Spelt is an a heirloom grain that's causing waves in the bakery world. This type of whole wheat is packed with fiber and flavor, and is popular among home cooks, chefs, and anyone looking to incorporate more nutritious grains into their diets. You can find this grain in whole berry form and more commonly as a flour.
What is Spelt?
Spelt has origins in early European agriculture. Legend has it the grain came to Greece as a gift from the goddess of harvest, but the first documented evidence of spelt dates back to the fifth millennium BC in what is now Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
Spelt found its way to American farms in the 1890s, but more bread-friendly wheat suited to larger-scale production became much more popular over the following decades. In the early 2000s, organic farming helped revitalize spelt, and today the husked grain is hailed as a good-for-you heirloom food. It's found in artisan breads, hot cereals, and baked goods.
What to Do With Spelt
Spelt is delicious in any dish that calls for whole wheat flour or grains. Try it in muffin batter or weekday porridge for a boost in nutrition, texture, and flavor.
The Dutch distill jenever using spelt mash, and in Poland some vodkas use spelt as the base grain. In Bavaria and Belgium, spelt is used to brew beer, and some home-brew beer kits found in the U.S. include spelt instead of the usual base grains of barley, rye, and corn.
What Does Spelt Taste Like?
This ancient grain has a lighter flavor than traditional whole wheat, and is slightly sweeter, with a pleasing nuttiness. While the nuances are mild, it has enough of a taste difference that you may not want to sub it for whole wheat in dishes that relay on the blandness of basic flour. But when played right, those toasty, sugary notes can add a new layer to your baking repertoire.
Use spelt the same way you would whole wheat flour or wheat berries. It's a tasty grain that goes great in bread and other baked goods, or cooked whole and served as a savory course.
Where to Buy Spelt
Unless you live in Germany, spelt is still a specialty item. It can be found in just about any natural market or health food store in flour or whole grain form. The former is easier to source, but whole berries can easily be bought online in small amounts or in bulk.
Store spelt like any other flour, in a dry, sealed container in a dark place or refrigerator. Whole grains should be stored in an airtight container in similar conditions.
Nutrition and Benefits
Ancient grains have long been lauded as a healthy starch option, and spelt is no exception. This grain has more fiber than modern wheat, which can help the body process its gluten more easily, reduce hypertension, and raise "good" cholesterol levels. Spelt also contains iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
Spelt is spelt, or Triticum spelta to be exact. It's a single-strain wheat, though it closely resembles other ancient grains including einkorn and khorasan.
You may have heard that spelt is gluten-free, but that's a myth (however there are other ancient grains that are gluten-free). There's just as much gluten in spelt flour as there is in whole wheat, it just tends to contain more nutrients and often is grown organically. Also, since there's more water in spelt and it has a higher fiber content, those with a mild gluten intolerance may be able to process spelt better than the average wheat.