Ancient Grains

Looking for an alternative to white rice? When it comes to grains, there are a number of options that go beyond white rice. White rice has long been a staple on the food plate, however due to the milling process, the husk, bran, and germ are all removed. The bran is rich in dietary fiber and essential fatty acids, among other nutrients. Instead, there are many other alternatives available. You probably know about brown rice and other healthy alternatives, but have you heard about quinoa? How about farro? There are other ancient grains that you can use to replace white rice and pasta, each with different tastes, health benefits, and preparation. Here are a few ancient grains you can try to add to your meal the next time you cook. 

Brown Rice 

Brown rice tends to have a nuttier taste and is chewier than white rice. It’s also more dense. Brown rice may help fight heart disease and cancer. Researchers at Harvard found that eating brown rice for two or more servings a week reduced the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by ten percent compared to those who ate it less than once a month. Brown rice is also a source of magnesium, which works with calcium to build the body’s bones, teeth and helps the body’s muscle contract. It’s high in fiber, making it a good grain to eat if you’re trying to achieve weight loss, as fiber helps the body feel full.  


Quinoa is increasingly popular these days and is often seen as a replacement to brown rice. Quinoa is a grain that comes from South America, grown in the mountains of the Andes in Peru. It is gluten free and has all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa is a bit of a superfood in that regard and functions as a plant-based protein. Cooked like rice, the nutty flavor has a pop texture when eaten.  


Farro functions similarly to quinoa, and is a good source of fiber, protein, and calcium. Its texture is similar to that of a longer grain of brown rice. It’s a very ancient grain, having been found in Egyptian tombs dating from 10,000 years ago. It was a food staple during the Roman Empire and still grows in communities in northern Italy. Farro often acts as a replacement for pasta, but it can be used in other dishes, including for pudding, sweet breads, and even as a crunchy topping for desserts like cheesecake. Farro is not gluten-free so if gluten allergies are a concern, you may want to stay away from trying farro.  


Freekeh looks very similar to cereal. Freekeh has double the protein and quaduple the fiber of brown rice. It’s also nearly fat free too, with less of a gram of fat per serving (one serving is one-fourth of a cup). It hails from the Levant and North Africa where it’s popular in dishes in the region. The dish first appeared in a reference in Baghdad cookbook during the thirteenth century. Freekeh can be found in the whole grain aisle as well as sometimes the ethnic food aisle of some grocery stories. The dish is also high in iron and zinc.  

The above grains can be valuable substitutions the next time you’re making a dish with grains. Whether it’s a substitute for white rice or a refined pasta, try experimenting and using these grains the next time you cook and see the difference you can make. Not only will these grains improve your health, but they can also provide a different flavor to your meals you may not have had before.  

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Micah Peterson

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