Friday, December 21, 2012

Some Notes about SPELT.

According to the Ontario, Canada, Ministry of Agriculture, “Spelt is a species of wheat that has been grown since 5000 BC. Spelt, emmer and eincorn are considered to be "ancient" wheat species, since there has been very little breeding of these crops. All three are covered wheat species, which means the hull remains attached to the kernel after harvest, similar to barley.  Spelt was also called ‘dinkle’ by some early farmers.  In the early 1900’s there was up to 500,000 acres grown in the USA.” 
With the development of the combine, Spelt, requiring an extra step to remove the hulls, was replaced by uncovered wheat in many areas.  However, in recent years, it has become a major cash crop, especially for organic and artisanal small grain growers.

There are both spring and fall seeded varieties of spelt, but most spelt is fall-seeded, and most varieties are awnless. Common spelt is susceptible to leaf rust, fusarium, powdery mildew, and loose smut similar to wheat. But in most years diseases have not been a serious problem on Ontario organic farms. Spelt is tall, with moderately weak straw, and is later maturing than most wheat varieties.

Spelt requires about 25-50% less nitrogen than wheat. Phosphorous and potassium requirements are similar to wheat or barley.   Recommended seeding rates are as high as 160-180 lb/acre, but in practice seeding rates vary from 125 to 200 lb/acre. The Ohio Agronomy Guide suggests a spelt seeding rate of 15 to 20 seeds per foot of 7-inch row. Winter wheat research would indicate that we need 20 plants per foot of row (7") for 100% yield potential. The seeding rate is determined by the percent viable germination of the seed, seed size, and by the personal experience of the grower in previous years.

As we found out on Maggie’s farm, spelt is a large seed, with its enclosing hull, and requires a relatively high seeding rate.  Too large to be seeded from a hopper, our spelt was broadcast by hand. 

No official test weight has been established for spelt, but recent tests show that with the hull attached it averages 27-30 lb/bushel. The test weight of hulled seed is close to that of wheat (60 lb/bu). A successful crop of spelt can yield 1.0 to 1.2 tonnes per acre. Most flour millers buy the grain dehulled, which requires grain elevators to dehull the grain with specialized dehulling equipment.

Spelt flour can substitute for wheat flour in many products (breads, pasta, cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pancakes and waffles).  The starch in spelt is more soluble than wheat and recipes containing spelt flour will frequently require less water (~75%) than when using wheat flour.   People with 'allergies' to wheat starch commonly report that spelt is easier to digest. Spelt does however contain gluten, and people with gluten allergies (celiac disease) are likely to be allergic to spelt, similar to wheat and other gluten grains.

One web site reports on spelt nutrition:  “Spelt is by nature a wholefood. Unlike wheat, where vital nutritional bran and germ are usually removed during milling, the vital substances of spelt are found in the inner kernel of the grain. However this does not mean that spelt makes a heavy loaf. In fact the exact opposite is true.  The real beauty of spelt is in its ability to make a really light, highly nutritious loaf with an appealing nutty flavor.  The protein in spelt is such that when the flour is turned into bread it bakes well and results in a very light, soft textured loaf with good keeping qualities which doesn’t shed crumbs when sliced. 

“Due to spelt's high water solubility, the grain's vital substances can be absorbed quickly into the body. The nutrients are made available to the entire organism with a minimum of digestive work. The body cells are then nourished, strengthened, and prepared for their optimal performance while the body is flooded with vitamins and other nutritional substances. Spelt contains more protein, fats and crude fibre than wheat and also has large amounts of Vitamin B17 (anti-carcinoma). It also contains special carbohydrates which play a decisive role in blood clotting and stimulate the body's immune system so as to increase its resistance to infection.   The total protein content of spelt varies from 13.1 - 14.28% depending on climate and soil conditions. It is higher than soft wheat (10.5%) and spring wheat (9.1%) but similar to durum wheat (13.8%).”

Environmental Benefits of Growing Spelt
Spelt is a relatively low yielding crop so doesn't take as much from the soil as more modern crops. It is therefore a more sustainable crop on a long term basis. Being low yielding it also thrives without the application of fertilizers even on relatively poor soils. Spelt is also very resistant to frosts and other extreme weather conditions and the grain's exceptionally thick husk protects it from pollutants and insects.  As spelt is a pure, original grain and not biologically modified in any way, it is very resistant to the crop diseases that often plague modern crop varieties and grows quite successfully without the application of herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides.    
Spelt is stored with the husk intact so it remains fresher over a much longer period than other grains.  It has been claimed that spelt’s hull is so strong that it can protect the grain from virtually every type of pollutant, even radioactive fallout. 

Eastern Europe may be where spelt is undergoing the most serious breeding and genetic testing.  One paper showed results of genetic testing on 30 different cultivars, under the auspices of the Research Institute of Crop Production Piešťany, Slovak Republic Genbank, and from Research Institute of Crop Production, Praha-Ruzyně, Czech Republik. 
French’s Hybrids, a seed company in Ohio, specializes in spelt.  Their website includes sections on the history, growing, harvesting, grinding, and bread-making with spelt. They are particularly enthusiastic about Maverick, which is one of the Spelt cultivars we planted in Agoura Hills.  French’s sells Champ, Comet, Oberkulmer, Sungold cultivars of spelt, but says this about Maverick:  Its protein content is very acceptable and its 5 year averages are well above Champ and Oberkulmer. In addition, Maverick has demonstrated far superior milling and baking qualities with very good flavor. Maverick also dehulls very easily. We have experienced up to 40% threshed out of the field with normal combine settings. Maverick is THE variety of choice for milling and baking!”

In Montana trials, 50 cultivars of spelt have been evaluated over the last two decades and Maverick had the 7th highest yield, while Oberkulmer ranked 40th.  
The website called highstakes farming, based in Idaho, says   “Spelt has a sweet, nutty flavor. It also has a higher fiber content than both hard white and hard red wheat. Though it is not wheat. This grain contains more protein than whole wheat flour and is easier to digest.”

Sounds like good stuff!! 

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