Heritage grains bridge the gap between ancient grains and modern varieties of wheat. Their evolution came about more recently – hundreds of years ago as opposed to thousands – either from ancient varieties of grain or from wild wheat strains.
Unlike modern wheats which are generally grown as single strain varieties the heritage wheats existed as what is termed “landraces”. This refers to the fact that the crop was made up of multiple very similar strains (as opposed to one genetically identical strain). This conferred a number of advantages in terms of disease and pest resistance and probably also contributes to a wider flavour & nutritional palette.
There has also been a renewed interest in heritage varieties of wheat for similar reasons to the ancient grains. People are interested in the provenance of what they are eating, and are interested in preserving valuable biodiversity. Often the heritage varieties, while not as high yielding, are highly nutritious and flavoursome. They are a bit trickier to work with than modern wheat but make some fantastically flavoursome bread.
Here in Scotland we are fortunate that an organisation has recently been established which aims to revitalise some of our fine Scottish heritage wheat strains. Scotland The Bread began a mission in 2016 to bring back several Scottish heritage wheat strains into common usage. They searched gene banks across the globe and located samples of three varieties of heritage wheats that were common in Scotland in the 19th Century:
- Rouge d’Ecosse
- Golden Drop
They worked with crop and cereal scientists to re-establish these three wheat varieties and build up the number of viable seeds. They are now being grown in substantial quantities, mainly at Mungoswells farm in East Lothian. The flours are now commercially available from the Scotland the Bread webshop and also at their popup stalls at various farmers markets in Scotland.
The nutritional qualities of these three flours are fantastic and I can vouch for the fact that they make extremely tasty wholemeal bread!
Scotland the Bread set up a subsidiary Bread For Good Community Benefit Society which is run as a social enterprise community business that you can join as a supporter either by purchasing some shares in the business or by taking out a supporters subscription. Both options come with benefits which you can read about here but primarily the aim is to support the preservation of these heritage wheat varieties.
Riddle-Me-Rye is a member of the Bread For Good Community Benefit Society.