What Is a Spelt Loaf?

Jillian O Keeffe

Typically, bread is made from wheat flour. Spelt is a species of wheat and shares a lot of the same properties. One difference is that a baker generally needs slightly less water to make a spelt loaf than usual. As spelt loaf contains gluten, it is not recommended for celiac sufferers.

Sunset over a spelt field.
Sunset over a spelt field.

The wheat species that is widespread across the world as a cereal crop is Triticum aestivum. Spelt is a related subspecies with the scientific name of Triticum aestivum speltoides. It is much less common than the plant generally known as wheat.

Spelt grains.
Spelt grains.

Spelt was first grown about 7,000 years ago. It grows up to five feet (1.5 meters) in height, but the straw is flimsy, and the cereal takes longer to mature before a farmer can harvest it. The plant has not changed much from its wild form and has hulls on the outsides of the grain, which need to be removed before millers can make it into flour. This hull can also protect the internal grain from disease, which can make spelt a more desirable crop for organic farmers who do not use artificial pesticides.

During the last century, spelt was more commonly fed to animals than to humans. Some people think that the grain of spelt is more easily digested than wheat grain, and spelt flour can be found in many health food shops. A spelt loaf will have a slightly different chemical profile to a wheat loaf, which makes the spelt loaf taste different to wheat bread, with nutty flavors.

Despite the difference in the composition of a spelt grain to a wheat grain, a spelt loaf is not recommended for people who have trouble tolerating foods with gluten. Gluten is a name for many types of protein that are present in cereal grain. These proteins can trigger inflammation and illness in gluten-sensitive people, resulting in chronic disease, unless the affected person avoids gluten altogether. As spelt is a form of wheat, it contains the same glutens, albeit at a different concentration. According to the Celiac Sprue Association in the United States, even exposure to low levels of gluten can result in damage to the gastrointestinal tract that may not produce any symptoms at the time of ingestion.

Bakers can use spelt flour in much the same way as wheat flour. The difference between the flours that he or she may have to take into account is that spelt flour takes up more water than wheat flour, so less liquid is necessary for the recipe. Spelt loaf may be baked without any need for a rising step, or the dough may be prepared overnight before baking.

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