Spelt is basically a variety of hardy wheat which has furry ears and two narrow grains housed within spikelets at the tip of the crop. It is a cereal grain considered either as a subtype of the wheat variety, Triticum aestivum spelta, or is sometimes classified as a separate species Triticum spelta. In fact, this wheat variety is grown in Europe as feed for livestock.
Although this kind of wheat is not as widely cultivated as other varieties, it has gained favour in recent times with research throwing light on its health benefits. To Germans it is known as their favourite "Dinkel" and has now found use in a wide variety of culinary preparations - foods and beverages ranging from bread to beer. To Italians it is known as "Farro" and finds use in gourmet soups, breads, pizza crusts as well as cakes.
Spelt has been grown in European countries for over the past few centuries. Spelt was first introduced to the United States in the late 18th century. Ohio produces the major percentage of spelt. The Ohio State University Agricultural Research Department invented a new and improved winter variety of the crop called ‘Champ’.
Climate and Soil Requirements
Spelt is generally considered a hardy winter crop that grows better in the cold climates than other red winter wheat types. Also it is easily grown on low-fertility sandy soils and poorly-drained ground unlike many other cereal grains. As a matter of fact, growers claim it can potentially produce more grain than even oats (on a bushel basis) on these type of soils.
Spelt can be employed as a food grain after removal of the complex hulls i.e. the outer coats. As such, the spelt hull has practically as much food value as the kernel. It is quite popular in Europe, specifically in Germany. Ground spelt is primarily used as a substitute food grain to oats and barley. Its texture and bite resemble that of oats.
American food manufacturers have woken up to the use of spelt in order to meet the nation's growing demand for pasta and other such high fiber cereals. Ground Spelt can also be used as flour and in baked products to replace the soft red winter wheat derivatives.
Spelt Flour and its Uses
Cooking with the use of spelt flour is quite similar to cooking with regular wheat flour. It is possible to make all the similar kind of dishes like pancakes and waffles, cakes, muffins, crackers and cookies, breads and pastas.
When baking, spelt flour may not require the same quantity of water as wheat flour. For instance, if attempting to substitute spelt flour for wheat flour in a favorite recipe, it is advisable to start by using only 3/4ths as much water as the original recipe states.
Tip: Owing to its lower gluten content, it would probably be better if not allowed to rise as high as regular wheat flour bread does.
An interesting recipe made using spelt flour is Walnut Spelt Bread:
In a bowl spelt flour, rolled oats, walnut bits, salt, oil, yeast, honey and water are mixed together to form an elastic dough in a food processor. Dough is divided into equal loaves, placed on greased baking tray, covered and left to rise for about an hour. These are subsequently baked in pre-heated oven for about 40 minutes before being turned out and cooled on wire rack.
Spelt has slowly gained popularity as a dietary grain because of its nutty flavor, high protein content and nutritional value which is quite close to that of oats. Spelt contains about 57.9 % carbohydrates of which 9.2 % is dietary fiber, 17.0 % protein, about 3.0 % fat, as well as minerals and vitamins. The protein composition of the ‘Champ’ variety of spelt is about 11.7%, as compared to 12% - 13% found in oats. As such, its total protein content is about 10 - 25% greater than the other more common varieties of commercial wheat.
Spelt is known for being highly water soluble, as a result of which its nutrients are thought to be easily absorbed by the body. It is also an excellent fiber resource and has good amounts of B-complex vitamins.