Spelt flour is popular, but it tends to confuse some people. Is it wheat or isn’t it? Is it gluten-free or not? When I started eating a mostly gluten-free diet, I was often offered spelt in stores and restaurants who didn’t serve gluten-free bread. They told me spelt flour had “less gluten.” Since I am not gluten-intolerant but more gluten-sensitive (and choose to avoid gluten to curb inflammation from autoimmune diseases), I tried the spelt bread. It was delicious, soft and nutty tasting. Tasting spelt, however, didn’t help my confusion about what it is exactly or how to use it; that required research. There are definite benefits to eating this ancient grain. Here is a quick primer on spelt flour, what it is and how to bake with it.
1. What is Spelt Flour?
Spelt flour, or Triticum aestivum var. spelta, is a cereal grain in the wheat family but it is not wheat. Except for a harder outer shell, it looks like wheat, but again, it is not wheat. Spelt has the same genus as wheat but is a different species. Spelt is an ancient grain which has been cultivated for centuries. It has recently become popular because it is a good alternative for wheat and people who cannot tolerate wheat. Spelt does contain gluten, so people with gluten allergies or celiac disease need to avoid it.
2. Why Use Spelt Flour?
Spelt looks a bit like barley and is red in color. It has a mild, slightly sweet and nutty flavor, similar to that of whole wheat flour but with none of the bitterness. It is a light grain, so it doesn’t weigh down baked goods the way whole wheat flour can. In fact, food baked with spelt is usually soft and tender. Spelt is a nutritious whole grain flour, rich in vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, selenium, iron, manganese, zinc, vitamin E and B-complex vitamins. It is high in protein and lower in calories than wheat flour and also easier to digest than wheat. If you find that wheat upsets your stomach, that you are allergic to wheat or you just want to avoid wheat or cut down on gluten, spelt may be a good choice for you.
3. What About the Gluten?
Spelt does have gluten, but it’s different than in wheat. Gluten is a complex protein made from two simpler proteins: gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin is what gives dough its stretchiness, while glutenin gives it elasticity and the structure to hold its shape. Wheat has a balance of these two proteins, but spelt has a higher gliadin to glutenin ratio which makes the gluten more fragile, breaking down easier. This means that vigorous kneading and mixing should be avoided when using spelt flour or you could get a crumbly texture. It also means that foods baked with spelt flour will not rise as high as those with wheat so you might want to use a spelt starter for recipes where you want that rise. Another trick that I use with gluten-free baking which also has issues with rising is to use more yeast and more baking powder than the recipe calls for.
4. How Do You Bake With Spelt?
Since spelt does have gluten, it can be used to substitute for other flours such as whole wheat flour. If you are baking something that requires structure such as bread or cakes, you can use spelt to substitute for up to half of the usual flour. A good way to do this is to use spelt for 25% of the flour in a recipe, see how it comes out, and then try increasing the amount you use from there. For less structured baked goods such as pie crusts, you can try a higher percentage of spelt flour. If you are new to using spelt, it may be a good idea to try it in an easy, less structured recipe until you get used to it.
Spelt is more water-soluble than wheat, so you may need less liquid than with whole wheat flour. The higher level of gliadin, the protein that makes dough stretch, also means that the dough can spread a lot. Using less liquid can help prevent this. You can try using 25% less liquid than the recipe states but you will do best by judging the texture and consistency of the dough. Doughs and batters with less internal structure do better when baked in loaf pans and tins to give them more external structure. Remember to not over-mix or over-knead the dough.
5. What Can I Make with Spelt?
You can use spelt flour to make any baked goods you would make with any other flour including cakes, cookies, muffins, flatbreads, biscuits, waffles, donuts and brownies. Here are a few recipes to get you started baking with spelt flour.
To Make my Peanut Butter Squash Muffins
Mix 1 Tbs. ground flaxseed with 3 Tbs. warm water in a small bowl. Stir and let it sit for 10 minutes until it forms a gel. Meanwhile, grate 1 ¾ cups unpeeled yellow squash and squeeze out the water. Let the squash drain while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Mix 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar into 1 cup non-dairy milk to make vegan buttermilk. Let it sit for 5 minutes while it curdles. In a bowl, combine the buttermilk, flax gel, 3 Tbs. maple syrup, 3 Tbs. unsweetened peanut butter and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Mix everything until it is smooth. In a large bowl, combine 2 cups spelt flour, ¼ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup cane sugar, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. baking soda and 1 tsp. kosher salt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in the yellow squash. Spoon the batter into oiled muffin tins (this makes 18 muffins) and fill them ¾ of the way full. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the tins for 5-10 minutes and then transfer to a wire cooling rack until completely cool.
To make my Chai Spice Cookies
Mix 1 Tbs. ground flaxseed with 3 Tbs. warm water in a small bowl. Stir and let it sit for 10 minutes until it forms a gel. In a medium-sized bowl, combine 1 cup sugar, ½ cup brown sugar, 2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. ground ginger, 1 tsp. ground cardamom, ½ tsp. ground allspice, ½ tsp. ground nutmeg, ¼ tsp. ground cloves and 1/8 tsp. black pepper. Take 1/3 cup of the sugar/spice mixture and set it aside on a plate for later. In a large bowl, sift 2 cups spelt flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, ½ tsp. baking powder and ½ tsp. salt. Mix well until it’s well-combined. Add 1 cup vegan butter to the bowl with the sugar/spice mixture. Using a hand mixer, mix until the sugar and butter is combined, light and fluffy. Mix in the flax gel, 3 Tbs. non-dairy milk and 1 tsp. vanilla until it is smooth. Slowly add the flour mixture, about 1/3 at a time, to the wet ingredients and mix until it is all just combined into a dough.
Wet your hands a little bit and roll spoonfuls of the dough into little balls. The balls should be about 1-inch in size unless you want larger cookies. Roll each ball in the sugar/spice mixture you set aside before and place them on parchment paper-lined baking sheets about one inch apart. Using the back of the spoon or the bottom of a glass, lightly press the balls down into discs. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 14-16 minutes, turning the pans around halfway through. They should be golden brown and just starting to brown on the bottoms. They will still feel somewhat soft on top. They will harden as they cool. When they are done, remove them from the oven. Let them cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheets and then transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
Another delicious recipe is this one for Raspberry Jam Spelt Crumb Bars from one of my favorite restaurants, Peacefood Café. They are stuffed with jam and perfect buttery crumbs that melt in your mouth.
I hope this takes away some of the confusion about spelt flour. Once you start using it and get used to it, you can bake up lots of light, nutty baked goods that are not only delicious but good for you.
Image Source: Raspberry Jam Spelt Crumb Bars
Spelt is an ancient whole grain grown in many parts of the world.
It declined in popularity during the 19th century, but is now making a comeback as a health food.
Ancient grains like spelt are claimed to be more nutritious and healthier than modern grains.
This article takes a detailed look at spelt and its health effects, both good and bad.
What is Spelt?
Spelt is a type of grain that is strongly related to wheat. Its scientific name is Triticum spelta (1).
In fact, spelt is considered a distinct type of wheat. Other types of wheat include einkorn wheat, khorasan wheat and modern semi-dwarf wheat.
This is what whole spelt grains look like:
Since they are close relatives, spelt and wheat have similar nutritional profiles and both contain gluten. Spelt should therefore be avoided on a gluten-free diet (2, 3).
Bottom Line: Spelt is a type of wheat. Its nutrition content is very similar to wheat and it is high in gluten.
Spelt Nutrition Facts
Here's the nutrient breakdown for one cup or 194 grams, of cooked spelt (4):
- Manganese: 106 percent of the RDI.
- Phosphorous: 29 percent of the RDI.
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 25 percent of the RDI.
- Magnesium: 24 percent of the RDI.
- Zinc: 22 percent of the RDI.
- Iron: 18 percent of the RDI.
Additionally, spelt contains small amounts of calcium, selenium and vitamins B1, B6 and E. Like most whole grains, it is also high in carbs and an excellent source of dietary fiber.
Nutritionally, it is very similar to wheat. However, comparisons have shown it to be slightly higher in zinc and protein. About 80 percent of the protein in spelt is gluten (1).
Bottom Line: Spelt is high in carbs. It's also an excellent source of dietary fiber and contains some vitamins and minerals.
Whole Spelt is High in Carbs and Fiber
Spelt is mainly comprised of carbs, most of which is starch or long chains of glucose molecules (1).
Whole spelt is also a good source of fiber. Fiber helps slow down digestion and absorption, reducing blood sugar spikes.
High fiber intake has also been linked with a reduced risk of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes (5, 6, 7).
The fiber content of whole spelt is actually slightly lower than that of whole wheat, but they have similar amounts of soluble fiber (1, 8).
Both whole-grain spelt and whole-grain wheat have a moderate effect on blood sugar, when ranked on the glycemic index (GI).
On the other hand, refined spelt and wheat are both high-GI foods, as they cause a large and rapid spike in blood sugar levels (9, 10).
Bottom Line: Whole spelt is high in carbs and fiber and its effects on blood sugar are similar to wheat. However, refined spelt is low in fiber and can cause a big spike in blood sugar.
Does Spelt Have Any Health Benefits?
Whole grains, like whole spelt, are considered to be very healthy for most people.
They are an important source of carbs, protein, fiber and essential nutrients like iron and zinc.
People who eat the most whole grains have a lower risk of strokes, heart attacks, type 2 diabetes and some cancers (11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19).
They are also more likely to maintain a healthier weight and have better digestive health (20, 21, 22).
One study of 247,487 people found that those who ate the most whole grains were 14 percent less likely to have a stroke (11).
Similarly, a recent analysis of more than 14,000 people found the highest intakes of whole grains were associated with a 21 percent reduced risk of heart disease (12).
Another review showed that those who ate the most whole grains had a 32 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Refined grains did not show the same benefit (23).
Although most of these studies are observational, the benefits of whole grains are beginning to be backed by human clinical trials as well (24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30).
Bottom Line: Regularly consuming spelt or other whole grains could help protect against obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Spelt May be Harmful For Some People
Despite the health benefits of whole grains, spelt may be harmful for some people. This includes those who are gluten intolerant or have irritable bowel syndrome.
Gluten Intolerance and Wheat Allergy
Gluten is the name for the mixture of gliadin and glutenin proteins found in grains like wheat, spelt, barley and rye.
It can cause problems for people who are intolerant to gluten, such as people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (31, 32, 33).
For people with celiac disease, gluten will trigger an autoimmune reaction, which causes inflammation in the small intestine. This serious condition can only be treated with a lifelong gluten-free diet.
Left untreated, celiac disease can cause deficiencies in iron, calcium, vitamin B12 and folate. It's also been linked to an increased risk of developing bowel cancer, schizophrenia and epilepsy (34, 35, 36, 37).
People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may experience a negative effect when they eat gluten, usually in the form of digestive problems (38).
It's estimated that about 1 in 141 people in the U.S. has celiac disease. A similar number of people are thought to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (39, 40).
People who have a wheat allergy may also be sensitive to spelt. Wheat allergy occurs when there is an immune response to the proteins in wheat (41, 42).
Bottom Line: Spelt contains gluten. It is unsuitable for people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or a wheat allergy.
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Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gut disorder that can cause stomach pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. About 14 percent of the U.S. population has IBS (43).
One known trigger of IBS is a group of short-chain carbs known as FODMAPs. Like wheat, spelt contains a significant amount of FODMAPs, which can trigger IBS symptoms in susceptible people (44, 45, 46, 47).
The way foods are processed can also affect the amount of FODMAPs present.
For example, traditional bread-making with fermentation can reduce FODMAPs. In modern bread-making, the FODMAP content remains the same (48).
However, spelt flour is actually lower in FODMAPS than modern wheat flour (49).
Some spelt products, including sourdough bread, have been labeled as “safe" by the Monash Low-FODMAP system.
Here are some tips for including spelt in your diet if you have IBS:
- Read the label: Make sure the label says 100 percent spelt flour or spelt bread.
- Choose sourdough: Pick a sourdough bread to eat.
- Limit serving size: Do not eat more than three slices (26 grams each) per sitting.
Bottom Line: Spelt contains FODMAPs, which can cause problems for people with IBS. Fermenting spelt to make sourdough bread can lower the amount of FODMAPs present.
Antinutrients in Spelt
Like most plant foods, grains also contain some antinutrients.
Antinutrients are substances that can interfere with the digestion and absorption of other nutrients (50).
Phytic acid reduces the absorption of minerals such as iron and zinc (51).
For most people on a well-balanced diet, this is not a problem. Yet it can be a concern for vegetarians and vegans, who get most of their minerals from plant foods.
Like wheat, spelt does contain a significant amount of phytic acid. However, the way it is processed can affect the phytic acid content.
Traditional methods like soaking, sprouting and fermenting can significantly reduce the phytic acid content of grains (52).
Bottom Line: Spelt contains phytic acid, which can reduce the absorption of minerals. Soaking, sprouting and fermenting grains can reduce the phytic acid content.
Lectins are a group of proteins found in many foods, including grains (53).
Some people think lectins should be avoided, since a high intake has been linked with damage to the gut lining, digestive discomfort and autoimmune diseases (54).
However, most lectins are destroyed during cooking and processing (55, 56).
As with phytic acid, the traditional processing of grains through soaking, sprouting and fermentation significantly reduces the lectin content (57).
The amount of lectins you're exposed to from spelt is unlikely to cause harm.
Bottom Line: All grains contain high amounts of lectins. However, most of these lectins are eliminated during cooking or processing.
Is Spelt More Nutritious Than Wheat?
Whole spelt and whole wheat have very similar nutrition profiles.
Both whole grains provide carbs, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients (1).
However, some studies have shown subtle differences between them.
For example, the mineral content of spelt is higher than wheat. Spelt contains more manganese, zinc and copper (58, 59).
One study also found that spelt contained less of the antinutrient phytic acid (60).
Bottom Line: Spelt and wheat have very similar nutrition profiles. However, spelt may contain slightly more minerals and less phytic acid.
How to Add Spelt to Your Diet
You can add spelt to your diet using whole grains or spelt flour. If you're using whole grains, be sure to wash them thoroughly and soak them overnight.
You can then use them as a substitute for other carbs, like rice or potatoes, in many dishes. A few popular ideas are spelt risotto or spelt broths and stews.
It's also easy to substitute spelt flour for wheat flour in most recipes, as they are very similar. If you are baking, you can substitute about half your usual flour for spelt flour and get a similar result.
You can buy spelt flour in stores or online.
Bottom Line: Spelt can be used as a substitute for other carbs. You can try cooking the whole grains or using spelt flour instead of wheat flour.
Take Home Message
Spelt is an ancient whole grain that can be a nutritious addition to the diet.
However, it contains gluten and is not a good option for people with gluten intolerance or a wheat allergy.
It's also not clear whether there is any benefit to consuming spelt over wheat.
That being said, it is always a good idea to choose whole grains instead of their refined counterparts.
This article was reposted from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
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