Popular in Europe for centuries, Spelt is used in a wide variety of cereals, pastas, crackers, baked goods, and beers. The ancient Romans knew it as "farrum", Italians now call it "farro"; today's Germans know it as "dinkle." Spelt has been used successfully, under physicians' supervision, as a wheat substitute for people who have wheat allergies.
Once commonly grown in North America, Spelt was replaced at the beginning of this century by modern wheat varieties which are more suited to the high volume production techniques currently used on most American farms. Spelt's flavorful, "nutty" taste has proven to be an attractive alternative to the common varieties of wheat, so much so that spelt production in North America has increased nearly 80-fold in less than a decade.
Spelt vs. Wheat
While many people have compared Spelt to commercial strains of wheat, it is markedly different. All grains of this family are derived from grasses, some, such as Spelt, are closer to the earliest cultivated crops in the western world. Spelt's origins can be traced back to approximately 5,000 BC in the area now known as Iran.
Spelt (Triticum spelta) is a distant cousin to modern wheat (Triticum aestivum). Perhaps a better description would be that spelt is a great uncle of modern wheat. Modern wheat varieties have been bred to be easier to grow and harvest, to increase yield, as well as to have a high gluten content for the production of high-volume commercial baked goods.
Spelt, on the other hand, has retained much of its original character. It retains a sturdy husk or hull which remains with the kernel, as opposed to modern wheat varieties which have been bred to lose their husks when harvested (free threshing). This hull protects the Spelt grain from pollutants and insects. Furthermore, unlike other grains, spelt is not normally treated with pesticides or other chemicals. Spelt is stored and shipped with its protective hull intact; it is separated just before being milled into flour. Leaving the husk on the grain not only protects the kernel, but enhances the retention of the nutrients in the kernel and improves freshness.
Spelt's uniqueness is also derived from its genetic makeup and nutrition profile. Spelt has high water solubility, so the nutrients are easily absorbed by the body. Spelt contains special carbohydrates (Mucopolysaccharides) which are an important factor in blood clotting and stimulating the body's immune system. It is also a superb fiber resource and has large amounts of B complex vitamins. Total protein content is from 10 to 25% greater than the common varieties of commercial wheat.
Add 1 cup of spelt berries to 2 cups water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and cook for 50 to 60 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Spelt berries double in volume when cooked.