Health Benefits of Einkorn, the “Mother of All Grains”

Raround 12,000 years ago, humans started farming instead of just hunting and gathering. This is what allowed spelled, the first wild seed harvested and planted, to become the “mother” of all other wheat species. But spelled is not only special for its history, it is also unique because it is one of the few cereals that has remained unhybridized in the wake of industrial agriculture. In addition, spelled is much easier to digest than other varieties of wheat, even for people sensitive to gluten (but not celiac disease).

Ready to learn more about spelled, the “mother of all grains”? Here’s a breakdown of einkorn benefits, how to cook with it, and why you’re about to see a range of nutrient-dense products made with this type of wheat hit the market in the coming months.

What exactly is spelled?

Also called farro piccolo in Italian, small spelled belongs to the same wheat family as emmer (farro medio) and spelled (farro grande). The difference is that emmer and spelled are the result of a natural crossbreed. And while most other grains have naturally interbred with other plants or been selectively bred for large-scale agriculture, spelled has remained entirely pure.

Thanks in large part to Carla Bartolucci, the late founder and president of Jovial Foods and its sister company, Bionaturae, spelled is still around today. Bartolucci and her husband started growing spelled near their home in northern Italy in 2009 and made it their mission to ensure the ancient grain survived in its unaltered state. Jovial is now the world’s leading spelt producer, offering large-scale spelt products including organic pastas, flours, wheat berries, crackers and cookies. (FYI, small spelled is sold by a few other companies, often as farro piccolo and not on the same scale as Jovial.)

Health benefits of spelled

The evolution of wheat and industrial agriculture has not only transformed the way our wheat grows, but also the nutritional value of the grains themselves. For one thing, modern wheat is three times the size of einkorn grains, which means there is a different ratio of bran, germ, and endosperm; this is what gives it its unique protein content. In fact, spelled has about 30% more protein than modern wheat—and the most protein of any other grain—as well as 15% less starch.

As Giulia Viola, Bartolucci’s daughter and now co-owner of Jovial, says, “small spelled is a balanced grain”. The benefits keep growing: Einkorn has over 200% more antioxidant lutein than modern wheat, 75% more manganese, 50% more riboflavin, 40% more zinc, and 20% more or more magnesium, thiamin, niacin, iron, vitamin B6 and fiber. (…Talk about a mic drop.)

Although many modern wheat products may contain some of these micronutrients in high amounts, it is because they have been fortified.

Sensitivity to spelled and gluten

There are several reasons why spelled is more easily digestible both in general and for people sensitive to gluten. Some publications state that spelled is lower in gluten, but this is not true: spelled actually has higher levels of gluten due to its higher protein content. Rather, it is spelled’s unique gluten composition (and weaker gluten structure) that makes it so different from modern wheat, as well as what makes it more easily tolerated by many wheat-sensitive people.

“Spelt is free of high molecular weight proteins that make modern wheat difficult to digest,” says Viola. Speaking from personal experience, she shares that she completely avoided gluten as a child due to her intolerance. But when Viola’s parents reintroduced gluten into her diet in the form of spelled, she remained asymptomatic, just as she had on a gluten-free diet. Viola can now enjoy pasta, a cultural staple in Italy, like never before.

Einkorn also has a simpler genetic makeup compared to modern wheat, as well as a different starch composition. These two factors also help make spelled easier to digest without the blood sugar spikes that can accompany eating more refined forms of grains or wheat.

How to use spelled in the kitchen

Einkorn can be found as a whole grain berry or it can be ground into a flour, which is used to make a variety of wheat products such as pasta or crackers. Its flavor is often described as slightly nutty and sweet. Maria Speck, whole grain expert and award-winning author of Simply Ancient Grains and Ancient grains for modern mealspraises einkorn’s “amazing starchy puff and sweet chew”. Its deliciously tender texture, she says, works wonders in her recipe for Maple Pudding with Farro Piccolo (find it below!).

Einkorn’s unique protein and nutrient composition means it reacts differently when incorporated into recipes, especially when used as flour in baking. Like other forms of wheat, spelled can be ground into a whole-grain flour or refined into an all-purpose flour, which means some of the bran and germ has been removed. Both can be used in baking, depending on your preference – whole grain will have a more nutty flavor.

“When making a dough, the weaker gluten structure of einkorn requires gentler handling, such as the stretching and folding technique, rather than traditional kneading,” says Speck. When using spelled flour for the first time, Speck recommends substituting only half (or even a third) of all-purpose flour instead of going all-in. “It’s so you can start getting familiar with spelled behavior,” she says. “Also keep in mind that einkorn is easier to use in pancakes, muffins and other quick bread recipes, especially if einkorn is new to you. This is because these baked goods are not based not just strong gluten strands for structure If a recipe relies on the stronger gluten of an all-purpose flour, such as in a cake, bun or scone, Speck suggests adding an extra egg to compensate the weaker gluten of spelled.

In Bartolucci’s cookbook Einkorn: Recipes for Nature’s Original Wheatshe points out that spelled also absorbs liquid more slowly than other flours, including liquid from a fat source, so the dough may need a little more liquid (or more time to rest) to soften and obtain the best final texture.

To start cooking with spelled, look for premium products from Jovial Foods, Bluebird Grain Farms, Anson Mills, Marsh Hen Mill, and Maine Grains. Then try Speck’s delicious maple pudding with farro piccolo recipe below.

Recipe for Maria Speck’s maple pudding with farro piccolo

For 4 people

Ingredients
For the farro piccolo:
1 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup farro piccolo (small spelled)
1 (2 inch) cinnamon stick
For the pudding:
1 1/4 cups half and half, plus more if needed
3 tablespoons maple syrup, preferably the darkest grade B, or more as needed
2 strips (3 inches) lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Lightly whipped cream, to serve
Ground cinnamon, for sprinkling

Instructions
1. To prepare the farro piccolo, add the water, farro piccolo and cinnamon stick to a medium heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the grains are tender with a light chew, 25 to 35 minutes, depending on the type. A good portion of the kernels should pop open and show their starchy centers, and some water will remain (do not drain).

2. To make the pudding, add half and half, two tablespoons maple syrup, lemon zest, vanilla and salt to the farro. Return to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring a few times and pressing down on the lemon strips to release their etheric oil. Reduce the heat to maintain a slight bubble and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the pudding thickens to a creamy consistency and the grains puff up, about 20 minutes longer. It should still be a little soft.

3. To finish, remove the pan from the heat and remove the cinnamon stick and zest. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of maple syrup, or more to taste. Spoon into individual bowls or dessert cups and serve warm. Or, pour the pudding into a medium bowl and press a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap just over it to prevent skin forming. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate for about two hours. The pudding will continue to thicken – you may need to add a little half and half before serving to loosen it. Divide into individual bowls.

4. Top each bowl with a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon.

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