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Know Your Fruits and Veggies™:Spelt
By Dawn Swidorski, Public Outreach Director
Spelt is an ancient grain with a deep nut like flavor that is enjoying a renaissance in consumption and popularity. Spelt is a distant cousin to wheat and can be used in many of the same ways as wheat such as bread and pasta making. Its other value is it does not seem to cause sensitivities in most people who are intolerant of wheat. In addition to spelt flour, spelt is also available in its hulled, whole grain form (often referred to as spelt berries), which can be prepared and enjoyed like rice.
Spelt is scientifically known as Triticum speltum. Native to Iran and southeastern Europe, spelt’s heritage goes back 7,000 years. Spelt was one of the first grains to be used to make bread and is mentioned in the Bible. Spelt also played a major role in ancient civilizations, such as Greece and Rome, serving as a staple grain. Throughout man’s history this hearty and nutritious grain migrated with them to their new lands.
Spelt became a popular grain, especially in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Spelt was also cultivated in the United States until the beginning of the 20th century when farmers turned their efforts to the cultivation of wheat.
Some taxonomists classify spelt as a parent of wheat. It remains unaffected by cross-breeding, hybridization and genetic modification. In January 1, 2006 the FDA classified spelt in the wheat family, even though there are significant differences between common wheat and spelt, including that the molecular structure of the protein in spelt is soluble, allowing it to be digested more easily. Appearance, DNA structure, nutritional profile, fiber content, gluten content and makeup are just a few of the differences between spelt and modern wheat.
Intense crossbreeding created significant changes in the amino acids in wheat’s gluten proteins, a potential cause for the 400 percent increase in celiac disease. Wheat’s gliadin protein has also undergone changes, compared to its pre-1960s predecessor; modern gliadin is a potent appetite stimulant.
Although the FDA has classified spelt as wheat, it is much better for you, then its modern commercialized cousin. Even whole wheat, which isn’t stripped of its fiber and nutrients, is nutritionally inferior to spelt. Many of its benefits come from the fact that it offers a broader spectrum of nutrients compared to many of its more inbred cousins in the wheat family.
Spelt looks a lot like wheat, with one important difference. The spelt kernel is tightly surrounded by a tough outer husk or hull making up 30-35% of the grain’s total weight.
Modern wheat is “free threshing” which means it has been bred to lose its husk during harvesting which decreases harvesting time and increases yield. Spelt is not free threshing. It has to be mechanically hulled, adding two additional manufacturing steps to the process and making it more costly to grow and process. When we modified wheat to make it free threshing it became more susceptible to insects and diseases; which has led to the need for pesticides. We also stripped it of important nutrients. Spelt is stored and shipped with its protective hull intact and separated just before being milled into flour. This helps to preserve the grain’s freshness and its nutrients – making it more nutritious than wheat.
Spelt is fast gaining popularity as a health food because it contains a broad spectrum of nutrients, including complex carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more. Spelt is high in vitamin B2, Vitamin E, niacin, manganese, thiamin, copper, and magnesium. It is a good source of protein, phosphorous, zinc, protein and fiber and also includes the phytonutrient lignin.
How to Select and Store
Spelt products can be found in your local health food store year-round. Spelt is generally available in its whole grain and flour forms. Pastas and bread made entirely from spelt are also available.
Spelt grains and flours can be found prepackaged as well as in bulk containers. Whether purchasing spelt in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure there is no evidence of moisture.
Store spelt grains in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place. Spelt flour should be kept in the refrigerator to best preserve its nutritional value.
How to Enjoy
You can substitute spelt flour for regular or whole wheat flour to make breads, pasta, cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, cereals, pancakes and waffles. In addition to spelt flour, spelt is also available in its hulled, whole grain form (often referred to as spelt berries), which can be prepared and enjoyed like rice.
One of the advantages of spelt over whole wheat flours is apparent with pasta. Whole wheat pasta tends to be grainy, and crumbles during cooking; spelt pasta retains its texture so it holds up perfectly under sauces and other ingredients. Spelt pasta is available in regular and white varieties; the white spelt is lighter in color and texture because it is milled more finely.
You can also purchase many spelt products such as pasta, crackers and breads ready-made at health food stores.
Quick Serving Ideas
• Use spelt bread for your next hearty sandwich. Spelt's robust flavor really enhances old favorites like grilled cheese.
• Serve cooked spelt berries as a side dish substitute for rice or potatoes.
• Combine spelt pasta with olives, tomatoes and feta cheese for a quick and easy Mediterranean-inspired salad.
• Spelt flour can replace flour or whole grain flour in recipes for breads and pasta so add some spelt flour to your favorite bread, muffin or waffle recipe.
Wake Up and Walk® Tour Managers (final leg 2006 – 2008) Russ and Shirley Barriger are organic spelt farmers in Michigan. Naturally, we asked Shirley for her favorite spelt recipe.
Banana Spelt Muffins
Makes 18 - 24
1/2 c. melted butter or ˝ c unsweetened applesauce (for less calories)
1 c. sugar
2 1/2 c. spelt flour
l tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 c. chopped nuts (optional)
3 ripe bananas (mashed)
1 tsp. vanilla
Cream butter & sugar
Add eggs & mix well
Combine dry ingredients & add to liquid mix.
Add bananas & nuts.
Fill greased muffins tins.
BAKE @ 375 degrees for 20-25 mins.
According to the World’s Healthiest Foods website “Spelt does not seem to cause sensitivities in many people who are intolerant of wheat.” However, if you have a known wheat allergy or sensitivity, consult your doctor before introducing spelt into your diet.
And remember, not all spelt is processed in dedicated, wheat-free processing plants. If you are allergic to wheat, be sure to look for 100% pure spelt.
The combination of high fiber and low glycemic index than modern, processed wheat make spelt a good option for people with diabetes.
Sources for Spelt
Updated May 21, 2013
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