All wheat is not the same.
What we now call wheat is actually the product of hybridization and cross breeding of wheat species to increase crop yields, ease harvesting, decrease costs and scale up production. As a result, where there were once just 5 or so species of wheat, there are now literally thousands, which genetically, may be virtually unrecognizable to ancient grains from which they are descended.
Allow me to introduce these so-called ancient grains to you now:
- Einkorn Wheat (14 chromosomes / Diploid): The first known wheat ever cultivated by humans (circa 3300 BC in Europe) is Einkorn Wheat, which has just 14 chromosomes (diploid) and has a hull. Einkorn has great flavor, and has higher lipid, protein, vit E, lutein and carotenoids that modern bread wheat, and may be better tolerated by those with gluten sensitivities. (But not Celiacs, who should avoid all wheat, ancient or otherwise).
- Emmer and Duram Wheat (28 chromosomes / Tetrapoloid): About 10,000 years ago, Emmer Wheat appeared in the Middle East, as a product of natural cross breeding of Einkorn with wild goat grass (Aegelops speltoides). Emmer is a hulled wheat, has a lower glycemic index and is higher in protein and anti-oxidents than typical bread wheat. Some varieties may be lower in minerals than bread flour. Durum wheat is a domesticated form of emmer used for pasta and is a naked wheat (no hull).
- Ancient Bread Wheat and Spelt (42 Chromosomes / Hexaploid): Sometime before biblical times, it is thought that Emmer bred naturally with a durum wheat grass called Aegrolops squarosa to yield Triticium aestivum, a higher yield and better baking species that we call “bread wheat”. It is a naked wheat (no hull). Spelt is another hexaploid species that probably formed a little later than bread wheat, and has a hull. Spelt has similar gluten, and is higher in protein, lipids, and unsaturated fatty acids and minerals when compared to bread flour. It is lower in fiber than bread wheat, and I am told that it does not make as good a bread.
The hexaploid bread flour species are genetically pliable, having 42 chromosomes with thousands of genes available for natural selection and breeding by man. Still, by the mid 18th century, only 5 species of bread flour were being grown in Europe, and until the mid-20th century, most bread flour was pretty similar.
But beginning in the latter part of the 20th century, aggressive modern breeding practices began that created literally thousands of different varieties of hexaploid bread and durum wheat. Much of the breeding was done to improve crop yields and battle environmental scourges such as drought and pests. Some have made wheat easier to process, but dependent on man-made assistance from pesticides and irrigation. Still other breeding may have been done to improve the nutritional content of wheat. But virtually none of the new wheat varieties was ever tested in humans before introduction into the food supply.
While we know how these species perform on the farm and in the wild, what we don’t necessarily know is how they may affect the humans who ingest them. The question now being asked by many is this – In selecting for things like crop yield, harvest ease and bakeability, have we created wheat species with genetic and nutritional profiles that are unfriendly to our bodies? We are not just talking gluten sensitivity here. We are talking glycemic index, fat and protein content, vitamin and mineral profile. Not to mention the effects of the additives food manufacturers add to baked goods to improve shelf life, taste and other qualities that will increase their appeal to consumers. Many of us are asking if the symptoms we experience such as bloating, weight gain, skin rashes, headaches, allergies, joint pains – in the absence of identifiable disease – may in fact be the result of sensitivities to the proteins found in modern wheat.
Not everyone is waiting for answers. Instead, they are turning back to the ancient grains nature created before modern man got his mitts into Triticum’s genetic pool. American farmers are belatedly joining their Eupropean counterparts in growing Einkorn, Emmer and Spelt, as the demand from consumers for these grains begins to rise. Some of us are enjoying using Farro – the wheat berries of Einkorn, Spelt and Emmer – in salads and side dishes. Others are using the flours of these wheat species to make their own breads and pastas. The anecdotal evidence seems mixed on whether or not there are really any health benefits to using ancient wheats. We know they cannot be used by those with true gluten allergy.
My interest in the ancient grains comes from reading Wheat Belly, cardiologist William Davis’s program for eliminating wheat from the diet to lose weight. I’m still reading it, and have not tried his program – if I do, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, like many, I see no reason not to try these ancient grains. Farro for sure has already won me over.
This recipe is my attempt at seeing what kind of no-knead bread I can coax from Einkorn flour.
EINKORN NO KNEAD ARTISAN BREAD
Readers of this blog know well my enthusiasm for Jim Lahey’s No knead bread making techniques, made famous by Mark Bittman of the NY Times. (If you don’t, stop right now and go to my previous posts about this technique, and learn it first before trying this recipe.) For this Einkorn bread loaf, I used a recipe from Jovial Foods, makers and distributor of Einkorn Flour.
It was an interesting experience. Einkorn flour has an almost baby powder-like silkiness and consistency, and is clearly a more moist and fatty flour than standard issue modern bread flour. One needs to use 5 cups of flour to get a similar size loaf to Lahey’s, and this flour ain’t cheap. The dough is much stickier and harder to work with, so make sure your board is well floured and use a dough scraper rather than your hands when forming the bread round.
The Jovial bakers do not use Lahey’s cloth technique (probably because the dough is so wet), or let the dough rise a second time before baking. I did both, and next time will avoid since it really was a mess, and the Jovial chefs state it is not necessary.
First and foremost, there is no such thing as a not delicious home made bread, and this was no exception. The bread is flavorful, moist and dense with a hard crust, and it is just lovely toasted.
But I have to say that it disappoints when compared to the incredible results I get with Lahey’s technique using regular flour. The crumb structure is more cake than bread-like, and I miss the big air pockets and incredible crunch that regular bread flour gives.
I’m going to give it one more try, avoiding the second rise and cutting back a bit on water (which I admit I upped a bit to get the dough to look more like Lahey’s.) The recipe below is exactly as I will make it next.
EINKORN NO KNEAD ARTISAN BREAD
- 5 cups (600 g) of Jovial Einkorn Flour
- ¼ teaspoon (1 g) dry active yeast
- 1 teaspoon (6 g) sea salt
- 1¾ cups (410 g) of warm water
- Whisk flour, salt and yeast together in a large mixing bowl (Do not use a glass bowl, as the dough will darken if exposed to light).
- Add water and combine using a wooden spoon or spatula (dough will be wet).
- When the flour is incorporated, push down sides of dough and flatten the top.
- Cover the bowl with a large plate and let rise for 12-14 hours.
- In the last half hour of the rise, preheat a covered ceramic or cast iron Ditch Oven in the oven to 500°F.
- Turn out the dough on a heavily floured work surface. Using a dough scraper, fold the dough ala’ Lahey (See video here), nudging and tucking the dough into around shape.
- Plop the dough right into the pot, cover, lower the heat to 450 degrees fahrenheit and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes to darken the crust.
- Lift the loaf out of the dish and place on a cooling rack.
- Let cool for at least one hour before slicing.
More Einkorn Links