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Grain of the Month: Kamut PDF Print E-mail

November 2016
by Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist

I am walking past the grain bins in the Bulk department, scanning the labels for grains that are not so familiar to all of us, when my eyes spot Kamut, a grain with an unusual sounding name. It originated thousands of years ago in the Middle East in the Fertile Crescent, which reached from Mesopotamia to Egypt, but for some reason Kamut stopped being cultivated and was not rediscovered until the last century. Fortunately now it is grown here in the U.S.—good news since many of us prefer to eat foods from this country as much as possible, rather than those imported from countries far away.

Kamut, also known as khorasan, is an ancient relative of the modern wheat staple, durum. It is a variety of wheat that came to this country via an American airman who received many kernels of it as a souvenir from a fellow American stationed in Egypt in the 1940s. It then made its way to Montana in the 1950s and ‘60s where it was grown for many years as a special grain and it was displayed at a state fair in Montana in 1964. A man named Bob Quinn saw this new grain at the fair labeled as "King Tut’s Wheat." The image of this ancient grain came back to him years later in 1977, when he saw large corn kernels in a bag that reminded him of the kamut kernels he had seen. He then researched kamut and spent many years testing and propagating it. It was introduced at a Natural Products Expo in 1986. The Quinn family decided to register it under the trademark of Kamut in 1990. According to an Egyptian Hieroglyphic dictionary, the word kamut means "wheat, grain or wheaten bread," and since the word belongs to a dead language it could be registered as a trademark name. With the use of this trademark came strict guidelines to follow because the Quinn family wanted to preserve the purity of Kamut as well as ensure that it continue to be grown organically, as it was originally. Some of the guidelines or conditions that must be met before it can be sold under the trademark Kamut are: it can only be grown as certified organic; it must be 99-percent free of present-day wheat's contaminating varieties; the kamut used in agriculture must originate from the ancient khorasan variety of wheat (no genetic manipulation); it must contain a protein range of 12 to 18 percent; it must contain a specific amount of selenium; it is not to be mixed with modern-day wheat in pasta; and products labeled as containing Kamut must contain more than 50 percent Kamut. The Quinn family continues to grow khorasan wheat to this day in Montana. Currently this ancient grain is grown all over the world but it is only grown commercially here in the U.S and Canada. Kamut International, the company that owns the Kamut label, continues to conduct research as part of its mission to learn more about the properties of this ancient grain, Kamut khorasan wheat.

Kamut is an heirloom grain that, like other ancient grains, is definitely making a big comeback after being pushed aside by our agricultural monoculture. Millions of pounds of kamut are grown all over the world. Kamut's appearance is similar to rye or oat berries. It has a beautiful golden color and the kernel itself is twice the size of the modern wheat kernel. It has a whopping amount of protein compared to modern-day wheat and also contains a good supply of selenium, fiber, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, and vitamin E. It is not gluten free. It has been shown to be beneficial for the regulation of blood sugar, decreasing cholesterol levels, and has anti-inflammatory properties as well.    

Kamut takes about 45 minutes to an hour to cook, under medium heat. Soak the berries or grain overnight to reduce the cooking time, and drain the soaking water. Use 3 cups of water to each cup of grain, and add more water as needed, so don't leave it unattended for the cooking period. Once cooked it maintains its firm texture, unlike some other grains that often become mushy. It has a delicious flavor, with a nutty taste that is pleasantly chewy. It's a great addition to soups, salads, and side dishes. As the cold weather approaches, try this different grain in soups and stews as a new exciting option to your familiar repertoire, but don't hesitate to use it in salads too. It makes a very satisfying hearty hot cereal with nuts and other toppings you might like. Rediscover this ancient grain, and remember it goes back to the times of the pharaohs, where it was treasured—many tombs were found to contain kernels of this wondrous grain. Little did they know that it would still be consumed by people many civilizations later!