Sometimes the original ideas are still the best. The wheel hasn’t changed much in thousands of years, and tasty and nutritious spelt, one of the first grains to be grown by early farmers as long ago as 5,000 BC., is finding renewed popularity with American consumers.
Spelt’s “nutty” flavor has long been popular in Europe, where it is also known as “Farro” (Italy) and “Dinkle” (Germany). In Roman times it was “Farrum”, and origins can be traced back early Mesopotamia. Spelt (Triticum spelta) is a ancient and distant cousin to modern wheat (Triticum aestivum). Spelt is one of the oldest of cultivated grains, preceded only by Emmer and Elkorn.Â But it’s not just good taste that has caught the attention of consumers on this side of the Atlantic. The grain is naturally high in fiber, and contain significantly more protein than wheat. Spelt is also higher in B complex vitamins, and both simple and complex carbohydrates. Another important benefit is that some gluten-sensitive people have been able to include spelt-based foods in their diets.
Some 800 years ago Hildegard von Bingen, (St.Hildegard) wrote about spelt: “The spelt is the best of grains. It is rich and nourishing and milder than other grain. It produces a strong body and healthy blood to those who eat it and it makes the spirit of man light and cheerful. If someone is ill boil some spelt, mix it with egg and this will heal him like a fine ointment.”
What brought the decline in production of spelt in North America is now thought of as a benefit. Spelt has a tough hull, or husk, that makes it more difficult to process than modern wheat varieties. However, the husk, separated just before milling, not only protects the kernel, but helps retain nutrients and maintain freshness. Modern wheat has changed dramatically over the decades as it has been bred to be easier to grow and harvest, to increase yield, and to have a high gluten content for the production of high-volume commercial baked goods. Unlike wheat, spelt has retained many of its original traits and remains highly nutritious and full of flavor.
Also, unlike other grains, spelt’s husk protects it from pollutants and insects and usually allows growers to avoid using pesticides.Â Since its reintroduction to the market in 1987 by Purity Foods Inc., spelt has become a top-selling product in the organic and health food markets. Flour made from the versatile grain can be substituted for wheat flour in breads, pasta, cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pancakes and waffles.
Modern cooks are rediscovering the full flavor of whole grain spelt pastas and breads, the more subtle flavor and texture of white pastas and flours as well as spelt kernels in their dishes.Â So if you’re looking for a new idea that’s been tested by the ages, learn more about spelt by visiting the Purity Food Inc. web site at http://www.purityfoods.com.
Last week, I switched gears in my sourdough bread activities to try spelt sourdough bread.Â Here’s a bit of history onÂ spelt, before I explain the process of making the actual bread, which turned out to be quite involved.Â Spelt is one of the most ancient grains, first grown around 5000 B.C.E. in ancient Mesopotamia.Â In Europe, spelt is very popular and is known by many names, including “Farro” in Italy and “Dinkle” in Germany.Â Besides having funny names overseas and a great, nutty flavor in baked goods, spelt has a high fiber, protein, and B vitamin content than wheat.Â Its tough hull makes it difficult to process by modern methods, protecting the grain from pollutants and insects, and thereby decreasing the need for pesticides.Â Spelt has a lower gluten content than some processed wheat products, so those with gluten sensitivities may be able to eat spelt.