What are Landrace Grains?
Palouse Heritage grows several varieties of landrace grains. But what are landrace grains and why should you care? These definitions will help you understand some important distinctions:
Landrace Grains: Ancient pre-hybridized varieties ("races") of wheat, barley, oats, rye, and other grains that flourished since time immemorial in areas ("lands") throughout the world where they adapted to local environmental conditions.
Heritage/Heirloom Grains: Generic terms that include grain varieties raised before the 1950s, so may also include hybridized grains that were introduced to the food supply following the advent of plant genetics in the early 1900s.
Ancient Grains: Landraces as well as primitive "pre-wheat" cereals like einkorn and emmer which have a thin but indigestible shroud ("hull") which must be removed for consumption.
A Little History
Wheat's ancestral range stretched across the Fertile Crescent from Turkey eastward across the Transcaucasus and Mesopotamia to Kashmir and south to Ethiopia. By 5000 BC, native landrace, or pre-hybridized, varieties had spread along the Mediterranean coast to the Iberian Peninsula. Some two thousand years later some of these grains reached the British Isles by natural dispersion from wind and animals. Successive plant selections by early farmers led to earlier maturing stands to assure yield and prevent damage from the elements, followed by choices for uniform ripening time to facilitate harvest.
True grains like wheat and barley are members of the grass family, while such “pseudo-cereals” as amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat belong to other botanical groups. Bulgur and semolina are sometimes marketed as “ancient grains” but are actually specially processed wheat food products. Other popular varieties today labeled as "ancient grains," such as spelt, emmer, and einkon, are actually "pre-wheats," or primitive grains that predate what we commonly refer to as landrace and heritage grains. While they are nutritious like our landrace grains, they have no true connection to the Pacific Northwest or early America. At Palouse Heritage, we specialize in growing the landrace grain varieties that were originally raised by settlers in colonial America and the pioneers of the Pacific Northwest. Because the Inland Northwest's fertile Palouse Country hosts a wide range of favorable growing conditions, many landrace varieties were raised there as early as the 1850s. By the 20th century, the Palouse became the nation's premier dryland (non-irrigated) grain district.
Just as there are different classes of grains, wheat varieties are further categorized based on their physical characteristics. Wheat (Triticum aestivum) has been divided into several general classes based on kernel texture (soft, hard), and kernel color (white, red), and seasonal habit (fall/winter, spring). Hard red spring wheats are highest in protein with medium-strong gluten, the protein that provides elasticity to dough, so are used for yeast breads and hard rolls. Hard red winter wheats have the strongest gluten and are used primarily for pan breads and buns. Soft red winter wheats have medium protein and weak gluten for flat breads, pastries, and crackers; and low protein, weak gluten soft winter and springs are used for pastries, noodles, and batters. High protein and strong gluten durums are preferred for pasta, macaroni, and spaghetti. Palouse Heritage grains include landrace varieties that fall within all these classes.
Palouse Heritage Landrace Grains Distinctives
So what makes our grains so great? Several things, but to summarize:
Incredible and distinctive flavors! Unlike modern hybridized wheat that comprises the flour in all your baked goods today, Palouse Heritage landrace grains baked goods have delicious and unique tastes, as attested by noted chefs across the country who have already had a chance to sample our flour. Rather than settling for the same old bland flour at the grocery store, we encourage you to step back to our historical roots and taste the colors of different wheats and barleys.
Essential health benefits. Studies have demonstrated the remarkable nutritional benefits of landrace grains over modern varieties. The significantly longer roots of landrace grains tap into important trace elements for healthy bodies that are found deeper in the soil. Check out our page specifically related to this topic here. Our landrace grains also benefit from the Palouse Country's rich and fertile terroir. In addition, though we are not medical professionals and cannot scientifically verify, some individuals with wheat and gluten intolerances claim to be able to eat our products without adverse effects due to the potentially lower gluten content of our grains.
Historical and regional authenticity. Palouse Heritage only raises landrace grains that were among those originally grown by fur traders and early settlers of the Pacific Northwest and colonial America farmers. Only through our own vigorous research have we been able to discover these fascinating historical insights, prompting a growing public interest in our work. Palouse Heritage is the only source in the world with the volume and variety of grains from this part of history.
Sustainable practices for the sake of environmental preservation and restoration. Often, people who purchase local artisan flour celebrate the fact that you can "know your farmer." However, it is better for you to actually know what your farmer is doing. At Palouse Heritage, we employ Old World sustainable farming practices when raising our landrace grains. Our grain varieties are also identified as endangered by Slow Food USA and included in their “Ark of Taste” catalog to promote preservation of biodiversity and culinary distinction.