What Are Heritage Grains — And How Can They Help Us?
Despite what the shelves in most American supermarkets will tell you, there are thousands of varieties of the unprocessed foods we eat. There are dozens of types of bananas, not just one. There are over 1,000 species of potatoes, not just a few handfuls. You may see a dozen or so species of apples at the store, but, in the United States, there used to be at least 10,000. And, likewise, there are many, many types of grains that you’ve almost certainly never heard of — though your ancestors sure did.
You can thank industrialization and corporate agriculture for that. Mass market grains — the vast majority consumed around the world — are patented, grown for their yield and hybridized to reduce the risk of diseases. This process, heritage grain advocates say, has also led to an erosion of their nutritional value.
Research is showing that some heritage wheat may actually be tolerable for people with gluten sensitivities. How so? Well, the structure of the gluten is different than modern wheats, and they’re easier to digest. Many researchers believe that people with gluten intolerance, but not full-blown Celiac’s are more intolerant to the wheat’s refinement, not necessarily the wheat itself. More research still needs to be done, however.
One of these grains, einkorn, is making its way onto supermarket shelves across the nation. First cultivated over 10,000 years ago in what is now the Middle East, einkorn has a rich, yet not overpowering flavor. Others have been on stores shelves for years, like quinoa, farro, and amaranth.
Despite the growing interest in alternative grains, and the raising tide against genetically modified food, many of these heritage grains are on the verge of extinction.