Ancient foods that have stood the test of time are Flaxseed, Hempseed and Maize. They all have one thing in common – they have been extensively utilised and cultivated for thousands of years and are still in widespread use today. Incorporate these antiquity foods into your diet to reap the health benefits, especially to keep your plate diverse and predominantly plant-based.
Flaxseed is one of the oldest crops, with domestic flax cultivated since the beginning of civilisation, (1) around 10,000 years ago at ancient Jericho. (2) Also known as Linseed, there are 3 main recognised nutritional qualities of Flaxseed including (1)
- the high content of alpha-linolenic acid, an important source of plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acids
- rich in dietary soluble and insoluble fibres
- the high content of lignans, acting as antioxidants and phytoestrogens
Whole linseeds can be added to a homemade muesli mix, while Flax ‘eggs’ are a popular choice for vegan baking as an egg replacement. It’s preferable to use freshly ground flaxseed and store it in the fridge, due to the oxidisation process which may cause the milled seed to go rancid. Likewise, flaxseed oil is best kept refrigerated and is used for pouring only, never heated.
Hemp has been a valuable source of food for millennia, with hempseeds found in tombs in China dating back to around 3000 BC. (3) Having originated in central Asia, hemp was introduced to Europe as an agricultural plant during the Bronze age. (4) Hempseed offers essential amino acids and fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, and fibres. The rich green oil is composed of more than 90% polyunsaturated fatty acids, known to protect against cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and inflammatory conditions. (3)
With a pleasant nutty taste, hempseed can be consumed in cereals, sprinkled on salads, or added to nut butter for texture. Hemp protein works well blended into smoothies, while hemp flour can be used as a gluten-free alternative for baking. Like flaxseed, the oil is for pouring rather than heating and can also be added to smoothies, used as a salad dressing or taken straight from the spoon.
Maize, or corn, was domesticated at least 8700 years ago in the highlands of Mexico. (5) As the leading cereal crop in the world, (6) and due to its highest yield potential among cereals, it is known globally as the ‘queen of cereals’. (7) Maize provides an essential source of various phytochemicals (7) and has the highest total antioxidant activity among all common grains such as rice, wheat and oats. (8) Rich in several vitamins and some minerals, including potassium, a bright yellow colour provides a good source of carotenoids.
The versatility of maize makes it easy to incorporate into your diet. Besides consuming whole corn kernels, maize products include cornflour, which makes for tortillas and cornstarch, which is often used as a gluten-free thickening agent for sauces and polenta often consumed as a porridge.
Ancient wisdom for a healthy diet
These long-standing ancient foods are great options for adding variety to a predominantly plant-based diet. With all the modern conveniences in the kitchen, you can transform an ancient ingredient into a new recipe with ease. There’s a reason why Flax, Hemp and Maize have been around for millennia – so enjoy these timeless foods for the longevity to health they provide!