Ancient Grains 101 - tips and ideas on how to cook ancient grains

Posted October 23, 2015 in ancient grain, millet, quinoa, spelt, amaranth, farro, healthy eating, weight loss, healthy living, health coach

Have you ever tried quinoa, millet, spelt, farro or amaranth?

These grains might not be a staple in the typical American diets, but they've actually been around for centuries, and they're all loaded with vitamins and nutrients.

I eat quinoa regularly, but I've had millet and amaranth sitting in my cupboard for ages. I've attempted to make amaranth porridge for breakfast a few times, and I haven't found a version that I like. So I was excited when Kaiti George, the dietitian at HyVee, said she would teach an ancient grains class for me and my Eat, Drink and Be Healthy Dinner Club.

Our group began as just a few of us meeting for healthy potluck dinners, and quickly expanded into more. We've taken an essential oils class, we took a tour of the HyVee Health Market and I threw us a Healthy Holiday Cocktail Party. We're just a small group of women who want to learn about healthy living!

Here's what we ate and what we learned at our Ancient Grains Class…

Kaiti made five dishes featuring ancient grains for us to try. She started with a Mediterranean Farro Salad. This was very similar to tabbouleh, but more hearty when made with farro.

Farro is an ancient strain of wheat, and used often in Italy and other European countries. It has a nutty flavor and chewy texture. It's high in fiber and protein, and is rich in magnesium and B vitamins. (source)

The Spelt Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts was probably my favorite. I love Brussels sprouts so much. This would be a perfect Thanksgiving side dish.

Spelt is another ancient strain of wheat that was important in medieval times, but is now common in Europe. It has a sweet and nutty flavor. (source)

Tip: To take the bitterness out of Brussels sprouts, cut off the bottom, then cut an x on the bottom.

The Quinoa Chili was similar to versions I've made at home, and it was delicious. I even took a cup home with me and ate the leftovers for lunch the following day. It had zucchini, black beans and butternut squash.

Pronounced "keen-wah", this gluten-free grain is packed full of fiber and protein. It's also really versatile. You can add it to soups, stews and chilis, eat it as a side dish, make a sweet breakfast cereal or even pop quinoa and use it as a topping for yogurt.

Quinoa originated in Peru and Bolivia, and was cultivated by pre-Columbian civilizations. (source)

This Amaranth Banana Walnut Bread was super dense and delicious. It was sweetened with honey instead of sugar, and it had just the right amount of sweetness. Since I have a package of amaranth at home and I don't love amaranth porridge, I'm going to make this bread.

Historically, amaranth was used in Mexico and is native to Peru. It is full of protein and is gluten-free. Amaranth can be used to create a breakfast porridge, make muffins, used as polenta, be added to soup or it can be popped. (source)


The Millet Grits with Cherries and Almonds was probably the most surprisingly delicious dish. Kaiti ground some millet in a spice grinder until it was coarsely broken, then created sweet grits using almond milk, honey, dried cherries, slivered almonds and orange zest. So so delicious.

I will definitely be making this. It is the perfect winter breakfast.

Millet is primarily grown in India, African countries and China. In India, it's used to make roti, a flat bread. In Africa, it's used to make porridge or for brewing beer. In the United States, it's often used as birdseed. But millet is high in antioxidants. You can use millet to make soup, crackers, hot cereal and bread. (source)

Tip: You can make flour out of all of the ancient grains by putting the grains in a spice grinder.

The class was very informative! Kaiti talked a lot about the cooking methods for each grain and why each is healthy. (I added the history in this blog post because I think it's interesting.) And everything was so delicious. I can't wait to start cooking with more ancient grains!

What is your favorite ancient grain recipe?

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