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Spelt From A to Z: 26 Interesting Things to Know

Spelt From A to Z: 26 Interesting Things to Know

Also known as emmer, spelt flour has many benefits and is really versatile in the kitchen: here are interesting spelt facts and figures you can't miss.

By FDL on

Ancient Rome. Spelt was a staple food of the Ancient Roman legionaries who set out to conquer the world. It was used to make bread, flatbread and polenta.

Bite. A distinctive characteristic of spelt is its unique texture: when cooked to perfection, it has slightly more bite than pasta when served ‘al dente’.

Caviar. It is often considered to be ‘the caviar of cereals’. Starting from the French, who also call it 'wheat of the Gauls'.

Didoccum. There are three types of spelt: Triticum Dicoccum or emmer is the medium-sized variety popular in Italy which has largely fallen into disuse elsewhere; Triticum Spelta or spelt, is the largest variety whose chromosomes are most similar to those of soft wheat; finally, Triticum Monococcolum is the smallest in size.

E- Vitamin. Spelt is very rich in vitamin E, renowned for its antioxidant properties, as well as B- group vitamins. Besides which, it abounds in minerals, is an excellent iron and calcium supplement and its germ oils work wonders for the health.

Farro. This is the Italian name for the medium-sized variety of emmer whose use has now also spread to other parts of the world. The Italian word for flour, farina, actually derives from farro.

Gluten. Spelt contains gluten but it is slightly different from that of wheat and considerably more digestible. Spelt is therefore unsuitable for gluten-free diets but can be consumed by those who suffer from wheat intolerance.

Hard husk. The husk of spelt is harder than that of wheat, which helps protect the nutritional elements it contains and enables it to withstand the attack of polluting agents (such as pesticides) and even insect invasions – for this reason it lends itself to being farmed organically.

Italian. The emmer produced in various Italian regions has been officially acknowledged as a traditional product. For instance that of Monteleone di Spoleto in Umbria or those of Monti Lucretili and Acquapendente (called farro del pungolo) in Latium.

Jenaver. Spelt is one of the many grains used in the production of jenaver, the traditional juniper-flavoured liquor typical of the Netherlands which is practically the grandfather of gin.

Kcal. One of the grains with the lowest calorie count: 335 to 100 grams.

Libum farreum. This was the spelt flatbread that newly-weds used to share and offer to Jupiter (to bring them good fortune during the 'Conferratio') another term deriving from farro, used to define an ancient and most solemn form of marriage in Ancient Rome.

Mihehai. One of the traditional techniques used to process spelt in the northern highlands of Ethiopia, one of the few remaining areas where this grain continues to be grown for human consumption. A skilful sideways and circular motion allows a woman to separate four components of a mixed crop using a simple sieve.

Nutty. Compared with other grains, its flavour is more aromatic and almost nutty. A characteristic that can be enhanced by toasting it slightly before cooking.

Oldest. It is the oldest type of grain ever farmed by man and dates back to the Neolithic age.

Protein. Spelt has a higher protein content than all other grain species.

Quite fashionable. After a gradual but inexorable decline throughout the 1900s, spelt has recently made a spectacular comeback in the United States. Restaurant owners and consumers in all four corners of the nation love its healthy country taste and its affordable exoticness.

Risotto. Spelt is an excellent substitute for rice in various recipes and risotto is no exception: it is becoming a habit dear to many chefs who are in love with a texture that never loses its bite.

Semi-pearled or pearled. This grain is available whole, pearled or semi-pearled, meaning that some of the bran layer has been removed. Pearled and semi-pearled varieties cook fast without soaking.

Tuscany cake. There is an area in Tuscany called Garfagnana, whose emmer has been certified as an IGT (Typical Geographic Area) product. It is widely used in the preparation of a famous pie made from puff or short crust pastry filled with cooked emmer, ricotta and parmesan cheese, mixed with eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Unripe. In Germany, where spelt is particularly popular, its semi-ripe grains are dried and then eaten as Grünkern - "green grain"- which have a characteristic flavour and aroma.

Versatile. Spelt is a great ingredient for use in hot recipes – for instance soups – and cold dishes such as pasta-like salads. It makes an excellent alternative to wheat grain and can also be used in all oven-baked products.

Whole. Wholemeal spelt must be soaked for several hours before cooking. After approximately 50-60 minutes’ boiling on a gentle heat, it can be left to rest and absorb any residual water so that the grains swell properly, before dressing to taste.

XIII Canto. In the XIII canto of Inferno taken from the epic poem in Italian La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), the transformation of the soul is compared to the germination of a grain of spelt.

Yield. While modern wheat has been cultivated for higher yields, spelt retains many of its original traits. It therefore yields less than wheat, even organic wheat.

Zzzzzzzz. The soft embrace of spelt is also conducive to a good night’s sleep: it is widely used in fact as a natural stuffing for pillows. Spelt hull, a product obtained after de-husking, is used to fill soft well ventilated pillows that can be put out in the sun to air.

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