Do “ancestral grains” like quinoa really have more protein than modern grains?

February 20, 2022 at 11:00 pm (Food Science, Uncategorized)

I keep seeing claims online that say things like “All of these ancestral grains are packed full of fiber, nutrients, and delicious distinctive taste. They’re also higher in protein than modern grains.” Really? I keep hearing this claim about quinoa and amaranth being higher in protein than modern grains, but I’m skeptical. I guess it depends on what you consider a “modern grain.”

Wheat has got to be included in modern grains, and it has arguably the most protein of any grain—14 to 20% of calories from protein, depending on the type. Rye and oats are also around 14-15%. Barley is around 12.5% protein. That means rye, oats, and barley are pretty comparable to quinoa, amaranth, teff, and wild rice (which range from 13 to 15% of calories from protein). And they are much higher protein than sorghum, which gets only 3 to 5% of calories from protein, even less than brown rice or corn (6-8%). I guess I’m being a bit pedantic here, but I just feel like there are plenty of reasons to argue for experimenting with “ancestral grains” without making claims about protein content that seem to be a stretch.

Here is the data I found in rough order from highest to lowest protein”

  • Bob’s red mill Kamut wheat berries is 18.8% and soft white dry wheat berries is 19.3%
  • Hard red spring wheat berries (uncooked) is 16.8% protein
  • Quinoa cooked 14.7% protein (15.4% uncooked)
  • Oats, raw, dry 15%
  • Oats, steel cut, dry 12-19% depending on brand (USDA entry says 12% and Quakers says 14.9% but Bob’s Red Mill organic says 18.5% and Arrowhead mills says 18.9%)
  • Whole wheat spaghetti is 15.4% protein
  • Rye flour, dark 14.5% protein
  • Teff dry 14.5% protein (cooked 14.5 – 15.4% protein)
  • Amaranth cooked or dry 12.7% protein
  • Wild rice cooked 14% protein (14.6% uncooked)
  • Wheat flour whole grain is 13.9% protein
  • Whole grain barley is 12.5% protein
  • Oatmeal, regular or quick-cooking, dry 12%
  • Rice, brown, long-grain cooked is 7.6% protein
  • Whole grain yellow cornmeal is 6.1% protein
  • Sorghum grain is 2.9% protein (whole grain flour is 5.4%)

All of that said, whether a grain is highest in protein might not be as important to vegetarians as how high the grain is in lysine:

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