Our Ancient Grains
Sicily is a fascinating island, mysterious above all for its geographical position, in the balance between East, Africa and the West, which has made it a multifaceted land over the centuries, a colony of many peoples coming from afar, who loved it above all for the generosity of the climate and the earth. Generosity appreciated and venerated also by the Greeks, who among their myths and their legends gave Sicily the benefit of having been for the first time in the history of the world, the land that received the grain as a sign of gratitude from the Goddess Demeter. Starting from May it is not difficult to come across the vast wheat fields of the island, that gild all the surrounding landscape, giving it a dream atmosphere. Until 1927 there were 52 autochthonous varieties of wheat in Sicily, which were lost due to the Italian economic boom, when the mass market preferred cultivars modified by man to obtain more abundant production at lower prices, thanks to a higher yield per hectare of modern grains. All at the expense of genuineness and biodiversity.
Ancient grains our choice of love
In these years, however, Sicilian farmers have decided to defend the native wheat varieties of the island and to bring them back to the market, despite any difficulty. We at Seminiamo have followed this trail, because we are in love with our land and because we don’t want to lose flavours and smells that are part of our historical, genetic and cultural heritage. For this reason, we have chosen to cultivate four varieties of ancient grains: maiorca, russello, perciasacchi and timilia (tummina), fully respecting nature and biodiversity, because as we say in Sicily a divirsità jè ricchizza (diversity is wealth).
We have chosen ancient grains because we are in love with our land and our planet and because we do not want to lose flavours and smells that are part of our historical, genetic and cultural heritage.
Why choose ancient grains
Modern times have accustomed us to eating the traditional white wheat flour 0 or 00 with which we produce almost everything: bread, pasta, baked goods, sweets, etc. This flour is obtained from a wheat produced on a large scale, selected and modified over the years to make production more abundant to the detriment of the nutritional values and the genuineness of the product.
We think there are 10 reasons why you should start to prefer ancient grains. Let’s start.
1. They have not been genetically altered by man and therefore they have a much lower yield than the more common modern wheat. They are not processed intensively with the use of nitrogen fertilizers, glyphosate and mycotoxins, because they are naturally very resistant to weeds due to their height and because they grow easily in arid environments with a high rate of drought.
2. They are less refined and more nutrient because are processed with stone milling, as they have a very different gluten index compared to modern grains, which makes their processing difficult and incompatible with modern pasta-making technologies. Comparative studies between ancient and modern wheat varieties have shown that the first one lower or cancel the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the human body and also possess high amounts of vitamins and minerals and of copper, iron, zinc and magnesium.
3. They contain a different quality of gluten. Gluten in ancient grains, compared to modern varieties, is not distinguished from a quantitative point of view, but from a qualitative point of view. In fact, what is different, in the ancient grains, is the gluten index, a parameter that expresses gluten’s strength, that is more difficult to process and not compatible with modern pasta-making technologies. The gluten proteins of the ancient wheat varieties also contain less “toxic epitopes”, the amino acid sequences recognized by
the lymphocytes of celiac subjects. A diet based on wheat varieties with less “toxic epitopes” could therefore help prevent celiac disease, considering the many factors associated with its onset.
4. They help to combat cholesterol, glycaemia and cardiovascular diseases. A recent study has shown that the use of ancient grains flour causes on one hand a significant lowering of both total and “bad” cholesterol and blood glucose. On the other hand, it finds an increase in the circulating stem cells, mobilized by the bone marrow, which can repair damaged blood vessels.
5. They are rich in polyphenols, carotenoids, tocopherols and fibers to which are attributed important functions of nutraceuticals, including anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive, cardiovascular, antioxidant and antiviral activities.
6. They are tastier and more precious because they are traditionally milled and traditionally worked, that’s why they maintain intact their organoleptic properties and a unique taste and an unforgettable smell.
7. They protect biodiversity or the differences naturally occurring in nature among the grains by country and region. These grains have risked disappearing because the production costs are higher compared to a lower yield.
8. They are cultivated biologically. They are far from the industrial world.
9. They demand lower processing temperatures and longer leavening times, because they require artisan machining for their lower gluten index.
10. They give value to the small producers who cultivate the land with a different ethic, the ethic of love and respect, a front of a world dominated more and more by industrial products that take planet needs and the needs of our body in a little consideration. The ancient grains market is generally a short supply chain, with a great advantage for the consumer.
The flour of the oldest and most delicious Sicilian sweets
Among the ancient grains that we have chosen to cultivate there’s the ancient Sicilian soft grain Maiorca. The ear of the Maiorca wheat has distinctive traits that characterize it unmistakably: it is thin, tall (between 170 and 180 cm), almost white and without rests. It is in harmony with the Mediterranean climate and is easily cultivated in arid and marginal lands. Sicilian grandmothers used it to make delicious Sicilian sweets, including traditional Christmas cookies. As a matter of facts its white flour, candid and impalpable, it is particularly suitable for the preparation of cookies (of course) desserts, hosts, but also white bread, bread sticks. It is often used to make the famous Sicilian almond paste and, according to some researchers, it would have been the basis of the first recipes for making the Sicilian cannoli, which according to some historic sources it would be of Arabic origin! The flour that was obtained from the Maiorca was for our grandmothers what for us today is the 00 flour, certainly with an abyss of difference in terms of genuineness and nutrition. In fact, the ancient grain Maiorca is rich in fibers and proteins and has a low gluten content, about the 50% less than modern grains.
The very digestible “orange grain” that keeps cholesterol at bay
It is the oldest durum wheat along with timilia, it is typical of the Sicilian hinterland and has strong roots also suitable for shallow soils. Its very high ear, that can even reach 180 cm, gives the landscapes an unforgettable charm especially because of its very particular reddish-orange colour, from which this wheat takes its name. It is a not very productive cultivar with a yield per hectare 50% lower than the modern cultivars, but it is resistant to wheat rust, foot ache and coal. It requires little nitrogen fertilizer and does not favour, due of late sowing and its considerable height, the development of weeds. Its flours, with little water (remember that Sicily has always been a land characterized by drought and water scarcity) allow the production of durum wheat bread with great digestibility that can be eaten for several days. The Russello wheat is still used today in Sicily to produce bronze-drawn bread and pasta, both very digestible, resistant, tasty, fragrant, rich in fibers and proteins. Like all ancient grains, this wheat also contains less gluten than other grains.
The Sicilian Kamut perfect for baking
The Perciasacchi wheat (literally that makes hole to bags) owes its name to the pointed shape of its grains that used to pierce the jute bags in which they were contained during transport. The characteristics of this wheat are very similar to the Khorasan wheat (better known as Kamut), but it is a Sicilian wheat that is not transported inside the holds of ships with a high probability of mycotoxin development. It is a grain very resistant to drought, suitable for crops in hot and dry countries and does not require the use of chemical fertilizers. Moreover, thanks to its height, between 150 and 180 cm, it does not need the use of chemical herbicides against weeds. Thanks to the presence of carotenoids, Perciasacchi flour is yellow and it has a fine particle size that make it ideal for bread making. The flavour, aromas and nutritional content of this precious grain have remained unchanged over time.
The healthy dark grain that keeps blood sugar at bay
It is one of the oldest varieties of ancient durum wheat. Its traces are found even in Greek texts, but it risked to disappeared due to the mass market. Like all the ancient grains its ear is very high and naturally resistant to pests, suitable for environments with little water. It is characterized of a light-yellow colour with a tapered shape. Its yield per hectare made halved compared to that of modern grains. Timilia flour, after milling, has a brownish / grey colour, different from the very white flours that we are used to bought and seen on the market and its food products have a characteristic dark colour. It also contains many trace elements of wheat and bran, as well as, a high protein value and a low gluten index.