Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Chicago

Ancient Grains Offer Health and Flavor

Dec 01, 2010 02:00AM ● By Jill Motew

These days, when you’re in the grocer’s baking aisle you may find yourself looking at new and unfamiliar flours and wondering how to use them. Often called “ancient grains,” many of these “new” flours have been around for 10,000 years or more. Those without gluten—teff, millet, amaranth, quinoa, chia and sorghum—are gaining attention and popularity among people who have celiac disease, gluten intolerance or diabetes.

Ancient grains offer more nutrition than all-purpose flours because they are unrefined “superfoods,” full of vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, fiber and protein. They are also low in fat, contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, and are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates for longer-lasting energy, making them ideal for athletes.

Most of these grains were first used as porridges and, when bought whole, can be used this way today. Teff, an Ethiopian grain, and millet, native to Africa and India, each make a powerhouse hot breakfast. Add cinnamon and pure maple syrup or agave nectar and toss in some seasonal berries for even more antioxidants. Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a seed from the Andes that cooks like rice and is good as a cold salad, mixed with veggies, feta cheese and vinaigrette dressing. Chia seed, made famous by Chia Pets, is easy to add to smoothies, yogurt parfaits and baked goods. It’s filled with superfood nutrition, too; a teaspoon is all you need.

As flours, ancient grains can be added to your favorite baking recipes to create distinctive flavors and boost nutrition. Teff’s smooth, nutty flavor pairs well with cocoa powder. South American amaranth adds depth to banana bread, pancakes, brownies and waffles (use 1/4 cup). Millet, mixed with herbs and spices, can replace corn flour to create unique flatbreads and pancakes. Sorghum’s mild flavor is used in many gluten-free flour blends to add texture and nutrients.

To learn more about ancient grains, search for gluten-free information and baking blogs on the Internet and try some of their recipes.


Jill Motew is the owner of Zema’s Madhouse Foods, Inc., which manufactures gluten-free ancient grain mixes and flatbreads. For nutrition information and recipes, follow Zema’s at Facebook.com/ZemasMadhouseFoods or Twitter.com/ZemasMadhouse. Contact Motew at 847-910-4512 or [email protected]. See ad in the Community Resource Guide.