Ancient grains are fast becoming the new food fad among Americans, but as the name suggests they’ve been feeding people around the world for centuries. Their rise in popularity is thanks in part to their health benefits, but mainly because they’re extremely fashionable.
The new fashion food trend is taking off in a big way in the United States, claims The Economist, and is being used in everything from cereals, salads, breads and crackers to pizza, quiche and light snacks.
According to Oldways’ Whole Grains Council, ancient grains are those that have remained unchanged for thousands of years. The category includes “teff, and pseudograins, such as quinoa, and seeds, such as amaranth. Pseudograins are non-grass seeds that are used in the same way as cereal grains. Edible seeds are a larger category that includes grains, legumes, and pseudocereals.”
A recent HealthFocus International survey, highlighted by Today’s Dietitian, found that 35% of Americans are interested in ancient grains. They’re high in protein and fiber, rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals and some are gluten-free. They can grow and thrive more easily than wheat, and they require less maintenance and irrigation, which means a lower carbon footprint, making them an environmentally-friendly option.
Cafe Gratitude, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant in Los Angeles, has incorporated menu options from einkorn and Kamut, and side dishes include brown rice and quinoa. Einkorn and Kamut are types of wheat, and have escaped being meddled with by humans and scientists for hundreds of years. Quinoa is an already established name that has taken off in a big way.
This fad for ancient grains is spreading way beyond California, right across the country in fact. General Mills has introduced a Cheerios + ancient grains breakfast cereal containing Kamut, quinoa, oats and spelt, while Ronzoni has created a pasta using amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff. Quinoa is a regular on the menu of restaurants across the United States and grains once used to feed animals, like millet and sorghum are creeping onto our menus.
According to The Economist, it is too early to tell whether ancient grains are more than just a fashion food faze. Statistics show that global quinoa production rose from 58,000 tons in 2008 to 193,000 tons in 2014, so there is a growing market but it is still significantly smaller than rice, wheat or maize.
Research has shown that it is consumers who drive change in diets, and they have a taste for what is fashionable. Ancient grains might be the latest fad now, but next year it could be something else.