Farro & Red Pepper Side - © Colin Campbell

Whole Grains: Spelt & Friends

Today we’re turning our Whole Grains spotlight on Ancient Grains. They’ve come to the attention of ‘Healthy’ eaters, Vegetarians and Gluten-sensitive folks in the past few years but the rest of us should take a look, as well – in the name of variety, wholesomeness and, heck, plain old curiosity…

Spelt Flat Bread - © nutritionistinthekitch.comSpelt Flat Bread: An application that was probably common when
the Grain was first domesticated, 5,000 years ago.

Ancient Grains encompass a group of plants that were domesticated in ancient times, before modern grains evolved – thousands of years ago. Though familiar to early farmers and gatherers, they faded into obscurity as time passed. But recent developments have set the stage for a comeback – notably, the search for ‘natural’ alternatives to Wheat, Rice and other modern grains.

Who’s who?

Spelt is a prominent Ancient Grain, one of the first to surface when healthy eaters and others began looking for alternatives to common Wheat back in the early 1990s. It is not, in spite of urban myths to the contrary, Gluten Free and, so, can be used in place of regular Flour in most recipes. It has a slightly sweet, nutty flavour and can be found in Health Food and specialty shops in Breads, Cookies, Crackers and other baked goods. Spelt is a direct ancestor of modern Bread Flour and was domesticated as early as 5,000 years ago.

Einkorn is a truly ancient predecessor of modern Wheat. It was gathered by neolithic tribes as early as 9,000 years ago and probably domesticated shortly thereafter in the fertile crescent of what is now Iraq. Einkorn is a popular food in the Provençe region of France where it is eaten as a boiled starch or a porridge. It is also commonly used as animal feed on many European countries. Lacking a high Gluten content, Einkorn is not suitable for baking Breads.

Emmer is another early ancestor of modern Wheat and was widely cultivated in ancient times. But today it is grown only in the mountainous regions of Europe and Asia and by boutique farmers serving the Health Food and Healthy Food markets. It is one of three component grains of Farro, below.

Farro is another Ancient Grain product that has popped up in specialty shops in the past few years, as growers have ramped up production to meet growing demand. It is actually a blend of Spelt, Emmer and Einkorn, and is prepared like rice – cooled until soft – and used as a side dish by itself or in Soups or Salads, in place of Bulgar.

Kamut, sometimes called Asian Wheat, is yet another ancestor of modern Wheat. Kamut kernels are twice the sizer of those of Modern Wheat and have a ‘rich, nutty’ flavour. It is used in a wide variety of Baked goods as well as boiled until soft, as substitute for Bulgar. Thanks to its high carbohydrate content, Kamut is also suitable for making Beer and other alcoholic beverages.

And there’s more…

The foregoing is just a sample of the Ancient Grain varieties available today from Health Food and specialty shops. Google them by name for recipes and user testimonials!

~ Maggie J.