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How is that ... Spelt? An Ancient Grain Makes a Comeback in Scandinavia


Speltberry Salad

A healthy summer salad showcasing spelt

Kari Diehl

Spelt (Triticum spelta), a grain cultivated since prehistoric times in the Middle East, is enjoying a resurgence of popularity on the Scandinavian baking scene. It was grown in Sweden, along with rye and barley, from the Stone Age through the Middle Ages, but was then discontinued in most areas - except for the island of Gotland - until the 1960s. With the Scandinavian renewal of interest in sustainable production of cold-tolerating crops, however, spelt flours and products are enjoying an increasing presence on store shelves, thanks to promotion by local wholesalers including Åre , Sweden's Dinkelboden company.

For people who don't enjoy the taste of wheat (or who are sensitive to it), spelt can be a blessing. While not appropriate for individuals suffering from celiac disease, it is much lower in gluten than wheat and thus can be tolerated by many with minor wheat allergies. Its taste, often described as "nutty" and "sweet," is perhaps the perfect compromise for white-bread lovers who wish to consume healthier grains and yet dislike the stronger flavors of wheat and rye grains. It contains the essential amino acids lysine, threonine, and mthonine as well as levels of potassium, niacin (B3), pyridoxide (B6) and beta-carotene greater than those found in wheat.

Spelt flour also contains more protein than standard wheat flour, which means that it is slightly trickier to bake with when rising is required (but is still well-worth the trouble!). Many bakers will combine equal parts spelt and wheat flour to ensure a full rise of pancakes and of yeasted breads; spelt can, however, be used effectively alone for baked goods such as pie crusts, flatbreads (for example, Apple Spelt Bread), pizza crusts, and homemade pastas. The flour comes in both fine white (more finely milled) and brown varieties; you can also often find spelt flakes (great for making Scandinavian porridges) in organic food stores. The whole spelt grains (spelt berries) can either be prepared whole as a superior alternative to rice in "risottos" and salads (for example, spelt summer salad); they can also be ground to make fresh flour as needed.

Uncooked Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz) of Spelt: Energy, 1,415 kJ (338 kcal); Carbohydrates 70.19 g; Starch 53.92 g; Dietary Fiber 10.7 g; Fat 2.43 g; Polyunsaturated 1.258 g; Protein 14.57 g; Water 11.02 g; Thiamine (vit. B1) 0.364 mg (32%); Riboflavin (vit. B2) 0.113 mg (9%); Niacin (vit. B3) 6.843 mg (46%); Vitamin B6 0.230 mg (18%); Folate (vit. B9) 45 μg (11%); Vitamin E 0.79 mg (5%); Iron 4.44 mg (34%); Magnesium 136 mg (38%); Phosphorus 401 mg (57%); Zinc 3.28 mg (35%). Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults (Source: USDA Nutrient Database).

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Pronunciation: "spehlt"
Also Known As: Dinkel (in Germany and much of Scandinavia)
Spelt - not to be confused, as it sometimes is, with Italian farro, is an ancient grain which, although not gluten-free, can often be enjoyed by people with minor wheat sensitivies.
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