When talking about cultures and traditions from around the world, it’s often their diﬀerences that tend to take the spotlight, making it easy to forget how similar they really are. The foundation of nearly every traditional diet was built on the goodness of plant foods—fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. So, while preparations vary (sometimes quite signiﬁcantly) from place to place with the use of local spices, herbs, cooking methods, and plant varieties, there is a lot that traditional heritage diets have in common. And it turns out, whole grains form the backbone of cuisines all over the world.
This means that regardless of where in the world you live, or where your ancestors came from, chances are that whole grains are a part of your heritage. Before refrigeration and irrigation, grains oﬀered several practical advantages over other food groups when it came to storage and cultivation. Cereal grains can be stored at room temperature for months at a time without spoiling and they are easy on the environment, requiring signiﬁcantly less water than many other crops. This helps explain why they’re a sustainable staple of human existence just about anywhere you look. Even today, grains remain the most important source of food worldwide, making up nearly half of all calories consumed.
Of course, the types of grains eaten in diﬀerent regions vary from place to place, depending on climate and the species native or adapted to that locality.
The African Heritage diet is full of delicious whole grains like sorghum, millet, and teﬀ which are all crops especially well-suited for dry climates and drought conditions. For a comforting and satisfying dish try Teﬀ Polenta Ethiopian Chicken Stew.
Asian food traditions include millet, buckwheat noodles (soba), barley porridges, and of course, brown, black and red rices. For a simple and nutritious meal, try out this Sesame Soy Soba Noodle Salad by Sharon Palmer! For a Thai-inspired meal, make this delicious stir fry with sorghum. You can join Sharon, the plant-powered dietitian, on a trip to Thailand in February 2024.
For most of human existence, whole grains—rather than their reﬁned grain counterparts—have been the norm (and many of these traditional whole grain foods remain central to regional cuisines). It wasn’t until the late 1800s that new milling technology allowed the bran and germ to be quickly and eﬃciently separated from the endosperm giving rise to a global inﬂux of white ﬂour and white rice. What millers and health oﬃcials didn’t immediately understand was that reﬁning our grains meant removing about a quarter of their protein, and one half to two thirds (and sometimes more) of a score of their other nutrients including their B vitamins and ﬁber.
Fortunately, today we have a much better understanding of the huge health advantages of whole grains and we’re watching the momentum for whole grains spread from Latin America to Asia, to Australia, and many places in between. More and more consumers are rediscovering and actively seeking the unrivaled ﬂavor of whole grains.
If you’re looking to incorporate more whole grains into your diet, we encourage you to draw inspiration from culinary traditions all over the world. There are so many delicious ways to indulge in the unique textures and ﬂavors of whole grains. Our Whole Grains Around the World 4-week menu plan book is a great place to start. It takes readers beyond the basics, and oﬀers more than 70 recipes inspired by diﬀerent heritage diets: Mediterranean, African, Latin American, and Asian. Here at Oldways we like to say, “let the old ways be your guide to good health.”
To ﬁnd whole grain products in stores, just look for the Whole Grain Stamp! Its eye-catching design makes it easy to spot on food packages and it provides a shortcut for ﬁnding products oﬀering at least a half serving of whole grains!
We hope you’re inspired to try a new heritage whole grain recipe this month in honor of National Nutrition Month and Whole Day for Whole Grain on March 29th. Connect with us on social media by using the hashtag #samplewholegrains! We would love to see what you’re cooking up!
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