Our most valuable and important grain for 3000 years!

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.

Spelt is a very old grain, mentioned already in the Bible. Ancient, but very modern 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.”

Spelt grown and sold with this logo is guaranteed to be 100% spelt, not crossed with wheat varieties as many are.

Res Müller has been growing ancient grains for many years, including the even older varieties of Emmer and Einkorn. He started growing spelt when the market for the other two faltered. All these older grain varieties are hardier, requiring less spray applications, especially fungicides. He finds they are well suited to the drier climate and sandier soils of Osterfingen, where he farms. That spelt is a better alternative for people with allergies, impresses him too. Check out this site for more spelt benefits: http://www.spelt.com/

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.)

Behind the spelt field the vineyards begin. Bread and wine...thousands of years old, and still so good.

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!

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