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GRAIN OF THE MONTH: Einkorn PDF Print E-mail

December 2016
by Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist

I scan through the bulk grains and I spot one with a name that may look foreign to shoppers. It's in a bin alongside other flours and called Einkorn flour, which literally means “single grain.”

This is the most ancient of all the grains that I have written about so far, and was the main form of grain documented to be in use during the earliest Biblical history. It is recognized as the most primitive variety of our modern-day wheat. The genetic makeup of einkorn has only two sets of chromosomes, a "diploid" as are most plants. However, unlike the ancient grain einkorn, modern wheat has six sets of chromosomes due to its extensive history of hybridization. Einkorn is a small grain compared to modern-day wheat; it is half the size and does not have the crease on the side of the grain that wheat has, which developed after wheat was genetically altered so that farmers could produce a higher yield of this immensely popular grain. Also unlike modern day wheat but similar to spelt, einkorn is a hulled grain. The hull protects it from contamination and insects, thus making it easier to grow organically.

Einkorn originated in the southern area of the Fertile Crescent, the rich valley of the Nile. The wild version of einkorn has been documented to be found in the late Paleolithic ages and the cultivated form was originally grown around 7600 BC in Southeast Turkey. After many thousands of years it arrived in this country and is fairly new to the American market. We are fortunate to have flour that comes from down the road—a farm in Colrain, MA. The group responsible for bringing this fascinating ancient grain to the Co-op is called the Heritage Grain Conservancy. The goal of this conservancy is to restore the presence of many ancient grains, including einkorn, which continues to be used in many remote villages in the mountains of the Middle East, but its future existence is in jeopardy.

Einkorn provides a wealth of nutrition.  It is higher in protein than other grains and it is an excellent source of vitamin A and B-vitamins, specifically B-6, as well as potassium and phosphorus. It contains about three to four times more lutein than modern forms of wheat, and lutein is very beneficial for the eyes in the prevention of macular degeneration and cataracts. It does contain gluten but a different form, and less of it compared to modern wheat, so it is easier to digest. It may be tolerated by gluten-intolerant people but not those with celiac disease. Einkorn has been shown to be beneficial for those with diabetes due to its low glycemic response and its lower starch content. It is a good source of many plant compounds that have been shown to prevent heart disease and many forms of cancer.   

Try einkorn flour for your baking over the holidays (a tasty ginger cookie recipe awaits you at the end of this article) or anytime. It can be substituted in the same amounts for wheat or regular flour, though you may find that recipes need a little less liquid. If your breads or baked goods don't rise as well with einkorn flour due to the lower gluten content, add an extra egg or egg white. Take advantage of this ancient grain that is grown literally down the road from us—we are so fortunate to have access to it in this present day!