As a new summer season of picnics and cookouts begins, I'll take you back in time with a taste of what's to come… ancient grains. These whole grains grow from traditional plant varieties that have existed unchanged for thousands of years in regions around the world, and they are growing in popularity today. With exotic-sounding names, these whole grains are rich in cultural traditions with a story to tell. Start the conversation with your family and friends; these hearty whole grains offer an excellent nutrition profile and pair well with fresh salads and summertime gatherings.


Farro is an ancient variety of wheat originating in the Fertile Crescent region of the Mediterranean. A staple in the diet of the times and considered the “mother of all wheat,” this chewy, nutty-flavored grain was a staple in the diet of ancient Rome and is still enjoyed today in many Italian dishes, such as soups and salads. Studies on ancient varieties of wheat indicate they contain higher amounts of health-protective antioxidants compared with common modern-day varieties. This earthy grain makes a perfect picnic companion to garden-fresh veggies.

To prepare farro, simply combine 1 part farro with 3 parts liquid in a pan. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Drain any excess cooking liquid that remains, cool and add to your recipe and enjoy.

Black rice

This dark black/purple-pigmented rice is also known as “forbidden rice” because it was deemed so special in ancient Chinese culture it was reserved only for royalty. Thankfully today we are all able to enjoy this antioxidant-rich variety of rice. The exotic dark color of this whole-grain rice comes from the antioxidant pigment called anthocyanin, the same purple pigment found in blueberries, purple grapes and eggplant. There is an association between consumption of anthocyanin-rich foods and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer prevention and protection against age-related memory decline. Naturally gluten-free black rice, paired with veggies in stir-fries and summer salads, offers you another delicious source of these powerful plant pigments.

To prepare, combine one part black rice with 2 parts liquid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until most of the water is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Then remove from heat and allow to sit, covered, for 10 minutes before enjoying.


Freekeh (free-ka) is a process in which young grains are harvested before maturity, roasted and then the outer portion of the seed is removed by rubbing it away. As legend has it, freekeh was created by accident nearly 2,000 years ago when a Middle Eastern village was attacked and their crop of young, green wheat was set ablaze by the enemy. The villagers rubbed off the burned chaff, cooked it and freekeh, with its toasty flavor and nutty texture, was born. Higher in protein and fiber than wheat harvested at maturity, freekeh may help you feel satisfied while eating fewer calories.

Bring 1 part freekeh plus 2-1/2 parts liquid to a boil in a covered pan. Reduce heat to low and simmer for approximately 20-25 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Smoked turkey and farro salad

All you need:

1 cup farro

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 6-ounce slice deli smoked turkey (3/4 inch thick), skin removed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup diced smoked cheese, such as Cheddar or Gouda

1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper

1 large stalk celery, chopped

1 ripe but firm avocado, diced

3/4 cup slivered soft sun-dried tomatoes

All you do:

1. Place farro in a medium saucepan, add enough water to cover by 2 inches and bring to a boil. Stir, reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the farro is the desired tenderness, 15 to 25 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again.

2. Meanwhile, whisk oil, vinegar, shallots and pepper in a large bowl. Add the farro, turkey, cheese, bell pepper, celery, avocado and sun-dried tomatoes; toss to coat. Refrigerate until serving.

Makes 5 servings; 1 1/2 cups per serving

Nutrition Facts per serving: 439 calories; 24 g fat (6 g sat, 14 g mono); 29 mg cholesterol; 43 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 17 g protein; 8 g fiber; 689 mg sodium


Tracey Shaffer, RD, LD, is a Hy-Vee dietitian at the Blue Springs location The information provided should not be construed as professional medical advice. Email her at