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Nothing Says ‘Hip’ Like Ancient Wheat

As it seems, super-old wheat can be the next big fad.

Probably the Vogue of botany, Trends in Plant Science, has released an opinion article according to which consumers are showing interests in healthy grains, so there might be a comeback of some long-forgotten bread wheats.

The article was written by a plant breeder at the German University of Hohenheim, Friedrich Longin, together with his colleague Tobias Würschum. They write about the increased interest of people for non-GMO foods, arguing that improved wheat diversity can strengthen the food security and at the same time satisfy the demands of costumers.

Millet and quinoa are some of the ancient grains that have already gone mainstream. However, the authors of the article believe that nowadays, people should have more options when buying bread loaves at their local stores.

An agronomist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Dipak Santra, says that today’s farmers grow only Triticum aestivum as a subspecies of bread wheat, which is considered to be the ancestor of which appeared over 10,000 years ago in the area of modern Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

He explains that people probably consumed other wheat species much earlier. “Einkorn” (number 8 on the image above) was one species which appeared 5 to 7 million years ago, well before humans, while another one named “Emmer” (number 7 on the image above) is associated with pasta wheat and appeared around 400,000 years ago in the Middle east region called Fertile Crescent. Some foodies do accepted these grains in their diet, and cultivation of emmer is quite common in India, but when it comes to Europe and U.S. the ancient wheats are uncommon bread sources.

But how did modern bread wheat manage to dominate the grain industry? Today’s bread wheat doesn’t have hulls around the grains, as oppose to ancient wheats, which is why are easier to process into flour. Moreover, the mid-20th century’s “Green Revolution” made this variety of wheat stiffer and shorter, to prevent fungal infection and falling over.

Ancient wheat varieties likely won’t replace modern wheat in feeding the nearly 10 billion world population by 2050. However, their distinctive flavor is their advantage as supplementary wheats. The authors of the article told The Salt that emmer and einkhorn are exceptionally rich in eyesight-friendly carotenoids, and that einkorn possesses nutty sweetness that foodies will surely love.

The plant geneticist at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Mark Sorrells, explains that people with gluten sensitivity can have benefits by consuming some species. Emmer contains less amounts of protein gluten than the modern bread wheat, whereas einkorn possesses even less gluten amounts than emmer.

He says that people show increased interest in consuming healthy and nutritious food, even if it costs a bit more.

What’s more, Longin and Würschum say that the wheat resilience chances in the face of future pest challenges and climate changes could be increased by increased wheat diversity. 

However, one of the biggest challenges to reintroducing ancient varieties of wheat is their cost. All the contacted agronomists stated that ancient wheat varieties won’t probably match with the low price of modern bread wheats even in future, due to their low research funding and inconvenient hulls.

Longin says that growers must educate consumers about the reason why they cost more if they like to get them pay the price for them. Furthermore, farmers must determine which strains are the right for their land, and bakers and millers must learn the best ways to process and bake the new grains. This would mean changing baking recipes.

Authors point to one wheat variety called spelt (number 6 on the above image), referring it as a promising grain of drop reintroduction. This grain used to be popular in Germany, but the mainstream bread wheat had put it in shade at the turn of the 20th century. Spelt re-emerged in the 70s, thanks to the organic movement when several millers and bakers refamiliarized themselves with this grain.

But spelt products were also introduced in the U.S. by the parent company of the brands Arrowhead Mills and Rudi’s Organic Bakery, called Hain Celestial. The spelt flour was introduced in 1990s, while the spelt tortilla in 2007. Jared Simon, the senior director of marketing, says that back in those days spelt products were limited to natural food and whole food stores, whereas nowadays they can be found in non-specialty grocery stores, and even more, Hain Celestial plans to expand into other ancient grains.

The founder of Spelt Right, Beth George, says that there is a definite shift. She sells spelt bread products in the area of New York City for a cost of $6 to $6.50 a loaf. She even says that Panera and other similar companies are supporting ancient grains.

As you can see, national chains and organic foodies are giving thumbs-up for this matter, so vintage bread should be on the rise.

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