Heritage grains for breakfastSeptember 30, 2019
Heritage grains are very trendy at the moment and are also celebrated as a real innovation! Strange, in fact, when you consider that these grains are over ten thousand years old. Perhaps this is the case due to a rethinking in our society, because the desire for sustainability, naturalness, authenticity and tradition is apparently becoming stronger and stronger.
What do heritage grains have to do with it?
Heritage grains are thousands of years old cereal varieties that are regarded as the predecessors of our modern hybrid varieties. By the 19th century, these cereals were almost extinct in Europe. At the moment, however, there is a countermovement. The cultivation of heritage grains is essential for the biological diversity and naturalness. This is the case as the plants are left in their original and natural form and are not altered by various breeding methods.
They also offer a number of advantages for organic farming. Due to their robust nature, artificial fertilizers can be relinquished when cultivating heritage grains. In addition, the plants are significantly less susceptible to diseases, which significantly reduces the use of pesticides.
The absence of artificial fertilizers and chemical pesticides, as well as the perennial cultivation of heritage grains, protects the soil. This also leads to a higher ecological diversity in the fields.
What does Verival have to do with heritage grains?
At Verival, we have been involved in the cultivation and use of heritage grains in our organic breakfast products for a long time even before the trend began, and we have gained a lot of experience in this area. As we want to make a contribution to the preservation of our environment and the promotion of biodiversity, we have started a project for the recultivation of heritage grains varieties. In addition to spelt, rye and oats, we also use the almost forgotten heritage grains einkorn and emmer as well as our so-called Verival wheat from our own contract cultivation for our Heritage mueslis.
Our guest author Barbara Kanzian has even more interesting details about the heritage grains for you:
The agronomist Peter Zübli came across a fabulous discovery in the mid-1950s: he discovered a few grains in a small farm in Buus (Switzerland), which later turned out to be the rare white emmer. This heritage grain then was added to the Pro Specie Rara database of old grain varieties. At that time nobody had an idea that these grains would be the basis of a success story about 40 years later.
About 40 years ago the biologist Markus Jenny established a show garden with old grain varieties, including the rare emmer and einkorn. He wanted to investigate the diversity of animals and plants in the field. For example, it was scientifically proven that soil breeders such as skylarks benefit from the extensive cultivation of emmer and einkorn. In addition to these new perspectives for species protection, the project also brought an additional ecological value: the farmers in the surrounding areas liked this initiative and also started cultivating heritage grains. Today, around 200 hectares of emmer and einkorn are organically cultivated and used to produce consistently sustainable products.
Heritage grain varieties such as emmer, einkorn and spelt were cultivated thousands of years ago. But the new grain varieties which are bred for maximum yield, replaced the old grains. With the rise of the organic wave in the early 1990s at the latest, these robust plants are celebrating their revival and are now increasingly being cultivated again as high-quality, organically produced food, especially in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Robust, solid shell
Organic farmers particularly appreciate the fact that the so-called spelt cereals such as spelt, emmer and einkorn are particularly unaffected by environmental influences. Their grain is surrounded by a solid shell that protects it from acid rain, fine dust or spore fungi.
Emmer and einkorn are also characterised by a low nutrient requirement and can also be grown on dry soils. For example, the particular advantage of the heritage rye is its strong and fine root system. It percolates the entire field and prepares it for the following vegetable and grain cultivation.
The protective husk not only protects the spelt, emmer and einkorn from environmental influences, but it is also the basis of the resistance of this heritage grain. The husk which is removed contains fewer harmful substances and makes them easier to digest.
Healthy Heritage grains
While the gluten structure of the wheat grain was changed by new breeding methods and the gluten content increased steadily, the heritage grain varieties remained in their original form with a low gluten amount. The result is a better tolerability.
An ideal alternative to wheat for example is spelt which disposes more vitamins and is also richer in protein. And there is another great characteristic that distinguishes this heritage grain: It provides a very good source for the formation of serotonin, also called “feel-good hormone”, which can therefore have a mood-lightening effect.
The heritage cereal varieties not only make arable farming, fauna and flora more diverse, they also influence our taste experience: trendy cooks and foodies as well as nutrition-conscious consumers have become more aware of the spicy to slightly nutty taste of heritage grains. Whether in pasta, cakes or rice – the heritage grains are celebrating their comeback in the leading kitchens. Therefore, it is also no surprise that the New York Times closes its article on the heritage grains with a quote from the famous Italian chef Marco Canora: “There’s a narrative about grains now, a conversation about what it means to be an heirloom grain,” Mr. Canora said. “You need to know where it’s grown, and who is growing it. It’s happened to apples, now it’s happening with grains.”
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