An ancient whole grain, spelt (scientific name Triticum spelta) is cultivated in several regions of the world. During the 19th century, the popularity of spelt declined greatly, but its nutritional properties have once again encouraged people to incorporate it in their diet. Presently, spelt is considered to be a health food.

It is claimed that ancient grains such as spelt contain more nutrients and are healthier compared to the modern day grains. In fact, spelt has a close relationship with another grain - wheat. In fact, people consider spelt as a different type of wheat. There are various types of wheat, including khorasan wheat, einkorn wheat and the present day semi-dwarf wheat.

Since the various types of wheat and spelt grain are close relatives, they also have almost same nutritional profile and also contain gluten. Hence, you should avoid spelt if you want to take a gluten-free diet.

There is evidence that people consumed spelt grain long ago - perhaps even in 6,000 BC. Such evidence has been found from the Balkan region as well as the Near East. During the Bronze Age, people inhabiting all over Europe consumed spelt and even today it is grown in many regions of the world. Despite the fact that spelt and bread wheat are closely related, its flavour is comparatively sweeter and also nuttier. Moreover, even the protein balance in spelt and wheat bread are different. Due to this the performance of both are dissimilar when their flour is used for baking purpose.

There may be two possible ways to explain the genetic structure of spelt grain. While a section of experts consider spelt to be a cross between another wheat relative known as emmer and goat grass, some others say that this ancient grain is a cross between emmer and present day bread wheat. These genetic amalgamations may have possibly occurred in many different places as well as times.

Irrespective of the origin of spelt, this grain has been extremely popular among the Europeans for several centuries. Spelt arrived in the United States in the latter half of 1800s. European migrants brought this grain to the US and since then it has been used widely, particularly among the migrant communities. Spelt was popular till the 1920s and its status began to decline after this. However, many people in North America and Europe continued to cultivate and harvest this grain even during its lean period. The popularity of spelt witnessed a surge again in the beginning of the 21st century, especially as a healthier alternative for wheat. This grain was especially favoured by people who were sensitive to wheat. Commercially, spelt is available in the form of pasta, flour or even as whole grains, which are used for both cooking and sprouting.

In modern day agriculture, spelt again fell out of favour because compared to bread wheat it has a thicker and tougher husk enclosing the grain. As a result, it becomes quite difficult to get rid of the husk to separate the kernel compared to the different varieties of present day wheat. In addition, the yield of spelt grain per acre is much lower compared to the newer varieties of wheat. However, there are a number of agricultural advantages associated with spelt. Unlike many wheat varieties, spelt can be cultivated on poor soil having poor drainage. In fact, it can also be grown on sandy soils and unlike different varieties of wheat; generally it does not even require any fertilizer.

While the flour prepared from spelt grain is very similar to that of any standard variety of wheat, using the flour for baking needs some additional care. Since spelt flour is more soluble in liquids, the dough from this grain's flour works best when it is allowed a resting period to give enough time for the flour as well as the liquid to become stabilized. Even the gluten structure of spelt is different from that of wheat and this makes the spelt dough as well as batter stickier. As a result, the dough is less likely to rise properly when baked. Compared to the standard wheat flour, the texture of baked items made with spelt flour is denser as well as heavier.

Health benefits

Incorporating the nutritious grain spelt, a nutritious grain, into your diet offers several wonderful health benefits.

Spelt is loaded with soluble dietary fiber and, as a result, it promotes digestion. Hence, this grain helps to prevent occurrence of various gastrointestinal disorders, for instance irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The soluble dietary fiber found in spelt aids in adding bulk to stool and ensure its smooth movement through the digestive tract. Aside from this, eating spelt regularly also decreases the chances of suffering from bloating, constipation, diarrhea and excessive gas formation. At the same time, this nutritious grain enhances the body's ability to absorb various nutrients from the ingested foods.

Consumption of spelt also helps to boost the energy levels as this grain encloses complex carbohydrates that can be digested more slowly compared to refined carbohydrates that are found in pasta or white bread. In other words, complex carbohydrate provides us energy over a prolonged period. On the other hand, refined carbohydrates usually result in energy spikes and then crashes suddenly. This is the primary reason why several athletes consume complex carbohydrate to enhance their body's energy levels prior to participating in a competition.

It is worth mentioning here that insulin resistance and consuming foods that are loaded with carbohydrates are responsible for cardiovascular disease as well as diabetes. The lower glycemic index of spelt compared to various types of wheat helps to avoid the above mentioned health conditions. In other words, consumption of spelt does not result in energy spikes and crashes as in the case of foods loaded with carbohydrates because this healthy grain releases energy gradually into the bloodstream. Therefore, spelt is an excellent food that helps to keep diabetes under control and even prevent this condition as well as other related issues.

Spelt not only contains very low cholesterol levels, but this grain also possesses the ability to lower the cholesterol levels when consumed on a regular basis. Elevated amounts of dietary fiber in spelt can also aid the body from absorbing too much cholesterol. The fiber present in spelt explicitly targets low density lipo-protein (LDL) or "bad cholesterol", while aiding in enhancing the levels of high density lipo-protein (HDL) or "good cholesterol".

It has been established that consuming spelt is also an excellent means to lose unwanted body weight. Compared to the regular wheat, spelt has lower calories and, thus, it is a good substitute for wheat and pasta. At the same time, since spelt contains complex carbohydrates, it does not result in insulin spike that are linked to weight gain and obesity.

In addition to the above discussed health benefits of spelt, this healthy grain possesses an assortment of anti-inflammatory properties that may promote the functioning of the immune system. Spelt encloses mucopolysaccharides, which are actually a variety of complex carbohydrate that possesses anti-inflammatory properties and, at the same time, promotes the health of our bones and joints.

This nutritious grain also contains amino acids, which possess the ability to neutralize joint inflammation. In addition, amino acids promote an assortment of bodily functions. Moreover, spelt also contains several vitamins and essential minerals and other elements that promoted better digestion, thereby providing a major boost to the immune system and enhance its functioning.

Several essential minerals are found in spelt, making this grain vital for the health of our bones. It contains calcium and phosphorus, which aid in making the bones and teeth stronger, prevent various problems like osteoporosis as we grow older.