Whole Spelt berries/kernels
Spelt (Triticum spelta) is a hexaploid species of wheat. 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 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.
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 prior to 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 of the Black Sea, though the most abundant and best-documented archaeological evidence of spelt is in Europe. 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 and 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. Nevertheless, as a Triticum species, spelt is still forbidden for use during the Jewish holiday of Passover, except in the form of matzo.
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 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. In Germany, the unripe spelt grains are dried and eaten as Grïnkern (‘green grain’).
Spelt is closely related to the common form of wheat and is not suitable for people with celiac disease. Some people with an allergy or intolerance to common wheat can tolerate spelt.
Spelt is an ancient variety of wheat with its roots in the Fertile Crescent some 9000 years ago. It is more widely used in Europe where it’s known as dinkel in Germany and farro grande in Italy. While higher in protein than commonly used wheat varieties, the nature of its proteins results in less gluten formation when making bread dough. Many people with wheat allergies or sensitivities can enjoy bread made with spelt flour.
Spelt is renowned for its health benefits but also delivers a mellow nutty flavor. Use in place of ordinary wheat for breads and pasta.