It sounds paradoxical: Ten-thousand-year-old grains are a true innovation. An innovation in the field, in the bakery and in trade. The revival of ancient grains suits current consumer needs, which have developed in response to our digitised world: sustainability, naturalness, authenticity, pleasure, a return to traditions – all these desires can be fulfilled by ancient grain varieties. It is therefore not surprising that the demand for the genuine taste of ancient grains products is growing rapidly. We, the Ancient Grains Initiative, want to make the public aware of the value and significance of these ancient grains, spread more knowledge about them and convey their importance for today's diet.
The cultivation of ancient grains dates back to a long time ago. The earliest archaeological finds date back to the period around 10,000 B.C. At that time, traditional wheat (einkorn and emmer) was cultivated in the region between the Euphrates and the Tigris. The old grain varieties spread from the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East to many parts of Europe.
The following video summarises the history of ancient grains and humanity's fascination with them using artistic flour painting.
Ancient grains, which are so precious today, are the predecessors of modern hybrid varieties and were cultivated by our ancestors thousands of years ago. Einkorn and emmer are the ancestors of modern bread wheat, which is used in over 90 % of breads and baked goods
There are many good reasons for the current revival of the ancient grain varieties:
Bread grains have a long history. The earliest archaeological finds date back to the period around 10,000 B.C. Einkorn, the ancestor of all wheat varieties, was one of the first crops cultivated by humans, together with chickpeas, linseed and bitter vetch. Emmer, which is also one of the oldest grains in the world, was the most important cultivated grain in Babylon, ancient Greece and ancient Egypt. According to tradition, emmer was also Julius Caesar's favourite grain.
Ancient grains have are naturally very hardy. Many species are undemanding, weather-resistant and thrive on barren, nutrient-poor soils. So artificial fertiliser is rarely needed – on the contrary, fertilisers would be counterproductive for ancient rye, for example, since the stalks would grow too long and bend. Thanks to its tall growth, the grains are especially resistant to diseases: The ears are a long way from the ground, so that fungal spores raised by the rain cannot easily be transferred to the grain. This means that fewer pesticides are needed, so that the grain is generally expected to undergo less stress.
Moreover, ancient grain varieties such as einkorn, emmer and pure spelt are so-called nutritional grains. This spelt is a husk, which protects the grain kernel from harmful environmental influences and impurities. There is no question of genetic engineering in ancient grains, which are unaltered and natural.
Thanks to the significantly reduced use of fertilisers and pesticides, as well as their sometimes perennial cultivation, ancient grains conserve soils and contribute to ecological diversity in fields
The ancient grain varieties have not been subjected to any breeding over the centuries, so that their nutritional profile has not changed. Historic grain varieties have numerous advantages in terms of nutritional physiology over modern grains: Einkorn, emmer and ancient rye, for example, contain more minerals, proteins and trace elements than modern grain varieties.
Baked goods made from ancient grains are an innovative and delicious alternative to traditional wheat pastry goods: They impress with their fine flavour, characteristic taste and intense crumb and crust colour. Especially in fine pastry, the particular taste profiles of ancient grains combine wonderfully with honey, almonds, nuts and fruits.
Despite all these advantages, ancient grains were forgotten for several centuries because of the strong population growth in the Middle Ages and growing demand for grains. For a long time, this economic aspect predominated over taste, until ancient grains were finally rediscovered in the return to heirloom foods and sustainability – an insider tip for those who appreciate something special.
Ancient grains give bread a delightful, more nuanced flavour, and today are an indispensable cultural treasure of the grain world. Moreover: Explaining the origin and history of the grains to consumers contributes to a greater appreciation of bread and makes bread more 'valuable' again in the most literal sense of the word.
Ancient grains pose special challenges for us in processing the grain to make baking flour and require a great deal of experience and flexibility; it requires people highly specialised the milling craft. We are proud that the demand for this quality is increasing again.
Ancient grains clearly differ from today's grain types in numerous ways: Firstly, baking properties are limited compared to modern hybrid varieties. Secondly, the particular taste profiles of various ancient grains should be mentioned – these range from buttery to nutty through to delicately spicy. With fine pastry products, these ancient grain taste profiles combine wonderfully with ingredients such as honey, almonds, nuts or fruits, for example.
Why ancient grains?
Ancient grains are precious cultural treasures The grains of our ancestors enabled the transition from a society of hunters and gatherers to one of settled communities – as a result, these grains share the responsibility for our sociocultural evolution. With the settled way of life, the newly created cities and state forms did not prevent progress in agriculture from continuing. Increased yields were necessary to meet the needs of growing populations and led to the development of the ancient grain types. Until the 19th century, what today we call ancient grains had almost completely disappeared from the fields and plates of Europe.
In our time, a conscious counter-movement is now focusing on efficiency and yields. The old, newly discovered ancient grain varieties are an insider tip for those who value biodiversity, naturalness and authentic taste. These attributes are as precious as the ingredients needed to make baked goods with ancient grains. In our portal, you will learn not only about the opportunities offered by the revival of ancient grains, but also about the challenges to be overcome. We hope you enjoy reading our information platform and we would be happy to help should you have any further inquiries on the subject of ancient grains.