If you’ve spent any time in our region’s upmarket grocery stores, you may have noticed the proliferation of products touting “ancient grains” among the ingredients. Take these 7 Ancient Grains Crackers from Crunchmaster, on sale now at Yes! Organic Market: They promise a dose of brown rice, sorghum, quinoa, sesame, millet, flax, and amaranth, plus a Hint of Sea Salt and no gluten.
Crunchmaster ups the historical factor on the back of the box, with references to antiquity and good health. “The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were truly remarkable,” the packaging tells us. “We hope you find the 7 ancient grains that we combined into this cracker remarkably tasty.” The box goes on to explain how these primeval grains “have been a basis for a healthy lifestyle since ancient times” and extols the benefits of complete proteins and amino acids and antioxidants.
Crunchmaster is hardly the first manufacturer to cash in on ancient culinary history—the Los Angeles Times detailed the recent “ancient grains” trend in a story in February—but the Market Report questions the wisdom of getting involved with Old Testament-era dietary staples. These grains are not exactly baggage free. Back in ancient times, they were less about gluten intolerance and more about rules, regulations, and staving off the wrath of Jehovah. Before foraying into the world of ancient grains, continue these provisos:
THOU SHALL BAKE USING POOP AS COALS
The popularity of “Ezekiel 4:9 bread” (“Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself”) proceeds the ancient-grain trend by decades, but devotees tend to ignore the second part of the recipe: “Bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” After a protest from Ezekiel, the Lord relents slightly: “Very well,” he said. “I will let you bake your bread over cow dung instead of human excrement.”
THOU BETTER USE THE FINEST FLOUR, REGARDLESS OF COOKING IMPLEMENT
Your grain offering “is to be made of the finest flour,” whether it is “prepared on a griddle” (Leviticus 2:5), “cooked in a pan” (Leviticus 2:7), or “baked in an oven” (Leviticus 2:4). And no honey! (Leviticus 2:11)
THOU SHALL DISREGARD THOU’S BLOOD PRESSURE
“Season all your grain offerings with salt,” orders Leviticus 2:13. Again: “Do not leave salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings.” In case you missed it: “Add salt to all your offerings.”
THOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE AN OX WHILE IT IS TREADING OUT THE GRAIN
So says Deuteronomy 25:4. Sorry, those are the rules.
THOU CANNOT AVOID THESE RULES
“You must not eat any bread, or roasted or new grain, until the very day you bring this offering to your God,” says Leviticus 23:14. Same goes for all thou coastal liberals: “This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.”
THOU SHALL COMPREHEND FRACTIONS
Gotta use two-tenths of an ephah of flour mixed with a third of a hin of olive oil—and that’s only when preparing alongside a ram. If it’s a bull, you’ll need to calculate three-tenths of an ephah of flour and half a hin of olive oil. (Numbers 15:6-9)
THOU MAY NOT SELL ON CREDIT
“I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain,” writes Nehemiah. “But let us stop charging interest!” Plastic not accepted.
THOU SHALL USE TERRIFYING GRAIN METAPHORS
“Say, ‘This is what the LORD declares: “Dead bodies will lie like dung on the open field, like cut grain behind the reaper, with no one to gather them.”’” (Jeremiah 9:22)
“Now then, I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.” (Amos 2:13)
THOU SHALL NOT EXPECT THESE GRAINS TO MAGICALLY CHANGE YOUR HEALTH
“They have less of some nutrients and more of others, so it’s sort of a trade off,” says Judi Adams, a dietician and president of both the Grain Foods Foundation and the Wheat Foods Council. Some of these “ancient grains” aren’t grains at all, Adams explains, like amaranth and quinoa, but both of those pack a wallop of iron and calcium, and for people who have to avoid gluten, they’re a good alternative to wheat. But wheat (which does not fall into the ancient category) and its byproducts that have enriched flour offer nutrients not found in the ancient grains, namely folic acid.
“All grains are good,” summarizes Adams. “You need to eat a variety.” Don’t double down on ancient grains because you think they’re the secret to good health or because Trader Joe’s tells you to. “They’re not the fountain of youth or anything like that.”