What is Spelt?


What is Spelt?

Spelt is from the genus family of wheat grains, but is not wheat.  It has similar gluten content and is very high in fibre. 

Spelt (Triticum spelta)is an ancient grain, common wheat (Triticum sativum), rye, barley or even oats. Spelt is a member of the same grain family but is an entirely different species and has certain properties which make it in many respects quite different. Having fallen from favour as a grain for cultivation in the 19th century following the rapid development in modern farming techniques, spelt is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity as information about its value as a food source and its ability to be tolerated by many people with wheat sensitivities becomes more widely known.


History and Origins

Spelt is approximately 9000 years old. There is evidence that spelt was cultivated by ancient civilizations both in Europe and the Middle East thousands of years ago. It is mentioned in the Old Testament and in various Roman texts. Carbonated grains of spelt have been found throughout Europe including Britain, in many Stone Age excavations. Its popularity remained widespread, especially in Eastern Europe, until the end of the 19th century. German records of one region, dated 1850, showed that 94 percent of the cereal acreage was producing spelt and only 5 percent producing bread wheat. The rapid fall from favour of spelt was mirrored by rapid developments in modern farming. Once combined harvesters were introduced which could harvest common bread wheat in a single process it would have no longer been so attractive for farmers to continue to grow spelt. This is because each individual grain of spelt unlike common wheat is covered by a tough outer husk which requires removal in a further process before the grain can be milled into flour.

Fortunately spelt was not entirely lost to mankind and in the mid 1980′s it was rediscovered in Europe and has undergone a major resurgence in many parts of the world ever since. However for this to happen, special machinery which could de-hull individual spelt grains in commercial quantities needed to be introduced into the chain of production for making flour. However by this stage it was realized by those taking the lead in this renaissance that the time and cost of having to do this was far outweighed the advantages to both farmers and consumers of resurrecting this ancient grain.


Nutritional Qualities

Spelt is by nature a whole-food. Unlike wheat, where vital nutritional bran and germ are usually removed during milling, the vital substances of spelt are found in the inner kernel of the grain. However this does not mean that spelt makes a heavy loaf. In fact the exact opposite is true. The real beauty of spelt is in its ability to make a really light, highly nutritious loaf with an appealing nutty flavour. The protein in spelt is such that when the flour is turned into bread it bakes well and results in a very light, soft textured loaf with good keeping qualities which doesn’t shed crumbs when sliced.


Health Benefits

Due to spelt’s high water solubility, the grain’s vital substances can be absorbed quickly into the body. The nutrients are made available to the entire organism with a minimum of digestive work. The body cells are then nourished, strengthened, and prepared for their optimal performance while the body is flooded with vitamins and other nutritional substances. Spelt contains more protein, fats and crude fibre than wheat and also has large amounts of Vitamin B17 (anti-carcinoma). It also contains special carbohydrates which play a decisive role in blood clotting and stimulate the body’s immune system so as to increase its resistance to infection.

The total protein content of spelt varies from 13.1 – 14.28% depending on climate and soil conditions. It is higher than soft wheat (10.5%) and spring wheat (9.1%) but similar to durum wheat (13.8%). The sequence of Amino acids also differs between spelt and wheat, spelt containing more cystine, isoleucine, leucine, methionine and neurotransmitters, phenylalanine and tryptophane.

The numbers become more significant when you look at the multiple benefits of Spelt. White spelt flour is higher in protein, making the white flour products nutritionally beneficial which is not the case with wheat flour. Spelt is rich in protein, and these proteins contain all of the nine essential amino acids needed by the human body. These amino acids are called “essential” because the body cannot manufacture them. If you don’t eat them, you don’t get them.

Consumers who tend to be cynical about the value of amino acids in our bodies should check out a partial list of the tasks they assist with:

  • Reducing joint inflammation

  • Preventing hair, skin and nail disorders

  • Lowering cholesterol

  • Reducing liver fat

  • Protecting kidneys

  • Reducing bladder irritation

  • Relaxation

  • Stress and depression reduction

  • Relieving migraine headaches

  • Assisting the immune system

  • Reducing the risk of artery and heart spasms

  • Calcium absorption

  • Collagen formation

  • Antibody, hormone and enzyme production

  • Transmission of signals between the nerve cells and the brain

  • Maintaining alertness

  • Memory improvement

  • Digestive and intestinal tract functioning

  • Muscle coordination

  • Mental vigor

  • Manufacture of other essential biochemical components


Bioavailability of Spelt

Bioavailability is more than just a long, complicated word. It’s a physical process which more and more health and nutrition-conscious people are using to evaluate the benefits of the food they eat. They may not even know they’re evaluating “bioavailability.” But smart people everywhere are catching on to the concept, even if they don’t know the name for it.

Strictly speaking, bioavailability refers to the percentage of nutrients you eat which are actually digested, absorbed and put to use by your system. In general, nutrients consumed in the “food state” have higher rates of bioavailability than dietary food supplements taken in tablet or liquid form. Nutritionists feel that “food state” nutrients are naturally combined with hosts of other ingredients which help the body to recognize it as food. It doesn’t matter how well your automobile engine is running if there are no tires to get it around. And it doesn’t matter how nutritious your food is if the nutrients don’t reach the places where they can do you some good.

Spelt rates high in the bioavailability department. The nutrients in Spelt get to the places where they’re needed, and they get there without requiring much work on your part. Your body can use its energy reservoirs to fight off diseases and environmental toxins instead of using it to digest dinner.

The “availability” in the word bioavailability is also important. Spelt pasta can be stored indefinitely if you keep it free of pests. Even years from now the proteins, fibre and fatty acids contained in Spelt pasta can be cooked and enjoyed, providing you with complex carbohydrates, fatty acids, protein, and fibre when you need it. Spelt pasta is easy to store, easy to prepare, and easy to digest. On top of that, it’s rich, nutty flavour is delicious with all of the same sauces used on ordinary pasta.

So keep the word bioavailability in mind when planning your food and nutrition needs. Spelt products provide a delicious source of many nutrients – nutrients which are better at getting to the places where they can do you some good.


Environmental Benefits

Spelt is a relatively low yielding crop so doesn’t take as much from the soil as more modern crops. It is therefore a more sustainable crop on a long term basis. Being low yielding it also thrives without the application of fertilizers even on relatively poor soils. Spelt is also very resistant to frosts and other extreme weather conditions and the grain’s exceptionally thick husk protects it from pollutants and insects. As spelt is a pure, original grain and not biologically modified in any way it is very resistant to the crop diseases that often plague modern crop varieties and grows quite successfully without the application of herbicides, pesticides or fungicides.

Spelt is stored with the husk intact so it remains fresher over a much longer period than other grains. It has been claimed that spelt’s hull is so strong that it can protect the grain from virtually every type of pollutant, even radioactive fallout.


Baking Applications

Janet has been baking with Spelt for over 20 years now and has created many delicious products out of a grain that many thought could not be used effectively. At the same time, it does not always respond the way wheat does.

While the products can appear as a replacement to wheat products, the process of making them differs from wheat. Many wheat flours contain stabilizers and other additives making it easier to use in home baking. Spelt has none of these additives and a wide range of protein making it more difficult to bake with.

The difference in water solubility changes the amount of liquid required for Spelt baked goods, however, anything can be made with Spelt, you just have to try one of Janet’s beautiful croissants to know that excellent products are available.

Spelt also does not like high temperatures, if you are making a white sauce or gravy, do not use boiling liquid when using spelt, keep the stovetop on medium and you will find much better results. If you want more information about baking with Spelt, you can purchase our “Basic Spelt” cookbook with 50 recipes.

Spelt is a truly amazing grain!

  • High in Protein

  • Complete Protein: contains all the essential amino acids needed by the human body

  • High in Vitamins

  • High in Complex Carbohydrates

  • High in Fibre

  • Great Flavour

  • Easily Digested