Here’s everything you need to know about the ancient grain spelt, brought to you by Farmdrop’s chef Alice. It’s easy to go a bit nuts for this deliciously nutty grain; chucking it in stews, using it in wholesome salads and baking indulgent sweet treats with its flour.
Described as an ancient grain, spelt is rich in history. The forefather of wheat that’s raved about by top chefs, it features in the Bible, was offered to the goddess of harvest in Greece and was a staple crop of Roman times. It is thought to have originally been cultivated in Iran and was one of the first wheats used to make bread. Considered a staple food of the working classes throughout history, it’s had a revival in recent years, even being hailed as the ‘caviar of cereals’. Chefs such as Nigel Slater and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall have been keen advocates of the grain, promoting it for it’s versatility, rich nutty flavour and nutritional benefits.
‘The champion of British spelt’, Sharpham Park has played an important role in raising awareness. They grow and mill spelt to produce a wide range of products, including flour, cereals and grains at their organic farm near Glastonbury in Somerset. Founder Roger Saul moved from fashion to food, swapping life as the founder of fashion label Mulberry, for organic farming and he is a passionate advocate for growing this ancient grain in Britain. Saul began farming spelt after a conversation with his sister, who at the time had bowel cancer. She extolled the nutritional virtues of the grain and her doctor advised eating it because of its natural digestive properties, one of which is that it is easier to digest than wheat.
Spelt is not only great for the digestion but is also packed with nutrients. It contains higher levels of magnesium, zinc and iron than wheat, and is packed full of fibre. The unprocessed nature of the grain is thought to be the reason behind this. Spelt grows five feet high; taller than its wheat relation, which is grown to a height that is more accessible for machines. Wheat husks have been bred to be easily removed by machines, which makes them less protective of the nutrients inside them. Spelt husks however hold on tight, which not only allows for its kernel to grow more delicate and rich in nutrients but also protects it from insects and disease, making it ideal for organic farming.
There has been much excitement in the office as we’ve started to stock Sharpham Park’s porridge flakes, flours and grains. The porridge flakes have proved to be very popular amongst the breakfast crowd, adding more texture than your average oats, whilst its grain form has been a joy for lunch salads. The grains are delightfully nutty and great at soaking up dressings. One salad that’s proved popular for team lunches is a warm spelt salad with roasted fennel and butternut squash. As the nights draw in and the first of the leaves start to fall, this salad seems appropriate: a hearty bowl of goodness, set in autumnal colours.
The low levels of gluten found in spelt means that it makes a great alternative to wheat flour for those that have a wheat intolerance. It is worth noting though that it’s still not suitable for celiacs. When used as a substitute to wheat flour, spelt stands out with its depth of flavour. I used spelt flour in this cookie recipe and found that the naturally nutty taste really compliments the dark chocolate and walnuts. A freshly baked batch of these was wolfed up in seconds by the Farmdrop team, which is always a good sign! Grab the recipe for these easy peasy spelt cookies.
Other uses for spelt:
- Speltotto: a term coined by Hugh F-W: use spelt in place of rice for a risotto. Healthier and nuttier!
- Spelt bread: good for those with a wheat intolerance; crumbly and nutty texture
- Spelt soups: chuck some grains into your soups to bulk them up with goodness
- Spelt pizza: makes a lovely, crispy base
- Spelt cakes: Use 50:50 with plain flour for added flavour and texture