Read full article By Vana Antonopoulou @ Greek Food News Photo Credit: Greek Food News
Everything old is new again as heirloom and ancient grain varieties rise in popularity. In fact, words such as faro, sorghum, teff, millet, quinoa, spelt, and amaranth are currently trending not only among healthy foodies, but in the mainstream as well.
What are ancient grains?
There is actually no official definition of the term “ancient grains”. Theoretically, they are plants that have been cultivated for centuries –millennia even– in the same way, while The Whole Grains Council describe ancient grains “loosely as grains that are largely unchanged over the last several hundred years”. Therefore, modern wheat, constantly bred and changed, is not an ancient grain. Bulgur, einkorn, emmer/farro, spelt, and khorasan, all part of the wheat family, are, however, recognized as ancient grains. Other ancient grains include sorghum, teff, millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and wild rice, as well as rare varieties of other common grains, such as black barley, red and black rice, and blue corn.
Ancient grains speak to tradition in countries such as Ecuador, Ethiopia and Peru, while their explosion in popularity in the West is driven by health-conscious consumers and fashionable eating habits. Quinoa was the first ancient grain to explode in popularity, while others, like barley have always been around but have never been that trendy. The US pioneered the trend, which then reached key Western European countries such as the UK, France and Germany, and is now experiencing fast growth in markets like Spain and Eastern Europe (Lithuania, Russia), where lies the most promising potential.
What about ancient grains in Greece?
Mr Panagiotis Saitanoudis, founder of Peliti, an alternative collective active in preserving and promoting heirloom and ancient grains, explains that “Greece is one of the richest countries in terms of plant genetic material. In fact, it is ranked in 17th place in the world!”
According to him, this is due to three main reasons: (a) Greece has a very diverse and rugged terrain, full of mountains, plains, many islands, many microclimates, etc.; (b) agriculture in the area dates back 10,000 years and therefore thousands of varieties have been created by farmers; and (c) Greece is located in one of the centers for the spread of varieties, that of Southeast Europe, from where varieties that proliferated all over the world either started or have crossed.
“Greece contributed to the global community not only theatre, art, sciences or democracy, but also many grain varieties,” adds Mr Saitanoudis. “In the area of Sitagroi in Drama, Northern Greece, as well as in other Greek regions, einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum) was discovered. This particular variety has been cultivated for over 9,000 years in the country. Another well-known plant that was cultivated in antiquity and is still cultivated, is split peas from the island of Santorini or Fava Santorinis PDO, which has been around since the Bronze Age, in 1,500 B.C.”