How to Use Spelt in Cooking

Spelt is an ancient grain that has made a remarkable comeback in contemporary kitchens due to its nutritious profile and versatile nature.

Packed with essential nutrients, it can offer more dietary fiber and protein than common wheat, making it a beneficial addition to your diet.

As with many ancient grains, spelt provides a hearty texture and a slightly nutty flavor, which can enrich a variety of dishes from breakfast cereals to hearty stews.

Spelt grains being added to a pot of boiling water, stirred with a wooden spoon, then simmered until tender

Using spelt in cooking requires some basic knowledge of its properties and preparation methods.

Spelt comes in several forms, including whole berries, flakes, and flour, each lending itself to different culinary applications.

Whole spelt berries are excellent for adding a chewy texture to salads and grain bowls, while spelt flour can be used for baking bread, cakes, and pastries that are both delicious and wholesome.

When cooking whole spelt berries, it’s important to note that they have a longer cooking time compared to refined grains.

They require adequate liquid and simmering to achieve the right tenderness.

Whether you’re looking to cook spelt berries, use the flakes as an oatmeal substitute, or bake with spelt flour, this ancient grain is a versatile ingredient that can help you create nourishing and satisfying meals.

Understanding Spelt

Spelt is a nourishing ancient grain with a rich history, distinct from common wheat varieties, offering a different nutritional profile and culinary use.

History and Origins

Spelt (Triticum spelta) is an ancient grain that has been cultivated for thousands of years.

Its beginnings trace to approximately 5000 BCE in the Middle East, from where it spread to Europe.

The Romans played a significant role in its distribution as they expanded their empire, appreciating spelt for its hearty nature and versatility.

Throughout medieval Europe, spelt was a staple grain before being overshadowed by modern wheat varieties in the 19th century.

  • Region of cultivation: Middle East and Europe
  • Key historical players: Romans

In the modern day, there’s been a resurgence of interest in spelt, particularly among those seeking variety in whole grains and alternatives to common wheat due to allergies or sensitivities.

Spelt vs. Other Grains

When comparing spelt to other grains like wheat, barley, oats, and rice, several distinctions arise.

Spelt is considered a “hulled” grain, meaning it retains its outer husk during harvesting, which protects its nutrients.

Compared to wheat, spelt has a more robust flavor and a slightly nuttier taste.

Though it does contain gluten, the structure of its gluten is different and can sometimes be tolerated by those with wheat sensitivities—but it is not suitable for people with celiac disease.

GrainGluten ContentNutrient ProfileFlavour
SpeltContains glutenHigher in protein and fiberNutty, slightly sweet
Wheat (common)Contains glutenCommonly refined, less fiberNeutral, plain
BarleyContains glutenHigh in fiber, vitaminsRich, malty
OatsGluten-free*High in protein and fiber, beta-glucansCreamy, unique texture
RiceGluten-freeEasily digestible, variable nutrient profile based on typeVersatile flavor base

*Oats are naturally gluten-free but can be cross-contaminated with gluten-containing grains during processing.

When choosing spelt, you’re not only incorporating an ancient grain into your diet, but you’re also opting for a wheat alternative that may offer diverse flavors and a different nutrient spectrum.

Remember, if you have gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivities, or celiac disease, consult a healthcare professional before incorporating spelt into your diet.

Nutritional Profile

A bowl of spelt grains next to a variety of fresh vegetables and herbs, with a cookbook open to a spelt recipe

When incorporating spelt into your diet, you’re providing your body with a rich spectrum of nutrients that are essential for maintaining good health.

Macro and Micronutrients

Spelt is a nutritious ancient grain that offers a range of macro and micronutrients beneficial to your overall well-being. Let’s break down what you can expect from spelt:

  • Protein: Spelt is higher in protein than common wheat, offering about 10-15 grams per 100 grams serving, which supports muscle repair and growth.
  • Fiber: With a high fiber content, spelt can aid digestion and contribute to cardiovascular health. Approximately 10 grams of fiber are found in each 100 grams of spelt.

Vitamins and Minerals: Spelt is rich in essential vitamins and minerals, including:

  • B Vitamins: Spelt contains several B vitamins, particularly B3 (niacin), which play vital roles in energy metabolism and nervous system function.
  • Magnesium: Crucial for many biochemical reactions in your body, magnesium is plentiful in spelt.
  • Iron: Essential for blood production, spelt can be a significant source of iron, especially important for individuals with increased requirements or those on plant-based diets.
  • Phosphorus: This mineral is important for the formation of bones and teeth and is found in good quantities in spelt.

The calorie content of spelt is similar to other whole grains, providing a moderate energy source that fits well into a balanced diet.

When considering the nutritional benefits, spelt’s rich array of nutrients contributes positively to its overall nutritional value, making it a wise choice for those looking to enrich their diet.

Spelt in the Kitchen

Spelt, an ancient grain, offers a chewy texture and nutty flavor, enhancing a variety of dishes from hearty breakfasts to rustic bread.

Proper preparation and cooking techniques are essential to maximize its nutritional benefits and unique taste.

Preparation Tips

To ensure an optimal cooking experience with spelt, begin by sorting through the grains to remove any debris.

Rinse spelt berries thoroughly under running water to clean them.

For a significantly reduced cooking time, spelt berries can be soaked overnight. This step softens the grains, which otherwise take longer to cook compared to other common grains.

Cooking Techniques

Spelt’s cooking process is similar to that of rice but requires attention to timing and water ratios for ideal texture.

Try the pasta method:

  • Boiling spelt: Use a ratio of 5:1 (water to spelt), bring to a boil, and then simmer until the spelt is tender, usually around 45 minutes to an hour. Check the texture and extend the time as needed for a softer consistency.

For a porridge-like dish:

  • Combine 1 ½ cups of spelt flakes with 4 ½ cups of water, adding flavors like cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Boil the mixture, then simmer it for approximately 10 minutes until creamy.

Baking with Spelt

Spelt flour introduces a hearty element to baked goods, imparting a slightly sweet and nutty profile.

When baking with spelt flour, remember that it absorbs less moisture than wheat flour, so adjustments to liquid ingredients may be necessary. Here’s how you might incorporate it:

  • Replace regular flour with spelt flour in your recipes, often needing less liquid than when using wheat flour due to spelt’s different absorption qualities.
  • Spelt can create dense products, so for lighter textures, mix it with other flours.

Recipes and Usage

In this section, you’ll learn specific ways to incorporate spelt into your meals, offering a wholesome twist to familiar dishes and introducing creative pairings that showcase spelt’s versatility.

Everyday Dishes

For classic recipes, spelt brings a fresh and wholesome perspective.

You can easily substitute white spelt flour for all-purpose flour in your pancake and bread recipes to add a nutty flavor and whole grain nutrition.

To prepare spelt berries, which are the whole grain form of spelt, boil them until tender and use them to bulk up soups and stews or as a substitute for rice in a hearty salad.

  • Bread: Use a 1:1 ratio when replacing all-purpose with spelt flour.
  • Pancakes: Replace up to half the all-purpose flour with spelt flour for a nutritious morning start.

Innovative Pairings

Utilize the nutty and complex characteristics of spelt to bring depth to your meals.

Try spelt flakes in your granola for a twist on texture, or make spelt risotto for a satisfyingly chewy variation of the classic dish.

Its robustness complements bold flavors, making it a smart addition to dishes that contain dried fruits, nuts, or hearty vegetables.

Alternatives to Common Ingredients

Spelt can also stand in for more common ingredients to increase nutrition.

Replace instant oats with spelt flakes for oatmeal or porridge, and expect to see fiber content rise by approximately 30%.

For pasta lovers, opt for spelt-based pasta to benefit from its whole grain goodness.

In baking, use spelt flour to add a new dimension to cookies and cakes.

  • Oatmeal/Porridge: Cook spelt flakes in water or milk until desired creaminess.
  • Pasta: Choose spelt pasta for a nutritious alternative to traditional pasta.

Health Considerations

When incorporating spelt into your diet, it’s important to consider its nutritional profile and how it might affect allergies and digestive health.

Spelt does contain gluten, which is a crucial consideration for those with gluten-related disorders.

Digestibility and Allergies

Spelt is an ancient grain that is often praised for its high fiber content, which can aid in your digestive health.

However, because spelt contains gluten, it is not suitable for individuals with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or gluten sensitivities.

While some people believe spelt to be easier to digest than modern wheat, this benefit does not extend to those with the aforementioned conditions.

If you have a known gluten allergy or sensitivity, it’s important to avoid spelt.

Always consult with your healthcare provider before making changes to your diet, especially if you have concerns about allergies or sensitivities.

Purchasing and Storage

A hand pouring spelt grains from a bag into a glass jar labeled "spelt." Another hand holds a recipe book open to a page on cooking with spelt. A kitchen counter with various cooking utensils and ingredients in the background

When buying spelt, your focus should be on quality and subsequently ensuring optimal storage to maintain its freshness.

The longevity of spelt depends greatly on how you store it, whether in whole grain or flour form.

Selecting High-Quality Spelt

To ensure you’re getting the best-quality spelt, buy from reputable sources such as health food stores or specialty grain suppliers.

Look for whole spelt berries as they retain nutrients better than processed grains.

  1. Appearance: Spelt should be free from moisture and pests. Choose grains that look clean and unbroken.
  2. Label information: Check the date of packaging and prefer brands that source their grains organically.

Proper Storage Methods

Storing spelt correctly is key to extending its shelf life and maintaining its nutritional properties.

Use the following guidelines for whole spelt and spelt flour:

  • Whole Spelt Berries:
    • Store in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.
    • For prolonged shelf life, freeze in freezer bags.
Storage LocationExpected Shelf Life
PantryUp to 6 months
RefrigeratorUp to a year
FreezerMore than a year
  • Spelt Flour: Spelt flour is more susceptible to rancidity due to its higher oil content.
    • Keep it in airtight containers or sealed freezer bags to prevent odor absorption and moisture.
    • Label containers with the storage date.

The best-by date on spelt packaging indicates peak quality, but spelt may still be good to use beyond this date if stored properly.

Sustainable Practices

A chef mixes spelt flour into a bowl of dough, while a pot of spelt grains simmers on the stove. A compost bin sits nearby, ready to receive any food scraps

Your exploration of spelt as a culinary choice connects directly to its sustainable attributes in both production and environmental impact.

Spelt’s Role in Agriculture

Spelt is an ancient grain with a robust history in agriculture. It is praised for its low maintenance and the ability to thrive without the intensive use of chemical fertilizers. Here are some specifics:

  • Organic Cultivation: Spelt is often grown organically, enhancing biodiversity.
  • Reduced Chemicals: It generally requires fewer pesticides than common wheat, making it a more eco-friendly option.

Benefits to the Environment

The environmental benefits of spelt are significant:

  • Soil Conservation: Spelt’s deep root systems help prevent soil erosion.
  • Ecosystem Support: Its cultivation supports healthier agro-ecosystems.

Frequently Asked Questions

A bowl of spelt grains next to a cutting board with various vegetables and a cookbook open to a recipe page

Exploring the versatility of spelt in your cooking can be exciting. Below are some specific techniques and tips that will guide you in using spelt effectively across various dishes.

What is the proper method for cooking spelt in a rice dish?

For a rice dish, replace the rice with spelt. Bring 2 parts water and a pinch of salt to a boil, then add 1 part rinsed spelt berries. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 30 minutes until the grains are tender but still chewy.

What are some techniques for incorporating spelt into chicken recipes?

To incorporate spelt into chicken recipes, opt to mix cooked spelt berries into your stuffing mix, or serve them as a nutty, flavorful side dish. Toasting the grains before cooking can enhance their flavor and complement the chicken.

Can you share some tips for baking cookies using spelt flour?

When baking cookies with spelt flour, you can use it as a one-to-one substitute for regular flour for a healthier option with a slight nutty taste. Be careful not to overmix as spelt flour is more delicate and can lead to denser cookies if overworked.

What is the best process for baking bread with spelt?

Baking bread with spelt requires a gentle touch as its gluten structure is fragile. Use spelt flour as a partial substitute in your bread recipe to start; mix lightly and reduce the kneading time to prevent the dough from becoming tough.

How should pearled spelt be prepared?

Pearled spelt should be cooked similarly to rice. Rinse the grains, bring to a boil in 3 parts water or stock for 1 part spelt, then simmer for approximately 25 minutes or until the grains are tender and have absorbed most of the liquid.

Is it necessary to soak spelt grains before cooking, and if not, how is it done?

It’s not necessary to soak spelt grains before cooking, but soaking can shorten cooking time and make the grains less chewy.

To soak, cover the spelt berries with water for 8 hours or overnight, then drain and cook as you would unsoaked spelt, reducing the cooking time slightly.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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