Some people say old is gold; others argue otherwise. What do you prefer, a conservative OR modern lifestyle? For some, traditional foods offer a sense of comfort and belonging. While for others, it is just part of their healthy habits. So, what are ancient grains, and in which category do they fall? That notwithstanding, we’ll rank ancient grains according to their protein content. On top of that, you’ll get to know the benefits of adding them to your diet to form part of your healthy habits. You can also browse our page to find plant-based traditional, modern, and in-between recipes to enjoy, from traditional African foods to best grain recipes and popular African recipes. Do not worry; you will not starve.
Experts say there is neither a comprehensive list of ancient grains nor their health benefits. We hope this article will enlighten you, enrich your healthy habits, and add to your traditional African foods repertoire.
Have you Heard the Phrase “Ancient Grains”?
If you’re a diet-conscious healthy foodie or interested in plant-based foods, this may not be new to you. In layman’s language, ancient grains are whole grains that have not gone through hybridization or processing beyond recognition. This is what makes them retain their nutrition. Most of these superfoods are native to Africa, and you’ll find them incorporated into traditional African foods and popular African recipes. What other way to enjoy the best grain recipes and benefit from such healthy habits?
Find out how to make yummy stir-fry with Kamut ancient grains. Now, let’s get to the exciting bit of ranking ancient grains protein.
Ancient Grains Ranking From Least to Most Protein
Have you ever walked through a barley field? The waist-high stems might intrigue you. That aside, barley has been an essential plant for centuries, and it still is. Ancients grew barley primarily as animal fodder and as a source of malt for alcoholic beverages. These reasons are valid to date in some parts of the world, but its nutritional contents will have you including it in your diet.
Besides being versatile, barley is high in carbohydrates, has moderate amounts of calcium and phosphorus, and has small amounts of B vitamins. Of interest, 1 cup of cooked barley (157g) has about 3.6g of protein.
Soaking or sprouting your barley can improve the absorption of these nutrients. According to research, consuming barley may improve digestion, prevent gallstones, reduce the risk of heart disease, and may also help reduce weight gain by reducing hunger.
2. Wild Rice
You can pop wild rice like popcorn with oil, heat, and a shake. Interesting, right? Despite the name, wild rice is not rice, nor is it directly related to it. Compared to white or brown rice, wild rice has longer grains, a firmer texture, and a nuttier and earthier flavor. The name came about because it looks and sometimes cooks like other types of rice.
Wild rice can survive for so long. It lasts longer if you store it in an airtight container in a cool and dry place.
Wild rice is a wonderfully balanced food source with a healthy mix of protein and fiber. It is also relatively low in calories. A cup of cooked wild rice (100g) contains 4g protein. Manganese is also abundant and essential in maintaining a healthy metabolism. Macronutrients and vitamins in wild rice include vitamin B6, niacin, folate, and copper.
Studies show that consuming wild rice may reduce the risk of colorectal carcinoma, help manage type 2 diabetes, and boost heart health by keeping cholesterol low.
This ancient grain is an African heritage and was one of the traditional African foods for chiefs and royalty. Locals loved preparing it during the month of Ramadhan. Fonio was also one of the famous African recipes that would prevent blood clotting after childbirth and stimulate milk production during breastfeeding.
This African superfood has plenty to offer. In addition to providing B vitamins, it is rich in fiber, zinc, magnesium, and iron. Plus, it provides 4.4g of protein per 100g serving. Nutritionists argue that a diet containing fonio is an excellent source of plant-based amino acids, may aid thyroid function, protect body cells, and provide gluten-free nutrition.
Experts say oatmeal is the most straightforward natural beauty product. Add one cup of finely ground oatmeal to bathwater. The result soothes inflamed skin from conditions like chicken pox, eczema, and sunburn. Be sure to consult a health specialist.
Again, most culinary experts would agree that there’s plenty of room for oatmeal as part of your best grain recipes. You can enjoy oats in various ways. The most popular is to eat oatmeal porridge for breakfast. And your body will thank you because oats carry a nutritional bounty.
First, it is high in the form of soluble fiber called beta-glucan. This soluble fiber is beneficial for heart health. Moreover, oats offer valuable minerals and vitamins, including manganese, phosphorus, copper, vitamin B1, iron, selenium, and zinc. A cup of cooked oats (234g) has 5g of protein.
Consequently, tests prove that consuming oats may lower cholesterol, prevent type 2 diabetes and boost the immune system.
Did you know that bulgur is one of the first processed food items in the world? To process it, specialists parboil and dry the cracked wheat before grinding it. This makes it cook relatively quicker than other whole grains.
Bulgur is a good source of protein, fiber, manganese, magnesium, niacin, and iron. It is slightly higher in calories and has gluten. A cup of cooked bulgur (182g) contains 5.61 g of protein.
Moreover, research shows that consuming bulgur may improve heart health and longevity, metabolism, and provide the body with filling fiber and essential iron.
What is your favorite fact about buckwheat? It is interesting to know that you can harvest nutritious honey from buckwheat blossoms and use it as a sweetener. You can also use buckwheat in tea or process it into groats, flour, and noodles. Like rice, buckwheat is the main ingredient in many traditional European and Asian dishes.
Moreover, it has plenty of carbs (there’s such a thing as good carbs), is low in fats, and is a good source of several vitamins (folate, thiamin & vitamin B6). A cup of cooked buckwheat groats (168g hulled seeds) has 5.68g protein. Buckwheat does not contain gluten, and experts advise that including it in your diet may help boost heart health, improve digestion, weight management, and manage diabetes.
On the downside, consuming large amounts of buckwheat may lead to allergic reactions, especially those allergic to rice or latex. For maximum benefit, eat buckwheat groats prepared at home.
Millet is not only famous for animal seed and bird seed. But, it is also growing in popularity because of its nutritional value to humans. Research shows it is naturally gluten-free, low in fat, and a good source of minerals like manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, and copper. Vitamins include thiamin, niacin, and smaller amounts of B6. Also, a cup of cooked millet (174g) has 6.1grams of protein.
If you’d like to improve your mood, this might be a good deal, thanks to the high amino acid present in millet. It is one of the best meals to add to your healthy habits. Likewise, experts say millet may help lower cholesterol, improve digestive health, and prevent chronic diseases like heart disease.
Hulled pearl millet has a nutty, mild flavor and is excellent in salads, soups, and other dishes. However, millet flour is common among traditional African foods and popular African recipes prepared as porridge, like this tasty buttery motogo wa ting.
Related: Easy Ways To Prepare Kenyan Uji Ya Wimbi
Quinoa is an excellent make-ahead staple especially helpful for your busy weeknights. Prepare a big batch and store it in your refrigerator. Throw together one of your favorite quick African recipes or best grain recipes any time! Healthy habits are attainable.
Unlike some plant proteins, quinoa is a complete protein. It has all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot make on their own. Also known as the mother of all grains, it is a good source of fiber, protein, B vitamins, and iron. A cup of cooked quinoa (185g) provides about 8g of proteins.
Along with all that, research shows that adding quinoa to your best-grain recipes may lower blood sugar levels and aid in preventing obesity and related diseases. It is also great for those who are allergic or intolerant to gluten.
9. Blue Corn
The next time you make corn tortillas or grab some corn chips for guacamole, upgrade to blue. The blue color may catch your eye, but its health benefits are top-notch compared to its white or yellow counterparts.
Research shows that blue corn tortillas contain 20% more protein than white corn. They also have less starch and a lower glycemic index (GI). This may be great news for those keen on healthy habits and people with diabetes. Blue corn flour contains 9g of protein per 100g serving.
When it comes to their potential health benefits, what makes them different is their blue color. Blue corn contains anthocyanins and polyphenol flavonoids that act as antioxidants and can benefit our health.
Studies also show that blue corn may help fight prostate and breast cancer, cause improved long and short-term memory and raise metabolic health.
Want a perfect mix of protein, starches, and the only grain with vitamin C? You can cook amaranth as a super healthy and high-fiber alternative to rice, pasta, couscous, or oatmeal. Most traditional African foods and African recipes enjoy amaranth leaves. But you can consider adding these healthy grains to your best grains recipes. One cup of cooked amaranth (246g) has 9 grams of protein. And that’s not all; amaranth is gluten-free and a good source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and other vital micronutrients.
Studies have shown that adding these tiny pale-golden seeds to your diet may help protect your body against diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders. You could also consider amaranth in some of your best grain recipes if you want to shed extra pounds. Be sure to cook it first, as it is inedible in its raw form.
11. Kamut (Khorasan Wheat)
You might be a big fan of Kamut because of its unique flavor and nutritional attributes or because it’s an ancient grain with a posh story. Some believe the grain originated from Mesopotamia in ancient Egyptian tombs. That notwithstanding, Khorasan wheat has a sweet, nutty, and buttery flavor with many health benefits.
To begin with, Kamut is high in protein, fiber-rich, and provides several vitamins and minerals. These include selenium, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, and B vitamins. A cup of cooked Kamut (172g) has 9.8grams of protein. Research has shown that having Kamut in your diet may improve fiber and carotenoid intake. As a result, you’ll experience improved blood glucose, improved vision, and reduced risk of certain cancers. Consuming Kamut may also help maintain healthy thyroid function.
Additionally, combine Kamut with this tasty Egyptian-Lebanese Red Lentil soup or other legumes to make it a complete protein. Sample our African recipes for more ideas.
This is the world’s smallest grain, traditionally from Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is one of Africa’s highly nutritious and gluten-free traditional African foods. Plus, most people use it in their African recipes as flour for cooking and baking. Although, consuming teff as a whole grain offers more nutritional benefits than flour. You can cook teff in a similar way to quinoa and oats.
Research proves that consuming teff may aid circulation, relieve PMS symptoms, boost the immune system, and support bone health, thanks to its nutritional content. For instance, minerals like calcium, iron, potassium, and zinc. On top of that, a cup of cooked teff (252g) offers 9.8g of protein.
Although rye is highly nutritious, it is worth noting that it is not a gluten-free grain. Historically, people knew rye as a poor man’s grain because it could grow anywhere. Rye grains come from the kernels of the rye plant. Experts make them like rolled oats- by steaming, rolling, and drying the rye berries.
Rye is rich in potassium, vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B3 (niacin), Riboflavin, vitamin B6 and folate. It also contains 10g of protein per 100g serving.
Studies have connected diets rich in rye with digestive health, type 2 diabetes management, weight control, and heart health. Note the darker the rye flour is, the higher its fiber content.
Related: Black foods offer ample nourishment
A versatile nutrient-rich grain, you can use it in hot recipes like soups and cold dishes such as salads. You can also use it in all oven-baked products. It is an excellent alternative to wheat grain, although it contains gluten. Spelt has a slightly higher fat, zinc, and protein content than wheat. A cup of cooked spelt (194g) has 10.7g of protein.
Furthermore, the whole spelt is high in carbs and a good source of dietary fiber. This helps slow down digestion and absorption, which in turn, reduces blood sugar spikes. It also contains copper, selenium, and vitamin B1 (thiamine).
According to experts, spelt’s health benefits include improved cholesterol levels, reduced blood pressure, better digestion, and reduced risk of diabetes.
The name comes from the Arabic word for “to rub.” This explains the process of processing freekeh. Farmers harvest the wheat when young and green, retaining more incredible nutritional bounty. After roasting it over an open fire, they burn and rub off its straw and chaff. The result is a delicious grain with an earthy, nutty, and smoky flavor.
Freekeh is not only delicious but also highly nutritious. It is exceptionally high in protein and manganese and a good source of phosphorus and magnesium. In particular, it offers 12g of protein per 100g serving.
Consider adding this delicious grain to your diet because research suggests that freekeh may enhance digestion, promote heart health, support gut health, and aid eye health. Note that it contains gluten; therefore, not suitable for a gluten-free diet.
16. Wheat Berries
Skip the processed grains and go straight to the source… literally. Wheat berries are wheat in their most basic form. It has all three parts intact- the germ, bran, and endosperm.
Because it has all its essential parts, wheat berries contain a concentrated amount of protein, fiber, and micronutrients. Wheat berries offer 13.3g of protein per 100g serving. It, therefore, has a lot of health benefits. Read more on refined and unrefined grains to get more details.
Science proves that consuming wheat berries may help prevent anemia, strengthen bones, aid in weight loss, and support heart health.
Popularly known as baby quinoa, a South American superfood, Kaniwa contains 15.4g of protein per 100g serving. Besides that, it is supercharged with B vitamins and a wide range of minerals. It contains flavonoids, calcium, zinc, iron, and fiber. It would be best if you considered adding this ancient grain to your best-grain recipes. Check labels to ensure your Kaniwa is not cross-contaminated with wheat or other gluten-containing grains.
If you’re among those who always want to look young, Kaniwa might help you. Experts advise that the flavonoids in Kaniwa may provide anti-aging benefits to the skin. Other health benefits include preventing cardiovascular diseases, inhibiting the growth of certain bacteria and viruses, and may reduce the risk of certain inflammatory disorders.
18. Emmer (Farro)
If you’re interested in healthy habits, try switching up your typical routine. Emmer contains 15.7g of protein per 100g serving. Add emmer wheat products to your diet. You’ll stay full, not scrambling for snacks throughout the day.
Emmer is a superb source of nutrients. It is full of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to help you stay healthy.
Studies show that adding emmer to your menu may help maintain healthy skin, prevent asthma, maintain fetal brain health, and prevent the formation of gallstones.
Native to Mexico and Guatemala, chia seeds were a staple for the ancient Aztecs and Mayans. The word chia is an old Mayan term for strength. These tiny black, white, or brown seeds easily incorporate into healthy habits.
They are highly nutritious, containing large amounts of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, plenty of high-quality protein, and several essential minerals and antioxidants.
Furthermore, chia boasts vital bone nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. It also contains 16.5g of protein per 100g serving. In addition to bone health, science shows that including chia in your diet may lower blood pressure, help increase blood levels of omega-3, improve blood sugar control and increase fiber intake.
Since einkorn is the most genetically primitive and ancient form of cultivated wheat, it has a high protein, phosphorus, vitamin B6 and potassium. It is rich in beta-carotene, vitamin A, lutein, and riboflavin. This nutrient-rich whole grain is a bomb, and it’s one of the reasons most people are interested in finding out what are ancient grains. It offers 18g protein per 100g serving.
There are many reasons why you may choose to incorporate einkorn in your best grain recipes and healthy habits. Apart from being the most nutritious of the wheat varieties, it is also easier to digest, making the nutrients readily available to your body. It is also incredibly delicious.
Studies show that using einkorn wheat and flour may help lower the risk of eye disease, reduce allergy symptoms and delay the development and progression of type 2 diabetes.
This high-protein grain is highly versatile. Sorghum originated in Africa, and locals have enjoyed it in most of their traditional African foods and African recipes. It is not only a healthy but also an environmentally friendly grain option. Grain sorghum grows to about five feet tall, carrying 750-1,250 seeds per head.
Sorghum is rich in vitamins and minerals like B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. A cup of sorghum (192g) contains 20.4g of protein. Amazing!
Hence, sorghum benefits our bodies greatly and can top the list of essential healthy habits. Research shows that a sorghum-rich diet may help regulate blood pressure, reduce inflammation, improve blood sugar, and is suitable for celiac disease and gluten intolerance.
Do Ancient Grains impress you now?
Based on research and reasoning, as shown above, think of nutrition as medicine! A nutrient-rich diet can influence disease prevention, quality of life, health, and longevity. In other words, healthy food is a powerful medicine to prevent diseases.
Nevertheless, healthy habits don’t have to be bland, nor should your plant-based African food recipes. You now know what ancient grains are and their benefits. Indeed, you can always have ideas for best-grain recipes.
Look out for upcoming article on incorporating ancient grains into your diet; we offer easy tips on including these ancient powerhouses in your recipes. Consider subscribing to our newsletter so you’ll stay updated on plant-based African recipes, traditional African foods, and other exciting meal ideas.