Spelt vs Modern Wheat…plus spelt cracker recipe

When was the last time you used spelt flour?  Most likely never.  However, if you lived before 1900, spelt flour would have most likely been the flour you used on a daily basis.  But it almost vanished from the agriculture radar for 100 years until in the 1980s it started to enjoy a comeback.  And with a growing population of those intolerant to the gluten in the common bread wheat, spelt is gaining in popularity and necessity.  Spelt, unlike the wheat that is in your bread today, has never been hybridized and the gluten in spelt has not been alter like it has in wheat. But before I go into why the wheat we eat now isn’t the wheat that existed in 1900, a brief history of spelt and wheat is needed (feel free to skim through if history isn’t your thing). Recipe can be found at the end.

Spelt is old as heck.  It is mentioned in the Old Testament, Roman texts (not to be confused with ‘texts messages’), the Romans called it ‘marching bread’  and became the main crop in Britain between the 200BC and the beginning of the Bronze Age. Remnants of the grain have been found in Stone Age excavations throughout Europe, which goes to show you that they were not the best at cleaning their bread loaf pans back then.  Spelt is old, so what? Obviously wheat was superior or else spelt would be what is in all of my cereals.

Well, here’s the deal.  Records show that as late as 1850, 94% of Germany’s cereal acreage was spelt while only 5% was wheat.  So spelt was ‘winning’ the wheat race up until the turn of the century.  But with the invention of the great combine harvesters, spelt was quickly overtaken by wheat.  Why? Spelt has a tough outer husk on its grain-which makes it more resistant to disease than bread wheat-requires an extra step in removing it before it can be milled.  Whereas modern wheat can be easily threshed and milled into flour. Spelt also has a lower yield which is good for the soil but high yields win out in modern agriculture…have you seen the corn seed commercials on TV?

But then what happened? This ancient wheat grain began its journey to becoming a processed food in and of itself. The invention of the steel roller mill allowed for white flour to be available to the masses.  By removing all of the “good” stuff from the flour, rodents and bugs weren’t nearly as interested in eating it and so the shelf life started to extend.  Add in some bleach and you have fiberless flour that doesn’t seem to ever go bad.  Next to happen was  the arrival of Norman Borlaug, an Iowa native and scientist who would win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on wheat.    I do not doubt Borlaug’s intentions nor that his work saved possibly millions of lives from famines.  However, I do believe that by hybridizing wheat we have gone down a slippery slope of changing an ancient wheat from the seed out.  Borlaug created a higher yielding wheat that was also more resistant to disease.  However the 4 foot stalks couldn’t hold the new seed head so it was subsequently bred with another strain to create a 2 ft tall plant.  This new wheat also requires a large amount of fertilizers and pesticides and cannot survive in the wild.

There is a book called Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health written by Dr. William Davis.  Dr. Davis, a cardiologist, makes some very strong claims about what has happened to our modern wheat.  Because I was also able to find reports that contradict some of his claims, I am not going to repeat those on this blog.  I spent more hours than I ever could have predicted doing research on wheat and gluten trying to make sure that what I wrote would be accurate.  Simply google Dr. William Davis if you wish to read more of his claims.  However, what I personally am inclined to believe is that modern wheat is not necessarily good for humans.  Those with gluten intolerance seem to be able to eat spelt without the same problems.  And while I don’t believe that it is the amount of gluten but other changes within the gluten and wheat itself.  One being the amount of chemicals used in creating the hybrids and growing the wheat.  The pesticide ridden environment that modern wheat grows in is not healthy for us, the soil or waterways.   Other changes, according to Dr. Williams include:

–Altered structure of the gliadin proteins. The Glia-alpha9 sequence, for example, that is associated with triggering the changes of celiac disease in HLA DQ8/2-positive people, has been enriched in modern wheat, though nearly absent from the wheat of 1960 and earlier.
 –Change in the structure of wheat germ agglutinin, the indigestible protein of wheat that exerts direct toxic effects on the small intestine and may block leptin, the hormone of satiety.
 –Unique antigens (allergy- and immune-stimulating proteins) posed by new forms of alpha amylase inhibitors and other proteins.

Scientific evidence aside, it is very interesting to me that I have ran into countless people who have no problem eating spelt, or products made from einkorn wheat (Jovial einkorn pasta and products are available at New Pioneer Co op-wait until they are on sale to buy). Why?  It seems to be that the proteins in spelt are soluble and therefore can be more easily assimilated by the body.  And anecdotal evidence aside, the food path that I advocate is to look at traditional diets.  Eating a form of wheat that did not exist before 1950 is not something I personally care to do.  Especially since I have spelt flour readily available.  I address wheat like I do meat.  We have completely changed how cows, chickens, pigs and turkeys are raised, slaughtered and processed.  Studies also demonize meat, but they aren’t using ‘real’ traditional meat.  And while eating industrial meat may not make me immediately sick, I believe it could in the long run so instead of going “meat free”, I choose to only eat grass fed beef, pastured chickens and turkeys- real meat.  And instead of eliminating wheat from my diet, I choose to eat traditional wheat that have not been hybridized.

IMPORTANT!! SPELT CONTAINS GLUTEN. WHILE THOSE INTOLERANT TO GLUTEN MAY BE ABLE TO EAT SPELT FLOUR PRODUCTS, THOSE WITH CELIAC DISEASE CANNOT AND SHOULD NOT EAT SPELT.

That being said, I cook with plenty of gluten free flours ( I have 10 on hand at all times) not only for recipe development and for clients, but because I like to always include variation in my diet.  Gluten free does not mean that something is healthier for you.  If your gluten free crackers contain a list of starches then I would argue that a whole grain such as spelt is better for you as it isn’t simply a carbohydrate stripped of most nutrients like starches are.  My gluten free crackers are made mostly with buckwheat flour and a little brown rice flour.  It is fascinating to watch the advertisers at work making GF products and entire aisles in the store seem like they are the healthiest and smartest purchases a consumer could make.  You still need to look at the ingredients.  And if you are avoiding wheat because you seem to have problems digesting it and are not diagnosed with an intolerance or celiac disease, I suggest giving spelt or einkorn wheat a try.  And if gluten intolerance isn’t an issue in your house, I still recommend giving spelt a try as you can feel good feeding your family a traditional grain that modern convenience, science, government and big business hasn’t altered.

In case you want to know here is a comparison of common wheat and spelt

A comparison of amino acids betweet wheat and spelt is as follows:

Amino Acids mg/g fresh weight Wheat Spelt
Cystine 1.10 1.35
Isoleucine 4.40 5.60
Leucine 6.00 9.00
Methionine 2.40 4.00
Phenylalanine 5.00 7.00
Threonine 5.50 5.60
Lysine 2.90 2.75
Tryptophane 1.20 1.80
Valine 4.20 5.80

In comparison with other grains spelt has generally more vitamins and basic minerals.

Average mg/100 grams Barley Rye Wheat Oats Spelt
Vitamin B1 0.43 0.35 0.48 0.52 0.649
Vitamin B2 0.18 0.17 0.14 0.17 0.227
Potassium 481.00 335.00 385.00
Calcium 38.00 115.00 43.70 79.60 38.00
Iron 2.80 5.10 3.30 5.80 4.17
Manganese 1.70 2.40 2.40 3.70 2.90
Copper 0.30 0.50 0.44 0.47 0.62
Zinc 2.70 1.30 3.36 4.00 3.40

Sources: product analysis souci, milupa (11. 11.88) and SCI-TEK Lab.

* Analytical information from

The Wonder Food Spelt by Dr WIGHARD STREHLOW

Spelt Crackers (base recipe)

Spelt works almost just like wheat flour in recipes but you may find that you need less water. I make a batch of crackers a few times a week switching up the seasonings and I have yet to make a batch that I haven't loved. Lesson- it's hard to screw these crackers up and the options are endless! I tend to do a few batches of crackers for dips and others for munching. The difference is how thin you roll the dough, thicker crackers are much better for dips and holding cheese. Some seasoning combinations to try are, Rosemary or Tarragon and Black Pepper, Tarragon and Smoked Paprika, Rosemary and Garlic, Chives, Garlic and Cheddar...

Ingredients

  • 2 cups spelt flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp unrefined sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • herbs and seasoning of choice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ~3/4 -1 cup water

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375. Combine all dry ingredients then add in olive oil and slowly add in water until mixture is no longer dry and you can form the dough into a ball. Roll the dough out on parchment paper (either between two pieces or with a floured rolling pin). I usually divide my dough in 2 in order to get it as thin as I like my crackers to be. This will take experimentation on your part, but you can reference my other cracker post which has a picture of the rolled out dough.
  • Cut the dough into your desired size of crackers. Feel free to do different shapes. And bake from 20-35 minutes (all depends on the thickness). Pull the crackers out just as they are starting to crisp up as they will continue to crisp once out of the oven. I will pull individual ones out at different times and test if they crisp up to the level I like before pulling the entire tray out.

 

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