Ancient Grains are New Again

Food developers are finding what's ancient is new again in heirloom grains like pinole, spelt, teff and quinoa, which can be traced back thousands of years.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

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Grains are a healthy necessity in everyone's diet, and at least half of our daily grains should be whole grains, says the Grain Foods Foundation ( But it's the ancient variety that is growing in popularity because of its health benefits and complex flavors.

Quinoa, amaranth, farro, teff and spelt are increasing in case shipments, according to the NPD Group ( Case shipments to U.S. foodservice outlets jumped by double digits over 2017, the market research firm says.

Although cold cereal sales are a bit soggy in the U.S. today, there's no lack of innovation in the cereal space when it comes to ancient grains. With 17g of ancient grains like kamut wheat, spelt and quinoa, Cheerios + Ancient Grains from General Mills ( incorporates toasted whole-grain oats and quinoa as lightly sweetened clusters. It's also low in fat (2g), low in saturated fat and cholesterol free.

Quinoa FlakesAncient Harvest ( says it was the first brand to bring quinoa to the U.S., more than 30 years ago. While still using quinoa, the company has expanded its offerings to other plant-based superfoods, including amaranth, millet, beans and lentils. No longer relegated to the "healthy" aisle or to small health food stores, its products are sold across the country in mainstream supermarkets.

Its organic Quinoa Flakes can be used in muffins, to make a hot cereal and as a gluten-free substitute for conventional breadcrumbs. Cereal manufacturers of all types have noticed the health halo associated with whole grains, which bodes well for ancient grains like quinoa because it's so versatile, says Geoff Stella, vice president of marketing at Ancient Grains. "Quinoa has become popular over the past five to 10 years," he says. "It a great source of plant-based protein and it’s one of the rare, complete plant-based proteins on earth. Nine of proteins' amino acids are 'essential' because our bodies can’t make them. Quinoa supplies them all."

Nature's Path ( offers organic Flax Plus Multigrain Flakes in various flavors and Sunrise Vanilla, which teams corn, rice, flax, amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa.

The quest for quinoa

Probably the most popular of the ancient grains today is quinoa. NPD reports shipments of quinoa, the most widely used of the ancients, climbed by 18.5 percent in the year ending October 2017, compared to the same period a year earlier.

Because of its superior nutrition, quinoa can play an important role in eradicating hunger, malnutrition and poverty, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which made 2013 "the International Year of Quinoa." What sets it apart from other plant foods is that it’s one of the few vegetarian source of all essential amino acids, trace elements and vitamins. It’s also gluten-free and a grain that has never been genetically modified.

Quinoa's so popular, it's practically mainstream. Chipotle Mexican Grill added quinoa to the menu at its test kitchen in New York City. The dish is made with red and gold quinoa, citrus juice, cumin, and cilantro, and will be recommended as an addition to salad or in place of rice with an entree, reported Business Insider.

GOGO QunioaGogo Quinoa now offers Super Grains Pasta made with a nutrition-packed blend of chia, quinoa, sorghum and amaranth. The new pasta is certified organic, gluten-free and vegan. Unlike traditional pasta made with refined wheat flour, the super grains, specifically the quinoa, make this pasta a good source of fiber and iron, with each serving containing 5g of protein.

Mondelez's globally inspired Vea seed crackers and World Crisps line include an Andean Quinoa and Spices variety, made with whole-grain red quinoa sourced from the Andes Mountains.

Even Stouffer's Fit Kitchen frozen bowl entrees have some quinoa, along with meat, brown rice, black beans and vegetables.

Quinoa is even going to the dogs. The Honest Kitchen ( developed a Chicken & Quinoa food as well as Beef & Chickpea, Duck & Sweet Potato, and Fish & Coconut blends. Blue Buffalo Co. (, created a Chicken & Quinoa Ancient Grains recipe.

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