Thought to have been cultivated since the Stone Age, spelt is considered one of the earliest crops grown in the Western civilization. Though we don't know for sure the exact origin of spelt, it is believed to have come from somewhere near Iran or Greece; researchers believe that the early Greeks used spelt to make bread. Many years later, the Swiss immigrants who settled in Ohio seem to be the ones responsible for bringing spelt to the United States, where cultivation largely began in the late 1800s. Spelt was the primary grain used in the States until the early to mid-1900s when wheat took over due to its cheaper processing costs. After that, spelt was grown mainly for livestock feed until the late 1900s when it began to come back as a popular health food due to its high nutrients and use as a wheat alternative.
A nutty tasting grain, spelt, like wheat, is grass-derived and can be used as an alternative to other grains. However, while other grains must often be combined to make bread, pasta, and other such foods, spelt can stand alone to produce these kinds of baked goods and still maintain the wheat-like texture. Though spelt and wheat are both grass-derived grains, they have some important differences. Today when wheat is processed much of the husks are lost, but spelt has a strong protective envelope that helps to protect it from being lost during processing.
This is a notable difference because this means nutrients and fiber are not lost from the spelt during processing and the grain is also able to stay fresher for longer periods of time. This strong envelope also protects the grain from pollutants and insects, a very desirable characteristic as spelt does not need to be treated with pesticides and other chemicals because it is naturally resistant. This same characteristic is not true of wheat; in fact, insects and diseases such as rust are very common problems with wheat crops.
Furthermore, spelt is a more durable grain than is wheat; spelt can survive in a wide range of environments, while wheat is more sensitive and would not survive in some of the same harsh surroundings. Spelt, however, yields less crop per acre than does wheat, and it requires two separate grindings to process it (one to hull it and the second to mill it) while wheat only requires one. It was because of this that in the early 1900s wheat was economically chosen over spelt.
Spelt is typically much easier to digest than is wheat and has a superior nutritional profile. When ripe, spelt does have gluten, but the chemical bonds that hold it together are much more fragile than the bonds holding gluten together in wheat. For this reason, the gluten in spelt is a lot less likely to cause allergic or sensitivity reactions in susceptible people. Unripe spelt contains no gluten—making it a great grain alternative for very gluten sensitive people—and can still be used with great results in baked goods.
Additionally, spelt is a complete protein; in only two ounces of spelt there are ten grams of protein, including all of the essential amino acids. In these two ounces of spelt there are also over five grams of fiber provided. Wheat, in comparison, only has about two grams of protein and less than two grams of fiber in the same two ounces.
Spelt is a wonderful source of complex carbohydrates, complete protein, and fiber. Furthermore, it is a great source of many of the B vitamins and several minerals. Getting sufficient B vitamins is essential for a healthy mind; in fact, B vitamins are often referred to as the “happy vitamins” as getting enough of them helps to boost moods, while deficiencies have been associated with depression, anxiety, mood swings, and other such conditions. Spelt is also the only grain that has mucopolysaccarides, a special type of carbohydrate. These mucopolysaccharides have been shown to help boost the immune system, decrease cholesterol levels, and reduce blood clotting.
Because spelt is easy to digest and is high in complex carbohydrates, not to mention that it’s a good source of many of the B vitamins and has some great immune boosting benefits, spelt makes for a great food for athletes, especially prior to an event or for nourishment after the event to refuel the glycogen stores lost during the exercise. Spelt makes for a great fuel source for athletes looking for sustainable energy, especially because it is so easily digestible. Furthermore, spelt supplies the necessary protein to rebuild muscle tissue after exercise.
Spelt is available year round in a variety of forms and, like wheat, can be found in a whole-grain and processed form, so make sure to look for the whole-grain version for the most health benefit!Spelt and Vanilla Vegan Pancakes Yield: 6-8 pancakes
- 1 cup organic light spelt flour
- 2 tbsp aluminum free baking powder
- 1/8 tsp fine himalayan salt
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1 tbsp maple syrup or a 3-4 drops of alcohol free stevia
- 2 tbsp cold pressed sunflower oil
- 1 1/2 tsp pure alcohol free vanilla
- coconut oil for the pan