Vol. 2, # 35
September 10, 2005

Q: What are kamut and Spelt and are they related to Wheat? - Layperson

A: Both Kamut and Spelt are grains closely related to wheat, but are different species, and are often called ancient forms of wild wheat.

Kamut Seed

Kamut is a close relative to wheat whose kernel. Its about the same shape as a wheat seed but a Kamut kernel is more than twice as big. Even though Kamut is very closely related to wheat, many people who are wheat intolerant can eat Kamut with no problems. Kamut also has some pretty amazing nutritional strengths. And as an amazingly versatile grain, Kamut can be used in place of all the different wheats; the hard and soft varieties and also durum wheat.

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Commelinidae
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Triticum L.
Species: Kamut (T. turgidum )
Binomial name
Triticum turanicum
Kamut's history is as interesting as any grain you can find. Stories abound about how a small sample of this grain was found in the pyramids of Egypt. They were planted and grew. This story revolves around a young Montana airman while stationed in the US Air Force in Portugal. Someone gave, or more likely, sold him 36 kernels of this grain, telling him it came from the pyramids of Egypt. Evidently, the serviceman believed him, and mailed the kernels home to his wheat-fa 32 of them sprouted. After carefully tending these rmer dad who planted them. Of the 36 kernels,seeds and their offspring for the next 6 years, these 32 kernels had grown to 1,500 bushels. (I did the math, yes it's possible.) This unusual, large kerneled wheat was shown at the county fair and was called "King Tut's Wheat." Bob Quinn, just a boy at the time, was a youngster in the crowd. The grain never really caught on at that time and the farmer ended up feeding it to his cattle. In 1977, Bob, now a agricultural scientist with a Ph.D., remembered that strange looking wheat and after scouring the country side came up with a pint bottle of it. By 1988, Bob had the strain built back up and had generated enough interest in it that he could start marketing it commercially. 

Scientists from around the world have inspected Kamut and attempted to give it a taxonomic classification. However, it's exact class still remains somewhat uncertain but is believed to be an ancient durum wheat variety. As 3,000 year-old wheat from the Egyptian tombs can't sprout, the scientists who have attempted to classify this seed generally believe Kamut was an obscure grain kept alive by peasant farmers in Egypt or Asia Minor. Adding to the mystery shrouding this grain, in the last 50 years, Kamut has vanished from it's traditional lands as modern varieties of wheat replaced it. The person who sold those 36 kernels to the airman actually did the world a really big favor in bringing this ancient grain back from obscurity and certain extinction. Dr. Quinn patented the seed, then coined and trade marked the name "Kamut" which is believed to be an ancient Egyptian word for wheat. Kamut may have disappeared from it's native lands in the Old World, but it is alive and doing well in the small corners of Montana and Alberta.

Kamut is a high protein grain, generally containing 30% more protein than wheat. It's amino acid ratio is about the same as wheat so if you should happen to be eating nothing but Kamut, you may wish to add some peanut butter, legumes or some other food high in lysine to give you a little better amino acid blend. As this grain hasn't been altered by modern plant breeders, it retains it's ancient nutrition, flavor and goodness. Due to it's slightly higher fatty acid content, Kamut can be considered a high energy grain, and compared to wheat, Kamut also contains elevated levels of vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, pantothentic acid, copper and complex carbohydrates. All around, Kamut seems to be a very healthy grain. Because of it's larger seed size in comparison to wheat, there's less fiber in Kamut than wheat. So, depending on your needs, if you require a high fiber diet, perhaps Spelt would be a better alternative which has a higher fiber content than even wheat.

        The fact that many people who are allergic to wheat and can tolerate Kamut is probably the biggest reason Kamut has made real inroads into the health food markets. Several studies have been conducted with Kamut on people with wheat allergies. People with wheat allergies must be careful when trying Kamut. Laboratory tests show that 30% of the subjects with wheat allergies also displayed allergies to Kamut. In some cases their reactions to Kamut were even worse than for wheat. However, on the flip side of the coin, many people who couldn't eat wheat had no problem with Kamut. Giving additional hope to wheat sensitive people, bakeries have noted that their Kamut products have been safe to eat for almost every wheat sensitive person who has purchased their products. For those suffering wheat sensitivities, kamut brand products also play a unique role. Research studies concluded "For most wheat sensitive people, kamut grain can be an excellent substitute for common wheat." Scientists and physicians tested two different wheat sensitive populations - those with delayed immune responses and those who have immediate immune responses. In the delayed immune response group, a remarkable 70% showed greater sensitivity to common wheat than kamut brand grain. In the immediate immune response group (the severely allergic)70% had no, or only minor, reaction to kamut brand wheat. However, those with allergies should always seek the advice of a physician. Kamut contains gluten. No research has been done with those suffering from gluten intolerance so no recommendations can be made at this time. For many wheat sensitive people, however, kamut brand grain has become "the wheat you can eat."The bottom line - if you are wheat sensitive, under the advice of your doctor, you may wish to carefully try Kamut with the hope that you can eat bread again. If you don't have wheat allergies, you can feel confident Kamut will be a new experience because of it's great flavor. And because of it's higher nutrition, you will probably feel better as well.

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Triticum
Species: T. spelta
Binomial name
Triticum spelta
Spelt, native to Iran and southeastern Europe, is one of the world's most popular grains with a heritage thought to extend back 7,000 years. Spelt was one of the first grains to be used to make bread, and its use is mentioned in the Bible.

Spelt is considered to be a hybrid of emmer wheat and einkorn wheat that originated in the Near East, where it was cultivated at least 3000 years ago. In the Middle Ages, it was cultivated in parts of Switzerland, Tyrol and Germany. Spelt was introduced to the United States in the 1890s. In the 20th century, spelt was virtually replaced by wheat, which produces higher yields. However, since spelt is rather more hardy than wheat and does not require fertilizers, the organic farming movement made it more popular again towards the end of the century.

Spelt contains about 62 percent carbohydrates, 8.8 percent fibre, 12 percent protein and 2.7 percent fat, as well as dietary minerals and vitamins, including silica. As it contains a high amount of gluten, it is suitable for baking. However, the gluten in spelt is different from that in normal wheat and therefore spelt can be consumed by some gluten-intolerant people.

Spelt played an important role in ancient civilizations, such as Greece and Rome, serving as a staple grain. Spelt was so well regarded that it even took on symbolic importance as it was used as a gift to the pagan gods of agriculture to encourage harvest and fertility.

Throughout early European history, as populations migrated throughout the continent, they brought this hearty and nutritious grain with them to their new lands. Spelt became a popular grain, especially in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. During the Middle Ages, spelt earned another level of recognition with the famous healer Hildegard von Bingen using spelt as a panacea for many illnesses. Some 800 years ago Hildegard von Bingen, (St.Hildegard) wrote about spelt: "The spelt is the best of grains. It is rich and nourishing and milder than other grain. It produces a strong body and healthy blood to those who eat it and it makes the spirit of man light and cheerful. If someone is ill boil some spelt, mix it with egg and this will heal him like a fine ointment." 

Spelt was cultivated on a moderate level in the United States until the beginning of the 20th century when farmers turned their efforts to the cultivation of wheat. While there may have been many reasons for this agricultural shift, one is that spelt's nutrient-dense tough husk makes it harder to process than wheat. Yet, recently this ancient grain has been receiving renewed interest, and its popularity and appreciation are beginning to escalate.

Sometimes the original ideas are still the best. The wheel hasn't changed much in thousands of years, and tasty and nutritious spelt, one of the first grains to be grown by early farmers as long ago as 7,000 BC., is finding renewed popularity with American consumers.

Spelt's "nutty" flavor has long been popular in Europe, where it is also known as "Farro" (Italy) and "Dinkle" (Germany). In Roman times it was "Farrum", and origins can be traced back early Mesopotamia. Spelt (Triticum spelta) is a ancient and distant cousin to modern wheat (Triticum aestivum). Spelt is one of the oldest of cultivated grains, preceded only by Emmer and Elkorn.

But it's not just good taste that has caught the attention of consumers on this side of the Atlantic. The grain is naturally high in fiber, and contain significantly more protein than wheat. Spelt is also higher in B complex vitamins, and both simple and complex carbohydrates. Another important benefit is that some gluten-sensitive people have been able to include spelt-based foods in their diets.

What brought the decline in production of spelt in North America is now thought of as a benefit. Spelt has a tough hull, or husk, that makes it more difficult to process than modern wheat varieties. However, the husk, separated just before milling, not only protects the kernel, but helps retain nutrients and maintain freshness. Modern wheat has changed dramatically over the decades as it has been bred to be easier to grow and harvest, to increase yield, and to have a high gluten content for the production of high-volume commercial baked goods. Unlike wheat, spelt has retained many of its original traits and remains highly nutritious and full of flavor.

Also, unlike other grains, spelt's husk protects it from pollutants and insects and usually allows growers to avoid using pesticides.

Since its reintroduction to the market in 1987 by Purity Foods Inc., spelt has become a top-selling product in the organic and health food markets. Flour made from the versatile grain can be substituted for wheat flour in breads, pasta, cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pancakes and waffles.

Modern cooks are rediscovering the full flavor of whole grain spelt pastas and breads, the more subtle flavor and texture of white pastas and flours as well as spelt kernels in their dishes.

As usual, consult the appropriate healthcare professional before making any dietary changes, especially those with allergies and/or digestive disturbances.

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DISCLAIMER:  The information in this column, is NOT intended to diagnose and/or treat any health related issues and is provided solely for informational purposes only. Consult the appropriate healthcare professional before making any changes to your healthcare regime. Even what may seem like simple changes in the diet for example, can interact with, and alter, the efficiency of medications and/or the body's response to the medications. Many herbs and supplements exert powerful medicinal effects. Neither the author, nor the website designers, assume any responsibility for the reader's use or misuse of this information.

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