Ancient grains, ancient elixirs, and ancient herbs are all the rage right now, and for good reason. We are lucky to have access to a range of traditional foods, each of which contain unique health properties. Here are some you might see at the health food store or even at your local grocer, and why you might like to try them. By Nutritionist and GoodnessMe Box Health Editor, Melissa Fine.
Ancient Grains: Spelt
An ancient variety of wheat, I’m a big fan of spelt because it’s easier to digest than typical wheat flour – one reason why we’re seeing more and varieties of spelt bread at health food stores and even at the supermarket.
If you’re familiar with the ‘low FODMAP diet’ (a diet which can be helpful for irritable bowel syndrome), you’ll know that sourdough spelt bread is typically low in FODMAPs. In a nutshell, this means that unlike regular whole wheat bread, it won’t undergo fermentation in the gut and so won’t contribute to tummy troubles like bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhoea…so you can have your bread and eat it too.
Not heavy like gluten free bread tends to be, sourdough spelt bread has a similar flavour and the same fluffiness as wholemeal bread. It’s typically less processed than the latter too, so is a good option when you feel like a sandwich.
Ancient Elixirs: Kefir and Kombucha
Although kefir may be new to us, it was traditionally produced by Eastern Europeans in the Caucasus Mountains. A fermented milk drink fed on a starter culture of grains, kefir is rich in beneficial bacteria and yeast, the ‘good stuff’ for your gut.
If you don’t do dairy, try kefir produced with water and sugar (which the grains should largely ‘consume’) or even coconut water – a modern take on the traditional elixir. You can buy kefir straight up, and there are also flavoured varieties containing fruit, honey or coconut – a good option if you’re new to the stuff; Plain kefir is pretty tart so you’ll probably like it if you’re a fan of goat’s cheese or goat’s yoghurt.
Then there is kombucha: a traditional Asian health elixir, kombucha is a fermented, slightly fizzy and vinegary-tasting tea, served cold. I’ve tried making it myself which proved interesting…
To make kombucha, you need the ‘mother’; AKA a ‘scoby’, this giant, spongy-looking mushroom top contains a symbiotic blend of bacteria and yeast, like kefir. Covered and left in peace at room temperature, the scoby feeds off black or green tea and sugar for a minimum of two weeks, ‘eating up’ most of the sugar in the process.
If you can get past the scary scoby, the end result is awesome: a beverage full of good bacteria (you’re meant to eat the scoby strands) that tastes a little bit like beer or champagne and gives you a bit of a buzz.
New to kefir or kombucha? Remember to start slowly: a shot glass of the stuff is all you need (as they’re fermented foods, any more may upset the stomach).
Ancient Herbs: Ginseng and Gotu-Kola
A mix of old and new, did you know you can get food-grade ancient herbs in artesian mineral water? We’ve been sipping on this magical stuff from Ch’iat GMB HQ for a mid-morning or arvo pick-me-up.
Handcrafted since 1987 (wish we’d discovered it sooner!), this beverage contains Chinese herbs like ginseng and gotu kola..say what?
‘Ginseng’ is a rough English translation for the Chinese term ‘rénshçn,’ meaning ‘man herb’, as the ginseng root resembling a man’s legs. That said, in Chinese medicine, ginseng is thought to simultaneously calm and stimulate the nervous system.
Gotu kola is actually a vegetable commonly consumed in Sri Lanka, but it also has a history of being used in ancient Indian Ayruvedic medicine. According to a Sri Lankan legend, elephants have a long life span due to their high gotu kola consumption.