You’ve heard of heirloom tomatoes. Now meet heirloom grains, which have been popping up on restaurant menus—and in your local grocery store—over the past few years.
But before you ask, “heirloom” isn’t a loosey-goosey marketing term (unlike, ahem, artisanal). Grown from seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation, heirloom grains haven’t been processed or genetically modified like wheat, rice and corn. Some types you might see are einkorn, spelt, emmer, kamut, freekeh, barley and sorghum.
So what’s all the hype about? Chefs love heirloom grains because they have richer, nuttier, earthier flavors than their modern counterparts. (Buckwheat risotto, anyone?)
Because they’re less processed, heirloom grains also tend to contain less gluten and more nutrients. For example, according to the USDA, 1 cup of cooked teff has 10 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber, while 1 cup of cooked brown rice has 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. And oh, a bonus: They’re usually whole grain.
The only catch? They’re usually slightly more caloric and come with a heftier price tag. So…enjoy heirloom grains in moderation. Find them at your local Whole Foods or farmers' market.