Though it's been around for thousands of years, only recently has spelt garnered the attention it deserves. Scientifically known as tritcum spelta, this whole grain is a distant cousin of wheat - but with differences.
Spelt contains protein that is easier to digest than wheat, making it an appropriate alternative for some people who are sensitive to wheat. However, like wheat, spelt does contain gluten, so it's off limits for people with celiac disease.
Adding spelt to meals is a great way to boost your whole grain intake. Whole grains, like spelt, pack a powerful punch when it comes to vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Studies consistently show that a diet rich in whole grains is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and obesity.
Spelt contains a wider variety of nutrients than wheat and it's also higher in protein. Spelt offers a notable amount of magnesium, copper, niacin, thiamin and vitamins E and A. It's also a good source of fibre.
Nutrient information per 1/2 cup (125 ml) cooked spelt:
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2007. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, http://www.ars.usda.gov/nutrientdata
Like many other whole grains, spelt can be purchased in different forms lending to its culinary versatility.
Whole spelt flour: Made from the whole spelt grain which has been milled into flour.
Unbleached spelt flour: Has part of the bran and germ removed resulting in a lighter flour with a slightly softer texture. This flour is not whole grain - it has been refined.
Spelt flakes: Made from whole grains of spelt that have been dried and fatted, spelt flakes look very similar to whole oats. Spelt flakes can be substituted for oats in many recipes including cookies, muffins, breads and crisps.
Spelt berries: Similar in appearance to wheat berries, spelt berries are the whole spelt kernel. Spelt berries require soaking and a long cooking time to ensure they are soft enough to eat.
Spelt is easy to add to your diet since the whole grain can be easily substituted for many wheat products, although the end product may have a slightly different texture. Note that the fibre in spelt is more soluble than wheat, which means recipes may require slightly less liquid. Breads made with spelt flour don't tend to rise as much as breads made with wheat flour.
Once only available in health and specialty food stores, spelt is becoming more readily available in major grocery stores across the country. From pasta to bread to breakfast cereal, spelt can be found in many products today.
As with all grains, opt for whole grain products instead of their refined counterparts for maximum nutrition. To spot whole grain spelt products look for the words whole grain, whole or stone-ground whole to make sure you are getting all three parts of the grain - the germ, endosperm and the bran.
If you're buying spelt berries or flour from a bulk store - always ensure the products are stored in dry, airtight containers, and avoid any products that show signs of moisture.
Spelt, like all grains, should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place. Store whole grain spelt flour in the refrigerator to maintain freshness and prevent the natural oils from going rancid.
To cook spelt flakes, combine one part flakes to two parts liquid, such as water or milk, in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed, and flakes are soft.
For whole spelt (spelt berries), rinse the grains and then combine one part spelt to three parts water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 50 or 60 minutes, or until grains are tender.
A serving of whole grains, spelt included, is equivalent to 1 slice of 100% whole grain bread, 30 grams of whole grain cold cereal, 1/2 cup (125 ml) cooked grain or 1/2 cup (125 ml) cooked whole grain pasta.
Spelt flour can replace wheat flour in many recipes - although the final product might be a slightly different texture. Experiment by substituting half of the wheat flour called for in a recipe with spelt flour.
Healthy ways to enjoy
- Make hot spelt cereal by combining 1/2 cup (125 ml) spelt flakes with 1 cup (250 ml) of milk or unsweetended soymilk. Bring to a boil; simmer for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and season with cinnamon, toasted pumpkin seeds and raisins for a stick-to-your ribs morning meal.
- Use whole grain spelt flour to make spelt waffles or pancakes or muffins.
- Make a hearty sandwich using whole grain spelt bread. Fill with grilled chicken breast, spinach leaves, sliced tomatoes, and mashed avocado; season with a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
- For a change from brown rice and quinoa, cook whole spelt berries to as a side dish.
- Add a handful of spelt flakes to your favorite meatloaf or burger recipe to give it a boost of fibre.
- Add spelt berries to soups and stews for whole grain goodness and a nutty flavour.
- Make spelt cookies, breads and muffins. Just substitute half of the whole-wheat flour with whole spelt flour.
Did you know?
- Spelt isn't just for eating anymore. In Bavaria you can get beer brewed from spelt, while Poland offers a brand of vodka made from the grain.
- Farmers used to refer to spelt as "dinkle".
- In Germany, unripe spelt grains are dried and eaten as a snack called Grunkern, meaning "green grain".