Every day, new health concerns become an issue and food is always a critical factor. As more Americans shun refined white carbohydrates, they are looking towards other, healthier alternatives. Most immediately turn to whole wheat flour; however, spelt flour is an overlooked option. Learn exactly what spelt flour is and whether whole wheat or spelt is better.
Wheat is a type of grain that has existed for thousands of years and is the main ingredient in everything from cereal to vodka. There are many types of wheat classified by species, content and harvest season. The most popular cultivated species are durum, einkorn, emmer, spelt and common wheat, which is the type of wheat used as whole wheat flour.
Spelt, originally from Iran has existed since Biblical times. Most breads were made from spelt during the Middle Ages in Europe and early 1900s in the United States because it did not require a lot of fertiliser and was easier to grow.
The first evidence of common wheat can be traced back to 6700 B.C. in ancient Iraq. England and the rest of Europe began to use wheat around 1200 A.D. and it was later introduced to America by Christopher Columbus.
Technically speaking, spelt is a hybrid of wheat and is often commonly called a specie of wheat. Both spelt and common wheat are whole grains belonging to the plant family of Triticum. The wheat background makes them easy flour substitutes for one another and is often used as an alternative to refined white flour. They also both contain the proper amount of gluten necessary for foods such as bread, muffins, cookies, pizza and even pasta.
Despite coming from the same family, since spelt is a hybrid (a greater mix of variability in genes), spelt contains different nutritional values. Spelt has fewer calories and 10 to 20 per cent more protein than wheat flour. Also, many people with wheat allergy find themselves able to tolerate wheat. In terms of taste, spelt has a distinct chewy consistency with a strong nutty flavour.
Wheat flour, however, has more fibre than spelt, which many people find easier to digest. The gluten in wheat flour is also far more resilient than spelt. It requires a lot of kneading to break down and there's less risk of over-kneading, which can often result in an unpleasant "toughness" to the food. As for taste, wheat flour offers an earthy flavour but it is far milder than spelt, which may be an easier option for people interested in switching from white flour to whole grain flour. It is important to note, wheat flour is available under many names but to receive the healthy nutrients, it is essential to make sure it is 100 per cent whole wheat flour.
In terms of vitamins and minerals, both spelt and whole wheat flour provide similar nutrients. Spelt has 50 per cent more B3 vitamins but whole wheat has 50 per cent more folate. Spelt contains more potassium but whole wheat has a bit more calcium; and both contain similar amounts of iron, magnesium and manganese. It is best to treat these two flour options as nutritionally similar and great alternatives to refined white flour.
- The New Book of Whole Grains; Marlene Bumgarner; 1997