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Spelt (Triticum spelta) is a hexaploid species of wheat. Spelt was an important staple in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval times; it now survives as a relict crop in Central Europe and has found a new market as a health food. Spelt is sometimes considered a subspecies of the closely related species common wheat (T. aestivum), in which case its botanical name is considered to be Triticum aestivum subsp. spelta.


Spelt has a complex history. It is a wheat species known from genetic evidence to have originated as a hybrid of a domesticated tetraploid wheat such as emmer wheat and the wild goat-grass Aegilops tauschii. This hybridisation must have taken place in the Near East because this is where Ae. tauschii grows, and it must have taken place prior to the appearance of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum, a hexaploid free-threshing derivative of spelt) in the archaeological record c. 8,000 years ago.

Genetic evidence shows that spelt wheat can also arise as the result of hybridisation of bread wheat and emmer wheat, although only at some date following the initial Aegilops-tetraploid wheat hybridisation. The much later appearance of spelt in Europe might thus be the result of a later, second, hybridisation between emmer and bread wheat. Recent DNA evidence supports an independent origin for European spelt through this hybridisation. Whether spelt has two separate origins in Asia and Europe, or single origin in the Near East, is currently unresolved.

Early history

The earliest archaeological evidence of spelt is from the fifth millennium BC in Transcaucasia, north of the Black Seamarker, though the most abundant and best-documented archaeological evidence of spelt is in Europe. Remains of spelt have been found in some later Neolithic sites (2500–1700 BC) in Central Europe. During the Bronze Age spelt spread widely in central Europe. In the Iron Age (750-15 BC) spelt became a principal wheat species in southern Germany and Switzerland and by 500 BC it was in common use in southern Britain.

References to the cultivation of spelt wheat in Biblical times (see matzo), in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and in ancient Greece are incorrect and result from confusion with emmer wheat. Nevertheless, as a Triticum species, spelt is still forbidden for use during the Jewish holiday of Passover, except in the form of matzo.

Later history

In the Middle Ages, spelt was cultivated in parts of Switzerlandmarker, Tyrolmarker and Germanymarker. Spelt was introduced to the United Statesmarker in the 1890s. In the 20th century, spelt was replaced by bread wheat in almost all areas where it was still grown. The organic farming movement revived its popularity somewhat toward the end of the century, as spelt requires fewer fertilizers.


Spelt contains about 57.9 percent carbohydrates (excluding 9.2 percent fiber), 17.0 percent protein and 3.0 percent fat, as well as dietary minerals and vitamins. As it contains a moderate amount of gluten, it is suitable for some baking. In Germany, the unripe spelt grains are dried and eaten as Grünkern, which literally means "green grain".

Spelt is closely related to common wheat and is not suitable for people with coeliac disease. Some people with wheat allergy or wheat intolerance can tolerate spelt.


Spelt flour is becoming more easily available, being sold in Britishmarker supermarkets since 2007.Spelt is also sold in the form of a coarse pale bread, similar in colour and in texture to light rye breads but with a slightly sweet and nutty flavour. Biscuits and crackers are also produced, but are more likely to be found in a specialty bakery or health food store than in a regular grocery's shop.

Spelt pasta is also available in health food stores and specialty shops.

Dutch jenever makers distill a special kind of gin made with spelt as a curiosity gin marketed for connoisseurs. Beer brewed from spelt is sometimes seen in Bavariamarker and spelt is distilled to make vodka in Polandmarker and elsewhere 11 12.

Spelt matzo is baked in Israelmarker for Passover and is available in some Americanmarker grocery stores.

Flour from sprouted spelt grains is increasingly available throughout North America in grocery and health food stores.

Literature references

While today spelt is a specialty crop, its popularity as a peasants' staple food of the past has been attested in literature. Although today's Russian-speaking children may not know what exactly spelt is, they may have heard Pushkin's well-rhymed story of workman Balda asking his employer the priest "to feed me boiled spelt" ("есть же мне давай варёную полбу"). In Horace's Satire 2.6 (late 31 - 30 B.C.), which ends with the story of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse, the country mouse eats spelt at dinner while serving his city guest finer foods.

Spelt is also mentioned in Ezekiel 4:9: "Take thou also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make thee bread thereof ..." Capitalizing on the presumed health benefits of the aforesaid ingredients, the "Food for Life" company has eponymously named its breakfast cereals, Ezekiel 4:9.


  1. .
  2. Information from Spelt flour producer
  3. Dinkelbier, German Beer Institute, URL accessed Nov 2009
  4. Orkiisz, LuxLux Distillery, URL accessed Nov 2009.

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