Spelt, khorasan, emmer and einkorn are generally regarded as being “ancient grains”. The types of grains that our distant ancestors in ancient civilisations would have eaten. There has been a resurgence of interest in these grains as people become more cognisant of what they are consuming, favouring products that are seen to be more wholesome, natural, protect biodiversity, and which have not been tampered with to the same extent as modern wheat. There are also growing concerns around wheat intolerance and gluten sensitivity. However, these ancient grains are all relatives of wheat and do contain gluten, albeit in slightly different forms. That being said, some people do find these grains easier to digest.
Modern wheat has been selectively bred often from single strains of wheat favoured for yield, which was driven in part by a desire for efficiency post WWII. In contrast the ancient grains have not been subjected to the same kind of selective pressures.
The nutritional profiles vary between the ancient grains, as do their flavours and bread making qualities. In their wholegrain forms they are highly nutritious, packed with vitamins and minerals and make excellent wholegrain flours, albeit not as straightforward to work with as normal wheat. With a little bit more love, care and attention they can be used to make fantastic sourdough breads.
Spelt has a nutty, grassy flavour and is thought to be a hybrid of emmer wheat and goat grass, cultivated since around 5000BC. It is rich in dietary fibre, thiamin, copper, manganese, phosphorus, vitamins B2 and B3. Although it does contain gluten it is better tolerated by some people with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. The gluten in spelt is more gliadin-rich than wheat and consequently it makes a very extensible bread dough. As a flour it is commercially available in wholegrain form and also as a white flour with the bran removed. To get the most goodness from spelt we recommend using the wholegrain version or at least a blend of the two.
Khorasan wheat takes its name from a geographical area in Iran and Afghanistan where it was cultivated historically. One particular strain has been trademarked as Kamut® and is commercially available under that brand name. It looks similar to modern wheat but the grains are much bigger. It has a rich, nutty, buttery flavour. It is more nutritious than modern wheat and is high in protein, fibre, B vitamins and minerals, in particular manganese, molybdenum, selenium and copper. It is also rich in antioxidants. Some people with an intolerance to modern wheat varieties have found they can digest products made with Khorasan flour more easily.
Emmer was one of the earliest cultivated grains and is a close relative of durum wheat. It is widely used in Italy where is is known as Farro. It is lower in gluten than modern wheat and is rich in iron, protein, dietary fibre, lysine, magnesium, carotenoids and antioxidant compounds.
Another of the earliest cultivated grains, with evidence of its cultivation going back as far as 8650BC! Einkorn is a low yielding wild crop which can grow well even on thin poor soil. It contains lower levels of gluten than modern wheat and is rich in protein, essential fatty acids, phosphorous, potassium, vitamin B6 and beta-carotene.