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Exploring the Legacy of Ancient Grains in Modern Cuisine

May, 2024

By Chef Fernando Stovell


Common bread wheat.

This variety currently constitutes a significant portion of the world’s wheat stock. Prior to the early 19th century, staple foods primarily consisted of grains such as barley, bulgur, spelt, emmer, or farro. These grains, among others, are what we refer to as ancient grains.

Their appeal lies in their digestive and wellness benefits, as well as their delightful taste when prepared and utilised skilfully.They serve as excellent complements to salads, soups, stuffings, and pilaf, and excel in bread making and baking endeavours.


Spelt, often mistaken for farro, possesses a distinctively firm texture and requires a longer cooking duration. Its delightful nutty flavour and resilient texture remain unchanged during cooking, preserving its inherent taste without absorbing flavours from other ingredients. This versatile grain lends itself well to various culinary applications, including multigrain breads, salad additions, and soup enhancements. It can seamlessly replace rice in recipes where a firmer consistency is preferred. Moreover, spelt boasts ease of digestion and contains lower levels of gluten, rendering spelt flour an excellent alternative for crafting pasta, bread, as well as sweet and savoury biscuits.

TO PREPARE SPELT: combine 1 cup of spelt with 3 cups of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 40-60 minutes until tender yet retaining a slight al dente quality.


Farro, distinguished by its notably softer texture compared to spelt, possesses a remarkable ability to enhance and carry flavours. Its chewy and nutty profile makes it a delightful addition to various culinary creations.Farro serves as an excellent rice substitute in dishes such as farrotto (farro risotto) and serves as a superb foundation for salads, soups, and entrees like the Slow Cooked Lamb with Farro and Salsa Verde.

TO PREPARE CRACKED FARRO: bring three cups of salted water to a boil, then add 2 cups of farro and cook for 15 minutes on a gentle simmer. For whole grain farro, bring the grains to a boil in a saucepan of water, then simmer for 20 minutes until tender.


The edible component of buckwheat, often referred to as groats, is actually a seed rather than a grain. These “seeds” are not only gluten-free but also rich in nutrients, making them a valuable addition to any diet. To achieve optimal tenderness, they require simmering. Once tender, they can be incorporated into salads and stews to impart a delightful nutty texture or baked and added to mueslis or granolas for a satisfying crunch.Buckwheat flour, renowned for its versatility, is particularly ideal for crafting pancakes and blini.

TO PREPARE: bring 2 cups of water or stock to a boil, then add 1.5 cups of buckwheat, ensuring to stir to prevent sticking. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover the saucepan with a lid, and cook for approximately 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow it to stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Black Barley.

Not only does black barley boast a distinctive appearance, but its striking colour also transforms into a rich, glossy sheen when cooked. This variety of barley offers a more vibrantly nutty flavour compared to traditional barley. As a 100% whole grain, black barley is abundant in nutritional value, particularly high in fibre.

With its bran intact, black barley maintains a firm, plump texture throughout the cooking process, rendering it ideal for soups, stuffings, and stews. Its somewhat chewy nature adds a contrasting texture when combined with other grains, as demonstrated in dishes like our Harissa, Hummus, Carrot, and Grain Salad.

TO PREPARE: place 1 cup of black barley into a saucepan and add 3 cups of water along with a generous pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cover the saucepan. Allow it to cook for 35-45 minutes until reaching the desired texture. Once cooked, drain off any excess liquid using a strainer.


Bulgur is an ancient Mediterranean whole grain made from wheat berries that have been processed to break down some of the outer layer, making it a quick-cooking grain with a light, fluffy texture. Also known as bulgur wheat it is a versatile Middle Eastern staple and is a key ingredient in tabouli and kibbeh.It’s a wonderful grain for making pilaf and stuffed capsicums. For a refreshing but satisfying salad, combine soaked bulgur wheat with chopped parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, lemon juice, and olive oil.

TO PREPARE: Soak it in hot water for about 10-15 minutes until tender.


Quinoa, pronounced keen-wah and often celebrated as a superfood, stands out as a complete protein source, boasting a delicate, nutty taste. This adaptable grain comes in various varieties, with white, black, and red being the most commonly found.

  • WHITE QUINOA. Offers the mildest flavour and the fluffiest cooked texture, rendering it an excellent choice for porridge, breakfast bowls, and baking.
  • BLACK QUINOA. Resents an earthy flavour profile with a coarse texture, making it ideal for combining with beans, pulses, and bold, spicy flavours.
  • RED QUINOA. Distinguished by its pronounced nutty flavour and chewy texture, maintains its shape when cooked, making it a superb addition to salads and soups.

TO PREPARE: rinse one cup of quinoa thoroughly, then place it in a saucepan with two cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover the saucepan, and allow it to cook until all the water is absorbed, typically around 10-15 minutes.

Wheat Berries.

Wheat berries, the whole kernels of wheat, offer a hearty chew and a rich, nutty flavour, while also boasting a wealth of nutrients, including fibre, protein, and B vitamins. Once cooked, they serve as an excellent ingredient to impart texture and substance to salads, soups, and grain bowls. Consider combining cooked wheat berries with roasted butternut squash, spinach, cranberries, pecans, and a dressing featuring maple syrup, Dijon mustard, and cider vinegar for a nourishing autumnal salad.

TO PREPARE: place 1 cup of wheat berries into a saucepan and add 3 cups of water along with a generous pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, covering the saucepan. Allow it to cook for 35-45 minutes until achieving the desired texture. Once cooked, drain off any excess liquid.

Pearl Barley.

This grain, when cooked, offers a pleasantly creamy texture, serving as a wonderful alternative to rice in risotto recipes and lending a comforting touch to soups and casseroles. Additionally, it can be transformed into a delightful porridge.

TO PREPARE: begin by placing 1 cup of pearl barley into a saucepan and adding 3 cups of water along with a generous pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover the pan and periodically check to ensure there is enough water, adding a bit more if it appears dry. Allow it to cook for 25-35 minutes until reaching the desired texture. Once cooked, drain off any excess liquid using a strainer.


A roasted green wheat, possesses a nutty essence akin to most wheat grains, yet with a distinctive, slightly smoky character. When prepared, the whole grain maintains its shape admirably and offers a chewy texture, rendering it ideal for salads, grain bowls, pasta alternatives, or in recipes such as Freekeh, Cranberry & Chestnut Stuffing and Chicken Pot Pie with Freekeh Crumble.

TO COOK CRACKED FREEKEH: begin by placing 1 cup of cracked grain freekeh, 3 cups of cold water, and ½ tsp of salt (optional) into a saucepan, bringing it to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until tender or until the liquid is absorbed. For whole grain freekeh, use 1 cup of whole grain freekeh, 4 cups of cold water, and ½ tsp of salt (optional), following the same process, simmering for 35-40 minutes until tender or until the liquid is absorbed.


Amaranth, an ancient grain native to the Americas and technically a seed, shares similarities with quinoa.It is renowned for its high protein, fibre, and essential mineral content, naturally devoid of gluten. Sporting a distinctively herbaceous flavour, amaranth is commonly encountered in ground form as a flour, suitable for gluten-free baking endeavours. In its seed form, amaranth serves as a versatile ingredient, offering an alternative to rice, capable of being transformed into a creamy porridge, or dry toasted to produce a crunchy topping for both sweet and savoury dishes

TO COOK: begin by boiling 1 ¾ cups of water, then incorporating 1 cup of rinsed amaranth. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the water has been absorbed, typically taking about 20-25 minutes. Fluff the grains with a fork. For porridge preparation, increase the water to 2.5 cups.

For cooking amaranth alongside brown rice, combine 1/3 cup of amaranth with 2/3 cup of brown rice and 2 cups of water. Cover and cook for 30-45 minutes until tender.

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