Spelt is a very old cereal and the forerunner of wheat. The term farina (flour) in Italian comes from this cereal that in the past replaced wheat.
Unlike wheat, emmer underwent no selection and genetic improvement, keeping its characteristics unchanged over time as well as its high genetic variability.
It is for this reason that it is better tolerated than wheat by certain individuals, not celiacs, but sensitive to gluten. The cultivation of emmer was widespred in some valleys of the Apennines and in some other Italian mountainous areas right from the start of the 20th century; then it almost disappeared.
Emmer is an autumn-winter cereal that in our areas is sown in September-October and harvested in July – August. The yield in the field is much lower than wheat that, because of the selection of increasingly more productive varieties, now exceeds 600 kg / hectare.
On the Apennines, the yield of emmer is between 200 and 350 kg / hectare, with great variability according to the soil and the weather during the year.
“SPELT” is the name generically given to THREE DIFFERENT VARIETIES of Triticum, also called dressed wheats.
Let’s discover them.
EMMER or medium spelt (Triticum dicoccum)
Emmer is the most widely spread and cultivated species in Italy where different populations can be found according to cultivation areas. It is widespread on the Apennines and particularly in Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Abruzzo, Molise and Lazio. Historically it has been one of the cereals that have contributed most to feed our nation, starting from the Roman Empire when it was the base of the troops’ diet!
Every spikelet making up the ear contains two grains (or caryopses). Yields vary between 200 and 350 kg / hectare.
Emmer supplies fibre, protein, mineral salts (it contains 42mg of phosphorus and 440mg of potassium in 100g of edible product. Source Inran) and has a low glycaemic index.
Extremely versatile, it is excellent to prepare soups and farrotti in winter and salads and cold dishes in summer. The flour is good for bread, sweets, pizza or focaccia; semolina makes excellent pasta. Traditionally it is consumed both pearled (no need to soak) and dehusked (that is whole, always with no soaking, just cooking it a bit longer).
EINKORN WHEAT or small spelt (Triticum monococcum)
Einkorn wheat is the oldest, the first form of “wheat” cultivated by man, it is estimated to be over 10,000 years old! Each spikelet making up the ear contains just one small grain and this makes it the wheat with the lowest yield among dressed wheats.
Today it is the least cultivated species in Italy, because of the low yield and high processing costs.
From a nutritional point of view, einkorn wheat is particularly rich in proteins, antioxidants and carotenoids. It has a very low gluten content (3%) and research is assessing its properties for consumption by sensitive or intolerant people. Particularly suitable for children’s diet.
SPELT or large spelt (Triticum spelta)
Spelt is not particularly suitable to the Italian climate. It is the most productive species and reaches the largest dimensions both in size and ear. Italian environmental conditions are not suitable. In fact, most of the spelt on our tables today comes from Eastern and Central Europe and from France. It is less rustic and adaptable to poor soils than emmer wheat.
Spelt makes excellent flour and is particularly suitable for sweets, biscuits and bakery products.