Peoples of ancient civilizations always regarded grains as the basis of their sustenance. Meat and fish were used as “condiments” to enhance the flavour of bread with vegetables.
Wheat has been changed naturally and scientifically to yield more, resist diseases, and acquire other characteristics beneficial to farmers. In the process, it has also lost its authentic flavour and for purposes of convenience “bread plants” in modern countries have managed to “out bake” the little flavour it contained.
Fortunately, people have noticed the flavour-free characteristics of industrial breads and started favouring grains that offer appealing textures and flavours.
Among traditional grains, we find rice, millet, buckwheat, oats, quinoa and amaranth.
Brown rice is an excellent source of starch and millions of people sustain themselves by consuming rice with a little vegetable and protein. Over 90 percent of world rice production originates in Far Eastern countries and approximately 35 percent humankind find its sustenance in rice. In North America, rice consumption is relatively small due to the population base but it is changing rapidly with increasing immigration from Far Eastern countries.
White polished rice, loses more than 90 percent of its minerals and vitamins, and contains mostly starch. Brown rice contains most of its minerals, vitamins, calcium, fibre, acids, iron, phosphorus, and carbohydrates to name just a few.
When milled by hand rice contains more protein than wheat.
Brown rice stores better and longer, especially if stored with a few leaves of neem (an indigenous tree to India), but requires longer cooking than white rice.
Brown rice deserves more popularity, and in time it will with increased nutritional information.
Millet, a staple of sub-Saharan Africa and India, is rich in minerals and vitamins. It contains most of everything rice does, and has the ability to complement dairy products and legumes. Millet tastes good and stores well. It can be processes to flour or cracked for a number of preparations including porridge, in salads, soups, in breads, cakes and puddings.
Doctors recommend buckwheat for those allergic to wheat and it contains almost the same nutritional value as rice and millet./ Available in the form of flour or whole (groats) , nutritionally the latter offers more.
In Europe, people cook it in casseroles, make dumplings and blend it in puddings. Buckwheat is also used in soups, for stuffing and for pancakes, (in Russia called blini), and generally serve them with caviar and vodka.
Oats are more popular in northern European countries (Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavian countries, Poland and Germany) than around the Mediterranean, although the “roots” of this grain are in that part of the world.
Oats have been planted in North America ever since the first settlers started farming, but tint eh 20th century this cereal was used more as animal feed than food.
Oats contain calcium, carbohydrates, fat, iron, fibre, linoleic acid, potassium, protein, sodium, riboflavin, thiamine and phosphorus. It is easy to digest, and recommended for people allergic to wheat. Oats contain more fat than any other cereal, and interestingly, researchers have determined that it can reduce LDL-cholesterol. Oats are marketed rolled, hulled, or as flour. Rolled oats are excellent as breakfast cereal, fine in soups and casseroles. Scots bake excellent oatmeal cookies and cakes.
Quinoa and amaranth were the staples of Aztecs and Incas. Although expensive, both grains are becoming more popular mainly because doctors recommend them to gluten-intolerant individuals.
Researchers showed that both quinoa and amaranth are the most valuable of grains from a nutritional perspective. Incas cultivated quinoa alongside potatoes and corn as one the three staples of the population. The leaves are edible, and often used by indigenous peoples of South America. Quinoa protein is the most complete of all in the plant world containing vital nutrients, and amino acids with a remarkable balance of all.
This cereal is easy to digest, and ideal for infants. It is used in casseroles, croquettes, chowders, soups, stuffing’s, and salads. Available in flour form or whole (in health food stores) this “super grain” deserves the attention of all interested in nutrition and concerned about taste.
Amaranth was the preferred grain of Aztecs and provided energy to million involved in heavy work.
Polyunsaturated and gluten free, amaranth contains a high amount of carbohydrates. Cortez noted, when conquering Mexico, the popularity of amaranth among Aztecs, and concluded, before modern scientists, that it has excellent nutritional and caloric value. The balance of amaranth of all components is surpasses that of corn, rice and wheat.
Spelt (triticum spelta) originated in what is today Iran and has been cultivated since 5000B.C. Romans called it farrum, and Germans call it dinkel. Triticum spelta is distant cousin of wheat (triticum aestivum). High in fibre, and vitamin B, mild in flavour spelt is particularly suitable for people allergic or sensitive to gluten in wheat. Although high in gluten, people who are allergic to gluten tolerate spelt better than other grains in the same category. This vigorous plant thrives even on poor soils and contains more fat, protein and fibre than wheat. Scientists have determined that spelt enhances and improves the immune system and satisfies hunger better.
Spelt flour is used in cakes, bread, pasta production, cookies, muffins, and crackers; and can be employed in soups and casseroles.