Heirloom ancient grains and ancient wheats are a great way to get rid of the refined and processed grains and wheat you have stashed in your cupboards onboard. I am pretty sure if you looked right now, you might find plain oatmeal, white rice, and brown rice, but not many ancient grains.
Do yourself a favor and toss them. Now repeat after me: I will no longer be a member of the plain white rice evolution but a mover and shaker of the ancient grain movement; I will buy some einkorn or millet today. (Don’t worry, I have sources for you.)
Technically, when we talk about ancient whole grains, we are referring to these gems: amaranth, buckwheat, freekah (a type of wheat), black barley, colored rices (even though they are rices), millet, teff, quinoa and sorghum. These grains are packed with health benefits such as fiber as well as being heirloom, meaning they have passed from generations of growers for thousands of years and have not been genetically altered.
When we talk of ancient wheats, we mean einkorn, emmer, spelt and kamut.
And when we call them ancient, we mean it. Consider, for instance, kamut. It was found in Egypt in the tombs of pharaohs. Quinoa was discovered among the Inca ruins. Only one of the multitude of yachts I have worked on as a charter chef has had ancient grains in her cupboard. That is sad.
There are several reasons that most chefs don’t use these two nutritious food groups on their menus. One reason is that they are hard to find. They are not readily available in all the areas we travel. At the end of this column, I will give you a great resource that I have bought from so that you can stock up before you leave port.
There are other reasons yacht chefs don’t use these grains. They may consider them “poor man’s food”. They are not regional or local. They fear the owner and guests will see them as carb-laden sides.
But I believe the biggest reason most yacht chefs don’t use these great grains is because they don’t know how to cook them and they are not sure how to use them in recipes.
To get past these barriers, get to know your grains. One of their great capabilities is that they can stand up to really strong flavor pairings. Can you say garlic and onions and protein? They all have different cooking times and different tastes so you have to experiment. Find the flavor profiles that you like and want to keep onboard.
These ancient grains and wheats actually offer more than just plain rice or potatoes when prepared correctly — they can even take less time to prepare — with pronounced flavor profiles that adapt easily to other menu pairings.
Ancient grains are also healthier for you, but the downside is the price. They are more expensive. For yachts looking to keep costs down, consider cutting back on the protein. Protein prices have escalated steadily over the past couple of years (and are not expected to drop) so instead of the beef and lamb, try a dish of ancient whole grains with roasted vegetables for a complete meal.
A diet rich in whole grains is found to produce lower cholesterol and lower incidences of colon cancer in us humans, not to mention that they are high in vitamins and minerals. One note, though: When using quinoa or millet, first wash the grains because they have a bitter coating on them.
The size, shape and color of many ancient grains make them an interesting addition to any meal. They have a variety of uses such as pancakes, breads, salads, soups or as a main course. I make a vegetable burger out of quinoa, black rice and millet.
Consider making a black rice pudding, use them cooked and chilled in salads or throw some into soup for a hearty filler. Make that beautiful sourdough bread using Einkorn.
There is a farm in Massachusetts that sells einkorn and some other rare genetic varieties of wheat and rice that you can’t find in stores. I’ve used this resource for years. Check it out at www.growseed.org.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 20 years. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.