Forget Wheat: Americans' Taste for Ancient Grains Is Growing
Cornell University is working on ways to help supply meet demand.
It turns out America's taste for grains is reach far beyond white and wheat flour. A recent shift toward alternatives to traditional grains has opened up our interest in exotic and ancient grains, helping to land emmer and einkorn on our plates.
According to marketing and economic analyses by Cornell University researchers, demand for specialty grains—grains that reach beyond wheat, rye, barely, and even quinoa—is so strong it's led restaurants across the country to work them onto their menus. And patrons, the researchers found, are more than willing to pay a higher price for these ancient grains.
The university names Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan as prime example of a restaurant that is embracing consumer demand. In the past, that restaurant's rotating menu has included items such as "roasted beets and kale salad with einkorn and candied pistachio," while national chains, such as Brio, is working farro—or emmer—onto their everyday menus. Next up, Gramercy Tavern says it will source Lucille, an ancient spring emmer that can be ground and used to make pasta. Funnily enough, its manager, Jenny Jones, worked on Cornell's project.
"Consumer tastes are changing," according to Mark Sorrells, who led a Cornell University project investigating which ancient and heritage wheat varieties are most adapted for Northeastern and north-central climates. "They are interested in local and flavorful food products, and farmers are looking for value-added crops to sell for higher prices." Heck, even Cheerios is getting in on the ancient grains action.
But going to forward-thinking restaurants and cereal companies aren't the only way to get your hands (or mouth) on ancient grains. Farmers markets are also embracing the trend. "Every year, we've seen things grow exponentially," June Russell, the manager of farm inspections and strategic development at New York City's Greenmarket, told the university. "Demand is building, and that's helping to drive more acres getting planted and some infrastructure development." At Greenmarket 14 different kinds of wheat, plus emmer and einkorn are available today.
To help those suppliers meet the demand, part of Cornell's project is identifying and cultivating anvient and heirloom grains that can be grown in America's heartland. Which means, yes, even more eateries (and breakfast cereal companies) will be able to experiment with these everything-old-is-new-again ingredients.