Einkorn vs spelt – which is better? In this article, we explore the differences between einkorn and spelt, and compare them with modern wheat. Wheat is such a staple in the modern diet. Aside from the obvious breads and other baked goods that are made with flour, it is also found in things you wouldn’t ever expect like salad dressings, chewing gum, candy, and store bought sauces. With the world getting increasingly health-conscious and concerned about gluten intolerance and celiac disease, it’s no wonder that people are curious about the available alternatives for modern wheat. But there are a lot of questions, and, in true internet fashion, there are more answers than you probably want to sort through.
Einkorn and spelt are both ancient varieties of wheat, so what’s the difference? Which one tastes better or do they taste the same? Which is better for you? How do you use the different grains? Is one better for gluten-intolerance than the other? Finding answers can be tricky–requiring time most people don’t have. Here we will explore all of those questions, discover the answers, and compare the pros and cons to discover which grain is better suited for your needs.
Explore the Rich History of Einkorn and Spelt
Both spelt and einkorn are ancient grains, meaning they originated in the very distant past. Ancient history is widely considered to be the time period between 6,000 BC and 650 AD. So, in order for a grain to be considered an ancient grain, there must be evidence that the grain was used during this time period. Let’s see if Spelt and Einkorn make the cut.
Spelt has an expansive history–known for its nutritional properties, accessibility, and affordability around the time of the Roman empire and before. Some experts claim it was in use as far back as 7,000 BC. Although spelt was also exchanged for a grain that was easier to harvest, spelt didn’t really disappear from public consumption. At least, it didn’t as early or for as long as einkorn.
Spelt first reappeared in the United States clear back in the late 1800s, brought over by Swedish immigrants. Its use is also more widespread than einkorn–seen in Europe, Asia, and Africa for use in breads, pizza crusts, alcoholic beverages, etc.–and is generally better known and accepted as a healthier alternative to our modern wheat. Read more about the history of spelt.
Einkorn was found to be a staple in the diet of humans who lived around 7500 BC. That’s even more ancient than ancient history! So, although both grains are very old, einkorn is the older of the two by more than 3 thousand years. Einkorn is widely acknowledged to be the very first variety of wheat that men consumed and is believed to be one of the founder crops that allowed human beings to give up their nomadic lifestyle in exchange for a more stable and domestic one. It was among the first domesticated grains ever!
Einkorn was first used in the Middle East, but there are also records of it being used by the Greeks and the Celts, which goes to show how widespread it was. It was discovered in the stomach of the European mummy Otzi, whom experts estimate lived around 3,300 BC. Read more about einkorn and Otzi the Iceman. Despite its popularity, Einkorn fell out of use a long time ago in exchange for grains that were easier to harvest by hand or with primitive tools, and one of the only reasons it was still grown anywhere was as feed for livestock. Einkorn wasn’t reintroduced as an option for human consumption until much later and has only recently become available for widespread purchase. Without the genetic tampering and hybridization that modern day wheat has gone through, einkorn wheat berries have stayed nutrient-dense, genetically pure, and truly simple–making it better for our bodies and easier to digest. Read more about the history of Einkorn.
Uncover the Health Benefits of Einkorn and Spelt
The kind of nutrients found in einkorn vs. spelt are going to be quite similar; although, einkorn has more nutrition packed in per unit than spelt does. Both einkorn and spelt are rich in nutrients responsible for the health of our bones, muscles, metabolisms, kidneys, hearts, cells, brains, nervous systems, thyroids, immune systems, eyes, and skin. Some of these nutrients include the following:
- Protein- builds and repairs muscles and bones as well as makes and regulates hormones.
- Fiber- aids in digestion and helps keep blood sugar in check.
- Vitamins A and B- responsible for eye, brain, and reproductive system development and health.
- Iron- critical in the production of red blood cells.
- Phosphorus- contributes to the health of bones and organs.
- Zinc- helpful in strengthening the immune system.
- Antioxidants- help prevent many diseases by protecting cells from harm caused by oxidation.
- Manganese- important for digesting carbs and helps prevent diabetes.
Basically, every system in our bodies benefits from the nutrients provided by these grains.
Despite the nutritional similarities, the chromosomal makeup of the two grains is markedly different. Due to the fact that spelt has been used and altered in much the same way modern wheat has, it’s quite similar to wheat, genetically. The complexity of wheat is part of why it is hard to digest, and spelt shares much of that complexity. Einkorn, however, is the most primitive form of wheat on earth. Without the tampering and altering that spelt and wheat have gone through, einkorn has remained very genetically simple–only 14 chromosomes compared to the 42 of spelt and modern wheat. Many claim that einkorn is easier for them to digest and they get more nutrients from einkorn, as a result.
While einkorn vs. spelt have many of the same nutrients to some degree, what may be surprising is the vast difference between whole einkorn wheat berries and spelt berries vs their respective milled flours. Experts claim that once the berries go through the mill and are sifted, they lose up to 40% of their nutritional value! That’s not to say that the flour has no benefit to your body, just that it has significantly less than the whole grain.
There are also studies being done on the benefits of sprouting the berries before use. The Whole Grains Council states, “The biochemical changes that take place [during sprouting] impact macro- and micronutrients, making most of them more bioavailable – both for the budding plant and for us” (wholegrainscouncil). Sprouting grains before use takes more time and energy, but perhaps it may be worth it. Fermenting the flour from both grains to produce sourdough breads also brings about a similar result. Despite what you may assume, sourdough doesn’t actually have to taste that sour. Depending on how long it has been fermenting, a sourdough starter can actually be used to make delicious baked goods that don’t taste overly strong or unpleasantly sour. Grains are easier to digest once sprouted or fermented, and, therefore, it is easier for our bodies to make use of the available nutrients.
So, which grain is better for you? There is a lot of crossover between the two–not surprising considering they are varieties of the same grain. However, einkorn is a more pure variety, so it’s easier on our digestive systems, and it contains more dense nutrition than spelt. Perhaps Einkorn has a healthy edge on spelt, but, in the end, does it really matter? You can’t really go wrong eating either one, as they both provide essential nutrients we need for our bodies to function well.
Discover the Versatility of Einkorn Wheat Berries and Spelt Grain
Einkorn and spelt can both be used in so many ways. The milled flour can be used just like any flour you can purchase at the grocery store. Einkorn flour tends to act a little differently than modern wheat flour. The rise may not be as high, and the dough tends to be more wet (requiring less liquid than regular wheat flour), resulting in a stickier dough or batter and a denser finished product. It tastes very similar to whole wheat flour with just a touch more depth and nutiness. Spelt flour is also very similar to wheat, but it is a bit sweeter, making it an excellent choice for any baked good. Spelt also has an advantage of being able to replace wheat in any recipe with a 1:1 ratio.
The berries of both grains can also be cooked and used in many ways other than milling them into flour. Cooked with water, they can be turned into a nutritious breakfast cereal or used as a replacement for rice or pasta. Toasted in a pan, they can add a fabulous crunch to any salad. They can also be added into your favorite homemade granola recipe, granola bars, or protein bars. The possibilities are endless.
Due to its similarity to the flour we are used to cooking with, it could be said that spelt does a little better and is easier to work with than einkorn. However, there are so many recipes that have been developed specifically for einkorn flour, that no one who uses it feels they are really limited in any significant way. With just a little experimenting, you can easily convert your favorite family recipes into an einkorn-friendly version that hits just the right spot, or you can skip the work and find a similar recipe that is already tried and true.
Growing Conditions and Sustainability: Comparing the
Environmental Impact of Einkorn vs. Spelt Farming
Due to its purity and lack of tampering, Einkorn has traits which make it incredibly desirable for sustainability. Researchers from the University of Maryland did a study on the genetic differences between modern wheat and einkorn, because (unlike the modern variety) einkorn wheat is incredibly resilient when it comes to disease and weather that could destroy a less hardy crop. Part of that is due to the hull that surrounds the einkorn wheat berries during their growth, which was bred out of modern wheat for easier threshing. This hull is also present in spelt grain.
Another benefit of the protective hull is that it makes farming organically much easier, as the hull protects the grain from pests and chemicals in the air. Organic farming is known to have a much smaller carbon footprint than traditional farming, so any grain that is friendly to that process gets a big thumbs up from the environment.
There are a few ancient wheat varieties (including einkorn and spelt) that can adapt to allow for fall planting. While planting in the spring is more common, there is a distinct advantage of having access to all of the moisture from the winter months that crops planted after the snow is gone miss out on. We like planting fall spelt on our family farm. Planting spelt in the fall requires less irrigation because the fall-planted grains mature earlier in the summer and no longer need water. Fall-planted crops also tend to produce fewer weeds because the grain quickly begins growing after coming out of dormancy from winter and this gives it a head start on the weeds, which have died in the winter and must resprout from seed in the spring.
One element of farming that perhaps not everyone is aware of is the necessity of crop rotation. Crop rotation is an essential practice on our farm. Without it, weeds would take over and our soil would be depleted. That’s because different crops require specific nutrients from the soil. Growing certain crops often depletes the nutrients in the soil, and it takes time for those nutrients to be replenished. Rotating which crops are grown in a specific spot helps the soil remain healthy. Ancient grains require less nitrogen and are more efficient at using the nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil. Fields that contain ancient grains are left with more nutrients after harvest. Comparing einkorn vs spelt, spelt drains the nutrients from the soil more than einkorn and other ancient wheat varieties, but it still requires less than modern wheat.
Digestibility and Gluten Sensitivity: Understanding the Differences
Between Einkorn and Spelt for Individuals with Dietary Restrictions
Gluten gets a bad rap because there are so many people whose bodies have trouble digesting it. However, gluten isn’t necessarily bad for you. Although it doesn’t in itself contain essential nutrients, it is only harmful to those with an allergy or celiac disease. The benefits of gluten are mostly textural and visual–providing breads and cakes with the spring and sponginess that we are so fond of, as well as binding together ingredients to make food less crumbly or sandy.
Although einkorn and spelt are both varieties of wheat, they have very different levels of gluten. Spelt has significantly more gluten than einkorn, making it a superb healthy alternative for those with no trouble digesting gluten and who are looking for that rise and spring in their baking. Some people with wheat allergies even claim that spelt doesn’t bother them, due to the differences in the genetic makeup of spelt gluten vs. wheat gluten. That being said, it is not a good option for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Einkorn, on the other hand, is great for many people with an intolerance, as it has less gluten with a significantly different molecular makeup when compared to other wheats. So, if you struggle with eating gluten, in the case of einkorn vs. spelt, einkorn is the safer option. As always with a food allergy, it is best to proceed under the direction of a healthcare professional. Visit our store to purchase either of these grains and explore a variety of other high-quality ancient grains.
When it comes down to it, the answer to the question of einkorn vs. spelt is that it depends on what you’re looking for. Both grains have a better environmental impact and are more sustainable than modern wheat. They are both excellent sources of valuable nutrition our bodies need, and they are both incredibly versatile when it comes to cooking. They both taste very similar to modern wheat, and you can find a plethora of recipes for tasty meals and treats using either one. Do you prefer a deep nutty flavor with denser nutrition and less gluten? Go with einkorn. If you love a hint of sweetness with plenty of rise? Give spelt a try. Do you think both have a place in your kitchen? So do we! You can’t go wrong with either of these ancient grains.