You know the spiel about whole grains, right? But do you know the spiel about spelt? Pardon my German, but in honor of my ancestors from Deutschland, I take great pride in "spieling" about spelt; it's one of my favorite grains. In fact, it's so good it was recognized in ancient times as a fundamental health food brimming with exceptional qualities. Let me explain.
Spelt is a distant cousin to our modern day varieties of wheat. According to Wikipedia, its earliest archaeological evidence comes from an area north of the Black Sea during the fifth millennium BC. However, the most abundant and best documented evidence says it originated in Europe where its popularity eventually spread to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and Spain. In the German language the word for spelt is "Dinkel." It's a fact that dinkel was so important that towns were named in its honor - there's Dinklehausen and Dinkelsbühl. These days, unripe spelt is dried and eaten as Grünkern, which means "green grain."
St. Hildegard von Bingen was a visionary, mystic, musician and herbalist who taught natural ways of bringing balance to body, mind and spirit during the 12th century in Germany. She taught of the many gifts of consuming spelt including its ability to confer a happy mind, a joyful spirit and a cheerful disposition. Spelt lies at the heart of her teachings on good nutrition as she believed it to be the best and most easily digestible grain one could eat. Even today her teachings on spelt remain highly regarded.
European immigrants originally brought spelt to the U.S. where it was grown until 1900 when it was replaced by newer hybrids of wheat that produced higher yields and were easier to harvest and process. Recently, spelt has regained popularity. It has a wonderful nutty flavor, a delicate taste and a good nutritional profile. In fact, spelt has more protein than conventional wheat and is often better tolerated by wheat-sensitive individuals. (Spelt does have gluten, though, so it is not appropriate for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.) Spelt delivers fiber, a complex of B-vitamins, phytonutrients and important minerals such as iron.
To cook whole spelt, soak overnight in water to cover. Drain and rinse. Cover with fresh water and simmer, covered, for about an hour. Longer cooking is fine too and results in a soft, split-open kernel, which is makes a great bowl of hot breakfast cereal. When baking with spelt flour, remember that because spelt is more water soluble than regular wheat, it's a good idea to use a little less water or liquid in your recipe.
Here are some ideas to get you going:
- Cook up a pot of spelt pasta. Try these recipes for Spelt Pasta with Walnuts and Roasted Cauliflower, Macaroni Salad or Chicken Tetrazzini.
- Choose spelt breads, tortillas, crackers and English muffins. Try these awesome Tofu Fajitas with spelt tortillas.
- Use all or part spelt flour in baking breads, muffins and cakes. Here are a couple of recipes to get you started: Blueberry Spelt Muffins or Sunflower Cherry Oatmeal Bars.
- Serve hamburgers, hotdogs or veggie burgers on spelt buns. Here's a recipe for Mushroom Cheddar Vegetarian Burgers.
- Buy the whole grain, soak overnight, drain and rinse; cook in fresh water until tender. Combine with other grains such as brown rice, cracked wheat, buckwheat, barley and wild rice. Great as a whole grain salad with chopped veggies and olive oil vinaigrette.
- Add a handful of cooked whole spelt to soups or stews in place of or along with rice or barley.
- Add it to casseroles in place of rice or other grains.
- Baking your own bread? Mix in whole cooked spelt for a chewy addition.
- Love oatmeal? Look for rolled spelt flakes for breakfast, or use them just like you would old-fashioned rolled oats in cookies, pancakes, muffins, breads, etc.
- Spelt flour makes great cookies. Try your favorite chocolate chip recipe, or try this Chocolate Dipped Marcona Almond Biscotti.
Because spelt contains less of a compound found in gluten called gliadin, it may be easier to digest than wheat for sensitive people. However, it DOES contain gluten and is NOT okay for anyone with celiac disease or any gluten sensitivity or allergy.
Have you tried spelt? Got a favorite recipe? I would love to know.