Meet This Grain: Spelt

by in Healthy Recipes, August 27, 2009

Spelt Bread and Pasta
This grain has more protein, B-vitamins and iron than its cousin wheat. Have you experimented with it in your baking? Get started.

What Is Spelt?
You may have heard folks refer to spelt as the Italian grain “farro,” which always puzzled me because they look very different. (Where’s Mario Batali when you need him? I bet he would know.) After doing some research, I’ve figured out they’re not the same grain despite what you might read in some cookbooks and magazine articles. Spelt takes much, much longer to cook, so if you try to use them interchangeably, you’ll have some major issues when it comes to cooking times. I actually found this amusing New York Times Magazine article where the author ran into that exact problem.

But back to spelt — you can find this grain in most health food stores (I get mine at Whole Foods) and it comes as whole kernels (or “berries”) or ground flour. Spelt flour is often used in breads, muffins and cookies — you may even see it in the packaged baked goods at your health food store. Some grocery stores carry spelt pasta and whole-grain cereals that feature crunchy spelt flakes. It has a nutty flavor, similar to whole wheat.

Spelt flour is also lower in gluten than wheat flour, which means some people with wheat sensitives may be able to enjoy it as a wheate alternative. If you have a gluten intolerance, however,  skip it.

Why Is Spelt “Healthy Eats”?
Spelt is similar in calories to other whole grains like brown rice; one cup of cooked spelt has 245 calories, 8 grams of fiber and 11 grams of protein. It also contains 13% of your daily needs for thiamin and 25% of daily niacin — both are important B-vitamins that help with energy production. Spelt flour also contains more iron than whole-wheat flour.

What To Do With It?
You can use spelt berries in any recipe that calls for cooked grains like rice, quinoa or wheat berries; they work well for side dishes, salads and hearty soups. To prepare, soak the berries overnight, drain, rinse and then cook them for about an hour in boiling, salted water.

As for baking, you can replace some or all of the flour in a bread or muffin recipe with spelt. It will give the food a sweet, nutty flavor and an extra dose of protein and vitamins. I like to use spelt flour in carrot, apple or pumpkin muffins. Experiment with your favorites to see what works best.

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