dinkel (Germany), farro (Italy), epeautre (France)
(Triticum spelta – Family Gramineae)
Spelt is a member of the grass family of grains, and was the “staff of life” in the Middle East and Europe. It is the earliest known form of bread wheat and thought to have appeared about 9,000 years ago, a few thousand years before the grain that led to the modern version of wheat. As with most other grains, spelt is believed to have originated in southwest Asia, in the Fertile Crescent; and, as civilization spread, the grain went with it. Spelt is a rich source of nutrients; and its deeper, richer colour and flavour give a more pronounced nuttier taste to foods than those of other wheats. It also has a fragile gluten content, making it easier to digest, especially by those who are wheat-sensitive. When something is difficult to digest, it begins to compromise the immune system. Those in such a state do find that spelt is easier to manage than wheat. There is another plus for spelt. Because of its hard hull, there is no need for pesticides, as insects cannot penetrate it. Spelt fell into disfavour during the Industrial Revolution. As more people moved into the cities, the burden of food production fell heavily on the remaining farmers. Since spelt has a husk that must be mechanically removed, it meant more time and effort to grow this grain. Farmers opted to grow wheat, which was much easier to work with and more convenient to grow. In Germany, the name for spelt is “dinkel” and was the basis for the names of such towns as Dinkelsbühl, Dinkelhausen, and Dinkelrode. In fact, the town of Dinkelsbühl has a museum devoted entirely to the grain; and, in the city park, there is a life-size monument of a farmer holding a sheath of spelt.