|Grain of the month:: Spelt|
By Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist
This month I look once again at the immense variety of wondrous grains we have in the Bulk department at the Co-op!
With the burst of spring and new life and thinking ahead about the harvest in months to come, I look to see what grains are grown locally in the New England area.
My eyes spot the gravity bin of spelt berries alongside other grain berries, rye and wheat.
I can't help but notice that the source of the spelt berries is the Four Stars Farm that grows a variety of grains just down the road along the fertile Connecticut River in Northfield, MA. What better grain to examine for this month's newsletter!
We need to promote the hard work of this local farm that is growing spelt along with other grains!!
Spelt is not a new grain, despite what many people may think since they might not be familiar with it. It is a whole heirloom grain that has fortunately made a comeback.
It is still lesser known than its modern day relative, the common wheat grain. It is one of the oldest cultivated grains, going back 6,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia.
It later spread throughout Europe, becoming very popular in Germany where it was farmed for many years.
It was a staple food in the diet of many ancient civilizations and had a reputation for its healing properties.
Spelt was called a gift from the goddess Demeter in Greek mythology, so for that reason it was quite popular in Greece.
The Greeks spread the news about spelt whenever they sailed to a new place. Spelt continues to be very commonly grown in Central Europe.
It came to this country in the late 1800s, but in the 1900s when wheat became the "hot new grain," spelt went by the wayside and lost its luster.
Unlike some other whole grains such as triticale, spelt has never been hybridized so its original beneficial properties, including its whole-grain nutritional benefits, unique taste and texture, and best of all its ease of digestibility, have been preserved since ancient times.
For that reason many people often use it as an alternative to wheat and it is reported to be helpful with the gastrointestinal system too.
Spelt has been shown to be beneficial in a dietary role of blood sugar management as well as heart disease prevention.
Spelt is a significant source of fiber and provides a good amount of a broad array of different nutrients, including phosphorus, manganese, niacin, copper, and iron. It contains a good amount of protein too.
However, spelt is not gluten free! It does contain a lesser amount of gluten than wheat, but it is still present.
An unusual fact about this little known amazing grain is that the type of gluten it contains is water soluble and easily broken down by mixing action, as opposed to wheat gluten which does not break down in water and only gets stronger and tougher as it is mixed.
Imagine your stomach churning away at the gluten portion as it breaks it down.
The relatively fragile gluten in spelt, after being chewed and being exposed to acid and the magical enzymes in the digestive system, is softened and broken apart for the next phase of digestion.
In comparison, wheat gluten remains a small round ball or bolus during the initial part of digestion, thus making it harder to digest for some people.
Over time the makeup of wheat has changed to make it easier to grow and harvest so that large yields can be produced since it is in large demand; that is why much of the wheat available these days has the outside hull removed.
The advantage spelt has over much of the modern day wheat available is that it retains its outer shell or husk, which plays a protective role.
The inner part of the spelt kernel is not exposed to pests and pesticides, which is a great benefit for us.
The presence of the outer hull does increase the price of spelt since it makes it more difficult to process but it's worth it!
Spelt is found in the Bulk section amongst the wide diversity of grains we carry. Store it in a cool dark place.
To preserve maximum freshness during the warmer months, put berries in the refrigerator or even freeze them in a glass container.
Spelt berries take about 40 to 60 minutes to cook and I highly recommend rinsing and soaking them the night before since soaking does reduce the cooking time.
Use about 2 to 3 cups water to 1 cup dry berries and cook until they are soft.
Cooked berries will be slightly chewy and have a great flavor.
Any extra cooked berries can be frozen for quick use at a later date.
Don't hesitate to use spelt berries in place of wheat berries in recipes.
Spelt berries can be used in salads or just substituted for any of your favorite grains—rice, barley, or millet. It makes a great salad with the fresh herbs coming in right now from the garden, served with a delicious vinaigrette.
Spelt flour can easily be substituted for wheat flour in any baking recipe too.
This is a great new grain to add to your diet; it’s quick and easy to prepare, and what’s even better, it’s grown just down the river from us!!