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Facts on Spelt

Spelt (Triticum spelta) was an important wheat species in Europe from the Bronze Age to Roman times. It now survives as a relict crop in Central Europe, but has found a new market as a health food. Spelt is sometimes considered a subspecies of the closely related species common wheat (T. aestivum), in which case its botanical name is considered to be Triticum aestivum subsp. spelta.

Spelt has a complex history. It is a hexaploid wheat species known from genetic evidence to be a hybrid of a domesticated tetraploid wheat such as emmer wheat and the wild goat-grass Aegilops tauschii. This hybridization must have taken place in the Near East because this is where Ae. tauschii grows, and it must have taken place prior to the appearance of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum, a hexaploid derivative of spelt) in the archaeological record c. 8000 years ago. However, spelt is notably absent from the archaeological record of the Near East, and the limited area of current cultivation in Iran appears to be of recent origin. References to the cultivation of spelt wheat in Biblical times (see matzo) or in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia are incorrect, and result from confusion with emmer wheat.

Early History
Spelt may have originated in the Near East and then spread, north of the Black Sea (hence its absence from the Near East), arriving in Europe c. 2000 BC. However, the quality of archaeological evidence for spelt north of the Black Sea is poor. It is also possible that spelt originated in the Near East, the mutation to bread wheat occurred, and spelt then disappeared, perhaps displaced by bread wheat.

Genetic evidence shows that the result of hybridization of bread wheat and emmer wheat is spelt wheat. The much later appearance of spelt in Europe might be the result of a later, second, hybridization event. Recent DNA evidence supports an independent origin for European spelt, through this hybridization.

Later History
In the Middle Ages, spelt was cultivated in parts of Switzerland, Tyrol and Germany. Spelt was introduced to the United States in the 1890s. In the 20th century, spelt was virtually replaced by wheat, which produces higher yields. However, since spelt is rather more hardy than wheat and does not require fertilizers, the organic farming movement made it more popular again towards the end of the century.

Although "spelt" is sometimes mentioned in connection with Greek and Roman cultures, such references are almost always mistranslations of terms for emmer and einkorn.

Spelt contains about 62 percent carbohydrates, 8.8 percent fiber, 12 percent protein and 2.7 percent fat, as well as dietary minerals and vitamins, including silica. As it contains a moderate amount of gluten, it is suitable for baking. In Germany, the unripe spelt grains are dried and eaten as Grunkern, which literally means "green seed".

Spelt is closely related to common wheat, and is not a suitable substitute for people with celiac disease and wheat allergy. However, spelt is sometimes promoted as an alternative grain for sufferers from mild wheat intolerance.

The name of Spelt in German is Dinkel, and the hull which covers the seed is called Spelz. The grains which don't thresh freely like modern wheat were identified by this quality and the name probably wandered into the English language and changed its function.

The Luxembourger surname Speltz is derived from this grain. In Italy both emmer wheat and spelt are known as farro, although emmer is more common in Italy. In France spelt is known as epeautre.


  Copyright © 2006 Andy's Market. This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Spelt".

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