What is spelt?
Spelt is an ancient grain native to Mesopotamia that has been around for thousands of years. More recently, its popularity has grown in Italy as well. Not only does it have a great taste, but it also boasts many health benefits. It is rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Spelt is a good alternative to refined grains and can easily be added to the diet.
Contrary to popular belief, spelt does not refer to one type of grain, but is often used to describe three different grains:
- Monococcus: Small spelt, scientifically known as Triticum monococcum
- Ear: Medium spelt, scientifically known as Triticum dicoccum
- Ear: Large spelt, scientifically known as Triticum spelta
The type most commonly found in Europe is spelt. It is sold dry and prepared by cooking it in water until soft and chewy. Before it is cooked it has an ear similar to wheat but closer to barley. The light brown-colored grain is small in size and has a substantial outer layer of bran.
It is an excellent grain to alternate in the diet with popular grains such as: rice, quinoa, buckwheat and barley. It can be eaten alone or as an ingredient in dishes such as stews, salads and soups. It can also be added to fruit and consumed as muesli for breakfast.
Spelt is an extremely nutritious grain. It is an excellent source of protein, fiber, and nutrients such as magnesium (needed for strong bones, optimal immunity, healthy nerves and muscle function, and to maintain a regular heartbeat), zinc (essential for a healthy immune system and wound healing, as well as for breaking down carbohydrates during digestion), and some B vitamins, such as vitamin B3 (niacin), which helps break down and convert food into energy. It is a much healthier alternative to white rice or other refined grains.
Fifty grams of organic whole spelt contain:
- Calories: 170
- Carbohydrates: 34 grams
- Fats: 1 gram
- Fiber: 5 grams
- Proteins: 6 grams
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 20% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 15% of the RDI
- Zinc: 15% of the RDI
- Iron: 4% of the RDI
It also helps regulate blood glucose levels and is linked to improved insulin sensitivity.
Modern diets are generally low in fiber. Just one cup of whole-wheat spelt can provide 20% of the recommended daily fiber intake. Health benefits of a fiber-rich diet include, among others, a minor risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Fiber has also been shown to help prevent spikes in blood sugar levels and may even help reduce total and LDL cholesterol, as well as improve digestive health. First, some types of fiber can benefit the inestinal bacterial flora and prevent or resolve constipation.
Aloe supplements can also be useful for improving bowel function.
Whole grains contain a wide range of antioxidant compounds, such as polyphenols, carotenoids, phytosterols, and selenium. All three grains associated with spelt (emmer, emmer monococcus, and emmer) are extremely good sources of polyphenols, carotenoids, and selenium. Several studies have established that long-term consumption of diets rich in plant polyphenols can protect against diseases, including some cancers, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Spelt is an excellent source of protein. Its protein intake is similar to quinoa but higher than brown rice and whole wheat. When combined with other plant-based foods such as legumes, spelt offers a complete protein source. This means it provides adequate amounts of essential amino acids important for health.
Studies have shown that high-protein foods help prolong satiety. This is partly because protein causes a reduction in hunger hormones. A 12-week study found that when 19 overweight women followed a high-protein diet, they ate up to 440 fewer calories per day and lost up to 4.9 kg.
In addition, getting enough protein is essential to increase muscle mass and provide particular benefits for heart health. This is mainly because a high-protein diet helps reduce blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, two major risk factors for heart disease.
Uses in cooking
Spelt is generally sold dry and cooked in water until the grains become soft and chewy. It is usually available in whole, pearl and semi-pearl varieties. Wholemeal spelt contains more fiber and retains all its nutrients. Semi-pearled spelt has some of the bran removed, while pearl varieties have no bran at all.
The only advantage of pearl or semi-pearled spelt is that it cooks faster and does not require soaking overnight like the whole-wheat version. Pearl spelt cooks faster, in about 15 to 20 minutes. Semi-pearled (without soaking) cooks in about 25 minutes, and whole grain varieties take about 30-40 minutes (plus overnight soaking).
Spelt is also available in different bran grades: long, medium, or broken, and is used in the preparation of salads, soups, or at breakfast as muesli or a substitute for oats in porridge.
Spelt is wheat; therefore, it naturally contains gluten. This means that it is not suitable for people with celiac disease. Spelt is often thought to contain lower levels of gluten than modern wheat, and many people think that ancient grains are safer for people with gluten-related conditions. If spelt is soaked overnight and sprouted, it is more tolerable and easier to digest for anyone with gluten sensitivity.