What’s Old is New Again: Beyond Whole Wheat and Back to Ancient Grains

Reviews by Kristina Sepetys

Shopping around the East Bay, you may be noticing more whole-grain choices like quinoa, Kamut (a long-cultivated Iranian wheat, Khorasan, that’s been trademarked), teff (a highly nutritious Ethiopian/Eritrean gluten-free grain), three farro wheats (einkorn, emmer, and spelt), freekeh, millet, and a host of others. Many are called “ancient grains” because they’ve fed people in their current form, unchanged by breeding or modification, for millennia. In fact, not all are truly grains. Some, like quinoa, buckwheat, wild rice, and amaranth, are seeds from grasses, but can be prepared like grains. Many varieties of grains and seeds are gluten-free and rich in fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, a welcome option, particularly to people seeking to avoid gluten and replace empty, refined carbohydrates with more nutritious alternatives. Some cooks maintain that traditional practices of soaking, fermenting, and sprouting increase the bioavailability of nutrients in grains, making them easier to digest, faster to prepare, and generally better tasting. Traditional grains bring new textures and flavors to dishes. More information and a great variety of recipes incorporating these tasty, healthful staples can be found in these new titles.


Simply Ancient Grains: Fresh and Flavorful Whole Grain Recipes
for Living Well
by Maria Speck
(Ten Speed Press, 2015)

Food journalist, author of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, and grain-guru Maria Speck has a new collection of recipes for nourishing breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals, most of which are gluten-free and vegetarian. Speck advocates soaking the grains in many of her recipes, many of which are Mediterranean-inspired and include beautiful, appetizing photographs. A sampling of the delicious-sounding dishes includes Burgundy Bulgur with Blueberries and Orange Blossom Water, Saffron Millet with Toasted Almonds and Cardamom, Orange-Scented Amaranth Porridge with Apricots and Pine Nuts, Freekeh Salad with Caramelized Cauliflower and Tuna, and Teff Polenta Verde with Dandelions and Parmesan.


Flavor Flours: A New Way to Bake with Teff, Buckwheat, Sorghum,
Other Whole & Ancient Grains, Nuts & Non-Wheat Flours

by Alice Medrich
(Artisan, 2014)

Alice Medrich, Berkeley’s favorite baker of chocolate delights, explores the added flavor dimensions that white-wheat flour alternatives can provide to baked goods. She explains how brownies made with rice flour can taste more chocolaty and how buckwheat adds complexity to a date and nut cake. Her Ricotta Cheesecake gets extra flavor from a chestnut flour crust. The Buckwheat Gingerbread, Chocolate Chestnut Soufflé Cake, and Blueberry Corn Flour Cobbler are all rich and flavorful. As with all of Medrich’s books, there is a wealth of useful information on taste and flavor affinities. Flavor Flours recently won the 2015 James Beard award in the category Baking and Dessert.


The Sweet Side of Ancient Grains: Decadent Whole Grain Brownies, Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and More
by Erin Dooner
(Countryman Press, 2015)

Erin Dooner likes her traditional brownies, cookies, and cakes. But she likes them with more healthful whole grains, rather than white flour and other refined carbohydrates. Her recipes provide helpful instruction for using a variety of grains like barley, spelt, teff, buckwheat, quinoa, and natural sugars where possible to create sweets that are all incredibly appealing to the palate, like Teff Raspberry Chocolate Crumble Bars, Barley Honey Nut Bars, Spelt Praline Blondies, Buckwheat Chocolate Hazelnut Crostata, and Strawberry Nectarine Buckle.