The Foodie


The Foodie: Alternative Grains

September 04, 2008
by Rachel Balik
Amid the “whole grain health craze,” some grains top the list for their intense nutrient content, unique flavor and diverse cooking options. FindingDulcinea explores the origins and modern usages of quinoa, kamut, millet and farro.


The World’s Heathiest Foods describes the history, nutritional value and uses of quinoa. Quinoa was originally grown in Peru, Chile and Bolivia, and the Incas considered it sacred. The Spanish conquistadors banned quinoa in attempt to obliterate the Incan culture and government. As a result, quinoa nearly became extinct. But in the 1980s, two Americans discovered that quinoa contained vital nutrients, and began cultivating it in Colorado.

Quinoa can be served plain, just like rice; boil a cup of quinoa in one to two cups of water. If you’d like to spice things up a bit, the Savvy Vegetarian explains how to cook the basic dish, and then offers enticing and nutrient-packed serving suggestions, such as quinoa and bean salad, or quinoa with almonds and cranberries. The site also provides recipes for dishes that are complemented by quinoa as a side.


Kamut, like quinoa, is a protein-packed grain that is easily digested, even for those who have wheat allergies. And like quinoa, some extraordinary circumstances were responsible for bringing it to the modern marketplace. Kamut apparently came to the United States via a World War II airman who found it in Egypt. The airman said  he found the grain in a stone box in a tomb; he gave some kernels to a friend, who mailed them to his father back in Montana, who sowed a crop and called it “King Tut’s Wheat.” After a showing at a local fair, the grain largely disappeared until 1977, when the Quinn family began growing it again, named it Kamut and got a trademark for it.

Kamut, which is easy on the stomach and has a higher nutrient content than regular wheat, now appears in numerous recipes and food products. Read up about the grain on its official Web site where you can find out more about Kamut’s origin and growth, as well as products and recipes.

If you’ve been putting millet in a bird feeder for years, you might question its merit as  food for humans. But it’s actually quite tasty on its own as a rice-like dish, or in a variety of recipes. In fact, it might even be the mortar holding your veggie burger together. Millet is loaded with vitamins and nutrients, and like other alternative grains, offers a higher protein content than regular wheat. Vegans and vegetarians should take note of millet’s solid showing in the B vitamin department, as most B vitamins are only available through animal products.

Veg and meat eaters alike should give the Food Network’s edamame veggie burger recipe a try. Made with millet, edamame and egg whites, these veggie burgers are about as protein-packed as the real deal.

Or visit 101 Cookbooks and feast your eyes on Mark Bittman’s Autumn Millet Bake. In this recipe, millet serves as base for succulent chunks of squash and pumpkin, coated with pumpkin seeds and cranberries. In a sense, it’s super-food in a casserole dish (think comfort food that will actually comfort your body). The dish is recommended for Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s perfect for any chilly night when you’re craving something hearty and delicious with some serious nutritious punch.


Farro, like the above grains, was once a food that fueled an ancient culture. Roman soldiers supposedly ate farro as they set about conquering the world. The late 1990s saw the magnesium and vitamin-rich low-gluten grain experience a resurgence in Italy, and the trend soon traveled in the United States. In 1997, the New York Times reported that farro was popping up in restaurants all over the country, and that it was in high demand at fancy grocery stores.

Try your hand at this traditional farro and green bean salad recipe, endorsed by chef Melissa Kelly. Kelly’s a fan of farro in general, telling Food & Wine magazine, “the first time I tasted farro, it changed my life.” This recipe boasts farro, green beans, cremini mushrooms and chopped hazelnuts and is teeming with gourmet flavor while providing you with your own world-conquering energy. Explore more farro salads, soups and sides at Epicurious.

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