What Are The Best Ancient Grains? | Mount Zero Olives

August 29, 2022

The top 5 greatest ancient grains

Whole grains are dietary staples in many parts of the world including China, Africa, India and the Middle East. Today, they are becoming popular in western cooking – and for good reason according to many nutritionists.

Whole grain ingredients have made their way into the list of heart-healthy superfoods as they include all 3 vital parts of the grain. Compared to some modern grains, whole grains include the bran (the outer layer of the seed), the germ (where new plants sprout) and the endosperm (the kernel that makes up the bulk of the seed). 

Ancient grains – a subtype of whole grain – take this a step further; they include grains and pseudocereals that haven’t been modified in today’s modern agriculture. 

Because they are less processed, ancient grains are packed full of more vitamins, minerals and fibre compared to common grains like rice and corn. But what are the best ancient grains and how can we consume more of them? 

There are loads of fibre-rich ancient grains you can add to your diet. Here we’ll talk through 5 of our favourite ancient grains, their health benefits and tips from top Australian chefs for cooking and enjoying them. 

The health benefits of ancient grains and tasty recipe ideas to try at home 

1. Organic Black Barley

The process of growing and harvesting barley has evolved over time to support growing demand and economical farming. Due to being completely hull-less, organic black barley is an heirloom grain variety that has remained unchanged and does not require any post-harvest processing – completely paddock to plate. 

Health benefits: Black barley is low GI and an excellent source of protein (16-19%), fibre, vitamin B6 and phosphorus.

How to enjoy: Simply soak overnight and your black barley is ready to be cooked as desired. You can enjoy black barley in soups, braises and salads like food writer Cle-ann Stampolidis’ recipe for black barley with a feta, walnut and grape salad.

2. Freekeh

Freekeh (pronounced free-kah) is made from green wheat that is traditionally roasted over wood fires to burn off the husks. Technically speaking, the term ‘freekeh’, which comes from the Arabic word ‘faraka’ refers to the process of rubbing the husk off and not the type of grain variety. This grain is usually labelled as freekeh so it’s easy to find at the store and is a great ancient superfood to add to your diet.

Health benefits: Freekeh is low in fat, while high in protein and fibre and packed with essential nutrients including iron, calcium and zinc.

How to enjoy: Freekeh works well in loads of recipes. It is especially delicious in casseroles, soups, pilafs and salads. Hint: try our freekeh grain salad with barberries.

Also on the blog: discover 7 spring-inspired grain salad recipes.

3. Cracked Farro

Also called emmer, farro has been used in Italian cooking for centuries but has only become more popular in western cooking in recent years. Grown by farmers over 2000 years ago, farro vanished from modern agriculture because of its protective husk that required more complex dehulling and milling machinery. 

Today, our biodynamic cracked farro is ground by stone to crack the bran and has a deliciously nutty taste with a chewy texture. Highly versatile, this grain can be used whole in meals, as a side dish or milled into wheat flour which can be used in all your favourite baked goods. 

Health benefits: Farro is high in fibre, rich in B Complex vitamins, protein, and zinc and contains softer gluten that is easier to digest than wheat. 

How to enjoy: Cracked Farro is the perfect substitute for brown rice, pasta or couscous and pairs well in soups and salads like our roast eggplant, farro and chickpea layered salad with tahini sauce and risottos like this farro risotto with porcini and parmesan recipe. Hint: discover the best tips and tricks for cooking farro and more recipes. 

4. Quinoa

Possibly the most popular ancient grain, quinoa is a great plant-based protein with loads of health benefits and is super easy to cook with. This ancient superfood is ideal for those following a plant-based or vegan diet as it is filled with plant protein. Quinoa is especially popular due to its mild flavour and its versatility in so many plant-based recipes. 

Health benefits: Our organic Australian quinoa is high in protein, folate and fibre and low in GI.

How to enjoy: Quinoa is another great replacement for rice and pasta and can be paired with lots of recipes. Why not try out our recipe for stir-fried quinoa with fragrant oriental vegetables or roasted quail and grape salad?

Also on the blog: your step-by-step guide to perfectly cooked quinoa.

5. Lentils

Lentils are seeds from the legume family that have been enjoyed across the world for thousands of years. They are affordable and easy to cook making them a great option for just about anyone looking to add more protein to their diet. Common types include green and brown lentils, french-style green lentils, Persian red lentils and beluga black lentils and they can be used in many different recipes.

Health benefits: Lentils are high in fibre, vitamin B1, protein, folate and potassium and are the perfect superfood for managing blood pressure, heart health and cholesterol.

How to enjoy: With slightly different textures and cooking times, the variety of lentils you choose will change how you can enjoy them. Discover our guide: How to cook lentils and chickpeas to learn cooking times for each lentil variety and handy tips and tricks for serving them. Hint: try our recipe for fish tacos with lentil tortillas.

Shop all your ancient grains and pantry staples in one place 

Packed with nutrients, you really can’t go past ancient grains when it comes to eating well. Stock up on all your new favourite ancient grains in one place via our online shop. While you're there be sure to check out our range of EVOO, olives and so much more, or find some fresh recipes to shake up your next home cook-up.