Both the sign at the edge of Res Müller’s field, and the grain itself catch my eye. The stalks are taller, the heads long, fine and beardless, the stand thinner than wheat. Ur-Dinkel, the sign says, or spelt in English. This ancient grain, which according to the sign was Europe’s most valuable and important food grain for 3000 years, had almost disappeared. But it’s no longer uncommon to see a field of spelt. Spelt bread, buns, cookies and flour can be found in almost any bigger grocery store. It’s a household name again.
There are several reasons for this, but the main one is probably that spelt is more easily digested, and for many people with wheat allergies, is often well tolerated. (It still has gluten though, so those with gluten allergies will still be allergic to it.) It is higher in fat and protein content than most wheat. It is also high in fibre. According to the American Heart Association’s website, “Dietary fiber from whole grains, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease.”
The main market for spelt in Switzerland is the Interessen Gemeinschaft Dinkel (IG Dinkel), which is under the tight regulations of IP Suisse (Integrated Production). Yields for spelt are approximately 4.5 tonnes per hectare, or 67 bushels per acre. Wheat in extensive production, as Res would grow it, yields approximately 6 tonnes per hectare, or 89 bushels per acre. The price for spelt is around 700 Swiss francs per tonne (Cdn$1.04 to Sfr.1.00), while extenso wheat brings about 500 Sfr. That makes the price per acre about equal for either grain. (If the prices seem high, it’s because Swiss farmers are heavily subsidized.)
Growing spelt has another advantage for Res. Straw is at a premium, and spelt produces lots of that. The farmers around him are happy to take any straw he can sell them.
I can’t wait to bake some bread out of this grain. The IG Dinkel website (http://www.urdinkel.ch/) tells me I can buy whole spelt flour at the local Migros store just down the road. I’m headed there this afternoon!