Food: it's just like fashion. The older it is, apparently, the better. And einkorn and emmer are, like, so totally vintage.
According to a recent opinion piece in Trends in Plant Science, we should be bringing those ancient grains back to our dinner plates. Why? Well, people (understandably) have been avoiding gluten, but unless you have celiac disease or legitimate intolerance, the issue often isn't really gluten, but the volume of consumption of highly processed white flours.
Unlike modern grains such as wheat, corn, and rice, ancient grains have never been processed through hybridization or genetic modification; they’re grown just as they were thousands—if not millions—of years ago.
The pair of German plant biologists who authored the piece argue that nearly extinct varieties of wheat, like einkorn and emmer (aka farro), could create new niche markets for farmers, diversify ecosystems, boost local food security, revive traditional recipes—all while satisfying consumer demand for food that makes you feel like you’re traveling back to a simpler time (a Paleolithic time, perhaps?).
Right now, most farmers grow only one subspecies of bread wheat—Triticum aestivum—the ancestor of which emerged more than 10,000 years ago. But humans likely ate other species of wheat much earlier. Einkorn emerged well before humans, millions of years ago, and emmer originated around 400,000 years ago, both in the Fertile Crescent.
Though they're relatively common in India, these ancient wheat varieties probably won't replace mainstream bread wheat in feeding the world's population anytime soon. But some chefs in the U.S. are starting to take note of the advantages of old grains—like distinct flavor. Dan Barber uses unpearled barley, buckwheat groats, and spelt into a rice-free risotto at Blue Hill, and at Eleven Madison Park, Daniel Humm uses crispy emmer as a garnish for salads and vegetables.
Some spelt products have also gained ground in the U.S. According to NPR, Hain Celestial, which owns brands like Rudi's and Arrowhead Mills, introduced spelt flour in the 1990s and a spelt tortilla in 2007. Here in New York, Sweetgreen and Dig Inn both feature farro on their menus.
Aside from taste, these ancient grains have nutritional benefits, too. Spelt and einkorn have high amounts of protein, while emmer has considerate amounts of antioxidants.
Still not quite convinced? Try out the recipes below, which showcase einkorn and emmer, and we're sure you'll be sold on this new—erm, actually, really old—trend.