A decade ago if I suggested using spelt, most people would have looked blank while they wondered why I was using such bad grammar in the context of a language discussion. These days, we know spelt is a type of flour. While a lot of foodies advocate it, us average Joes might not know all that much about it.
First, the background. Spelt is part of the wheat genus – meaning it’s in the same family as common wheat, but it is a species apart. It is an ancient grain whose origins go back 9000 years. Carbonated grains have been discovered in stone-age sites in Britain and throughout Europe. It continued being cultivated in central Europe and the Middle East until the 19th Century. Records from a region in Germany in 1850 show that spelt made up 94% of cereal acreage compared to only 5% wheat. Modern farming techniques caused spelt production to fall out of favour because the outer husk of the grains is much harder than that of common wheat. Since it needs removing before milling, it was easier and cheaper to farm wheat rather than spelt.
So why should anyone choose spelt over regular wheat flour?
Unlike wheat, whose nutritional value is locked into the outer hull of the grain, the vital nutrients in spelt are found in the inner kernel. This means you can eat refined spelt and still get its nutrients.
2 Health Benefits
It is water soluble, so its vital substances can be absorbed easily and quickly. Spelt has more nutrients, fats and fibre than wheat and is a good source of vitamin B17, which helps combat the formation of cancer. The carbohydrates present help stimulate the immune system and affect blood clotting. It has a higher protein content than wheat – around 13-14% compared to the 10% in common wheat . Spelt also delivers a higher level of amino acids than wheat; spelt containing more cystine, isoleucine, leucine, methionine and neurotransmitters, phenylalanine and tryptophane.
These amino acids are helpful in:
- Reducing joint inflammation
- Preventing hair, skin and nail disorders
- Lowering cholesterol
- Reducing liver fat
- Protecting kidneys
- Reducing bladder irritation
- 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
This means how fast and efficiently your body can access the goodness from the food you eat. The nutrition in spelt gets absorbed by the body more effectively than common wheat, without putting a burden on your digestive system. This means vital nutrients are getting to the places they need to go without much work from you.
Spelt does contain gluten, but in lower quantities than common wheat. Its better digestibility means that people who suffer with a gluten intolerance can often accept spelt where they can’t eat wheat products. Of course, those with a gluten allergy or a chronic gluten-triggered condition such as Chron’s will still not be able to eat it. However, it does offer an alternative for those of us who suffer milder forms of gluten intolerance.
Spelt is low-yielding, so doesn’t take as much from the soil as modern crops. This makes it a sustainable alternative to wheat. It also thrives without fertilizers, even on relatively poor soils. Spelt is resistant to frost, and the grain’s exceptionally thick husk protects it from pollutants and insects. As spelt is an ancient grain, it is very resistant to the crop diseases affecting modern varieties and grows successfully without herbicides, pesticides or fungicides.
Spelt is stored with the husk intact so it remains fresher for longer than other grains.
Okay, I’m sold. Where can I get it?
There are several stalls at Taunton Farmers Market who offer spelt products. Visit the Common Loaf Bakery this Foodie Thursday, or Oxfords Bakery, both of whom offer spelt options. You can also visit From Nature UK, our vegan stall, who use spelt in their pasties and muffins.
More and more bakeries are including spelt options in their range, so shop around and get your loaf of daily goodness.