If you have been following the blog, you have noticed that I use spelt in most of the recipes that call for flour. Because I’m frequently asked about it, it is a good subject to explore.
There are a couple of theories of the roots of spelt (Triticum spelta), an ancient hybrid of emmer wheat (Triticum diococcoides) and wild goat-grass (Aegilops tauschii). It remains unresolved whether it has two separate origins in Asia and Europe, or a single one in Mesopotamia (modern Iran), where it grew prior bread wheat, around 6000 BC. The earliest archaeological evidence of spelt, in Central Europe, is from the Eneolithic Period (2500–1700 BC). In the late Iron Age (750-15 BC) it became a principal wheat species in southern Germany and Switzerland. It wasn’t until the 20th Century that it was replaced by bread wheat due to the mechanization of agriculture. Unlike wheat, spelt is stored and shipped with a tough outer husk intact which, although ensuring the freshness of flour, makes it laborious and more expensive to produce. Today, the revival of organic farming has made this peasants' staple food of the past available again. Most of the spelt products on the market have an artisan flavour for being carefully stone-milled.
Spelt (Triticum aestivum ssp. spelta) that was introduced to America in the 1890’s is a sub-species of common wheat and, therefore, different from pure spelt. In the old continent it has been grown as feed for livestock for hundreds of years. Living in Europe I’m not aware how popular pure spelt is in the US nowadays but I’m sure it is available.
Health wise, spelt is better than wheat. Even whole wheat, which has the fibre and nutrient content intact, is nutritionally inferior to it. Because spelt is highly water soluble, the nutrients are more readily absorbed by the body. It is high in protein, B vitamins, and both simple and complex carbohydrates. The complex carbohydrates are important in blood clotting and stimulating immune system. Spelt is a superb source of fibre, amino acids and minerals.
Being related to wheat, spelt is not gluten-free. However, its gluten is of less quantity and has a different molecular makeup from wheat. Those who are sensitive to wheat may find it easier to digest. In my case, it doesn’t cause dry skin, rash or headaches like wheat. Because of the fragility of gluten, spelt flour calls for less kneading and lower baking temperature. Although it doesn’t rise as much as cultivated wheat, it remains light and airy.
Spelt's has a nutty, warm flavour. It comes out strongly when whole berries are soaked and cooked as an accompaniment, like rice.
Spelt flour is excellent for baking. There are several types available: wholegrain, extra fine, all purpose, cake, bread, mixed and graham. They are milled from the separate layers of cereal and differ nutritionally and by their baking propensities. Some has soft and some elastic or even gummy viscosity. Usually less liquid is required than when baking with wheat. However, the general rule of leaving the dough rather wet than too dry, applies to spelt as well. One of the characteristics of spelt is that it feels fatty when coming in contact with water.
Earlier this fall, I became interested in using a sourdough starter as an alternative to commercial yeast that disagrees with my stomach acid and philosophy of consuming only sattvic (the mode of goodness) food. Using a starter is rewarding, however, it calls for planning. It takes about three days to activate the bacteria. Once it is alive, it can be used for baking or stored in a refrigerator. It takes from five to ten hours for a loaf of bread to rise in a warm place before baking.
Sourdough bread tastes wonderfully rustic. Today I’m sharing my favourite way of filling it with butterbean paste and baking it on an open pan. With a colourful winter salad aside, it makes a substantial breakfast, lunch or snack.
I have experimented with several kinds of stuffing but found mild butterbeans creating a needed contrast for the tart and crisp crust. Homemade fresh cheese works well, too.