program

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