Grain of the Week – Spelt

March 27, 2014 at 5:39 AM | Posted in Grain of the Week | Leave a comment
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Spelt

Spelt

Spelt, also known as dinkel wheat, or hulled wheat, is an ancient species of wheat from the fifth millennium BC. Spelt was an important staple in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval times; it now survives as a relict crop in Central Europe and northern Spain and has found a new market as a health food. Spelt is sometimes considered a subspecies of the closely related species common wheat (T. aestivum), in which case its botanical name is considered to be Triticum aestivum subsp. spelta. It is a hexaploid wheat, which means it has six sets of chromosomes.

 

 

 

Spelt has a complex history. It is a wheat species known from genetic evidence to have originated as a hybrid of a domesticated tetraploid wheat such as emmer wheat and the wild goat-grass Aegilops tauschii. This hybridisation must have taken place in the Near East because this is where Ae. tauschii grows, and it must have taken place before the appearance of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum, a hexaploid free-threshing derivative of spelt) in the archaeological record c. 8,000 years ago.
Genetic evidence shows that spelt wheat can also arise as the result of hybridisation of bread wheat and emmer wheat, although only at some date following the initial Aegilops-tetraploid wheat hybridisation. The much later appearance of spelt in Europe might thus be the result of a later, second, hybridisation between emmer and bread wheat. Recent DNA evidence supports an independent origin for European spelt through this hybridisation. Whether spelt has two separate origins in Asia and Europe, or single origin in the Near East, is currently unresolved.

 

 

 

The earliest archaeological evidence of spelt is from the fifth millennium BC in Transcaucasia, north-east of the Black Sea, though the most abundant and best-documented archaeological evidence of spelt is in Europe.[6] Remains of spelt have been found in some later Neolithic sites (2500–1700 BC) in Central Europe. During the Bronze Age, spelt spread widely in central Europe. In the Iron Age (750-15 BC), spelt became a principal wheat species in southern Germany and Switzerland; by 500 BC, it was in common use in southern Britain.
References to the cultivation of spelt wheat in Biblical times (see matzo), in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and in ancient Greece are incorrect and result from confusion with emmer wheat.

 

 

 
In the Middle Ages, spelt was cultivated in parts of Switzerland, Tyrol and Germany. Spelt was introduced to the United States in the 1890s. In the 20th century, spelt was replaced by bread wheat in almost all areas where it was still grown. The organic farming movement revived its popularity somewhat toward the end of the century, as spelt requires fewer fertilizers

 

 

 

Spelt, without and with husks

Spelt, without and with husks

Spelt contains about 57.9 percent carbohydrates (excluding 9.2 percent fibre), 17.0 percent protein and 3.0 percent fat, as well as dietary minerals and vitamins. As it contains a moderate amount of gluten, it is suitable for some baking. However, because spelt contains gluten it is not suitable for people with coeliac disease. In comparison to hard red winter wheat, spelt has a more soluble protein matrix characterized by a higher gliadin:glutenin ratio.

 

 

 
Spelt flour is becoming more easily available, being sold in British supermarkets for a number of years. Spelt bread is sold in health food shops and some bakeries in an increasing variety of types of loaf, similar in colour to light rye breads but usually with a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. Biscuits, crackers, and pretzels are also produced, but are more likely to be found in a specialty bakery or health food store than in a regular grocer’s shop.
Spelt pasta is also available in health food stores and specialty shops.
Dutch Jenever makers distil with spelt. Beer brewed from spelt is sometimes seen in Bavaria and Belgium and spelt is distilled to make vodka in Poland and elsewhere.
Flour from sprouted spelt grains is increasingly available throughout North America in grocery and health food stores.
In Germany, spelt loaves and rolls (Dinkelbrot) are widely available in bakeries as is spelt flour in supermarkets. The unripe spelt grains are dried and eaten as Grünkern (‘green grain’).
Spelt is more expensive than modern wheats, first because it is a minority product, but also because it requires the extra stage of husk removal before milling. It makes a rather soft, light loaf with a very good flavour, and it is particularly good for flatbreads, because they can become crisp without being hard (ordinary wheat pizza, for instance, tends to be either tough and leathery or hard).

 

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