I recently heard from a friend that they had read in an Anthropology magazine, that there is evidence that our ancestors ate sedge grass, and lots of it. What is sedge grass? Does it contain gluten? Should it be considered a grain or vegetable? I'm curious if anyone could shed some light on this.
I suspect that this is the story that your friend is referring to that came out in May.
Study co-author Kevin Uno, a University of Utah Ph.D. student in geology, adds: "This study provides evidence that Paranthropus boisei was not cracking nuts, but was instead eating mainly tropical grasses or sedges. It was not competing for food with most other primates, who ate fruits, leaves and nuts; but with grazers -- zebras' ancestors, suids [ancestors of pig s and warthogs] and hippos."
The study that the article is about concerned an ancient hominid named Paranthropus boisei that lived in along side our ancestors in Eastern Africa from about 2.6 until about 1.2 million years ago. Paranthropus boisei is now placed in a separate genus to those hominids considered to be our ancestors. This means that it is a human relative but not a human ancestor.
(A reconstruction of how Paranthropus boisei may have looked).
East African sedges include the well known Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) (see the photo) used by the ancient Egyptians to make papyrus paper. Sedges do not contain gluten and would be considered a leafy green vegetable if us humans were able to eat them :)
It is indeed interesting if this particular relative of early humans did eat a lot of grass leaves. Maybe some of our early ancestors ate a bit of grass too. However you yourself will not gain much nutrition from trying to eat sedge grass leaves. Such grasses contain a lot of cellulose that we are now unable to digest. Best to leave it to the herbivores.
Sedges are not actually grasses. So they don't contain any gluten, afaik, since they aren't cereal grasses (aka grains). And they're obviously not vegetables either. This is the first I've heard of them being a food source, but as The Loon posted, it does make some sense.
Yes, there is evidence of grass seed consumption in the paleolithic. It was probably a seasonal food source for them. We also have no idea how they consumed them. It's a great excuse to have a gluten-free beer made with some similar grasses (I believe one paper found evidence they were consuming grass seeds related to sorghum) or some buckwheat pancakes now and then.
In fact, I am going get me some!
Sedge considered to be about the worst weed in the world. Some of the roots are edible. It grows freely in the most impossible places imaginable, and so would be a logical choice in areas where other food was either sporadic or scarce.
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