Wheat: Varieties and Processing Methods


Comparing Wheat:  Dwarf, Einkorn, Emmer, and Other Traditional Varieties

 

 In the past, some wheat hybridization occurred naturally, either through cross-pollination in the wild or in cultivated fields of yore, thus explaining the evolution of some varieties, for example, from Einkorn to Emmer.

 

Einkorn is thought to be the oldest variety of wheat, with its wild variety (Triticum boeoticum ) first harvested around 15,000 BC.  The first cultivated strain of Einkorn (Triticum monococcum, meaning “single grain”) dates back 5,000-10,000 years to regions of the Tigris-Euphrates.  Cultivated Einkorn thrives in poor soil and is best suited to cool regions with little moisture, like the Montana Great Plains.

 

Table 1:  Genome of Wheat1

Wheat

Species

Type

Genome

#Chromosomes

Einkorn Triticum monococcum Diploid AA

14

Rye* Secale cereal L. Diploid RR

14

Emmer Triticum turgidum, dicoccum Tetraploid AABB

28

Durum Triticum turgidum, Durum Tetraploid AABB

28

Kamut Triticum turgidum, turanicum Tetraploid AABB

28

Spelt Triticum spelta Hexaploid AABBDD

42

Triticale Triticum aestivum Hexaploid AABBRR

42

Dwarf Triticum aestivum Hexaploid AABBDD

42

 

Einkorn is a “diploid” wheat, because it has only two genomes, AA, each with seven chromosomes, 14 in all.  Einkorn is nutrient-dense, with protein content equaling durum wheat and some 35%- 50% higher than hard red wheat.  Einkorn is also high in essential fatty acids, vitamin E, phosphorous, potassium, pyridoxine, and beta-carotene.  And, of all wheat, Einkorn has the greatest amount of lutein, an important antioxidant.  Einkorn flour is high in ash; it is savory in flavor; and its gliadin to glutenin ratio of 2:1 compares favorably to the 0.8:1 ratio of durum and hard red wheat, leading some to believe that Einkorn is non-toxic to people with celiac disease.2

 

Emmer (Triticum turgidum) appears to be an early hybrid of Einkorn.  It is a tetraploid wheat, having four genomes, AABB, each with seven chromosome, 28 in all.  Emmer can be grown in a wider variety of climates and geographic areas than Einkorn, a fact that helped it become, until around 1,000 BC, the predominant wheat throughout Europe, the Near and Far East, as well as northern Africa.

 

Spelt (Triticum spelta), a hybrid of Emmer, is the oldest of the hexaploid grains and a precursor of our modern wheat.  With six genomes, AABBDD, each with seven chromosomes, spelt has a total of 42 chromosomes, like modern wheat.  Spelt is even more adaptable to diverse climates than Emmer, a fact that led to its early popularity.  From its Near East origin, spelt was grown widely during the Bronze Age (4,000-1,000 BC) throughout Europe, the Balkans, and Asia.

 

Einkorn, Emmer, and spelt are known as “covered wheat” because their kernels do not thresh free of the glumes (outer coverings), making them harder to mill.  Hybrids have been developed through time to make wheat easier to husk and process and to raise the starch and gluten content.  The modern result is our present-day mutant dwarf wheat that has supplanted traditional varieties to be the dominant wheat grown worldwide.  It has gone through a variety of hybridizations.  The high-starch, high-gluten wheat developed by Norman Borlaug in the 1960s was too top-heavy for its four-foot stalk and had to be “dwarfed,” leading to the hybrid grown widely today.

 

“For every front, there is a back.”  In recent decades science has focused energy on hybridization efforts to genetically modify wheat to increase yields, resist pests and fungus, facilitate milling, and adapt grains to high-speed, high-temperature, chemically-treated commercial processing/baking methods, while spending little time and energy exploring the potential implications of GMO grains on health.   As Katherine Czapp states,

 

“…even before the latest GMO changes, it appears that recent forced and accelerated hybridizations have changed wheat nutritionally in ways that no one seems to have considered, while research into the health effects of these transformations has barely begun.”3

 

The DD Manipulated Chromosome Set—One Slant on Celiac Disease

 

Gluten proteins in Einkorn, a simple AA, are fewer and different in structure from Emmer, AABB, whose gluten proteins are, in turn, fewer and different in structure from modern AABBDD wheat—simply because hexaploid wheat’s three sets of genomes and 42 chromosomes code for a greater number and variety of gluten proteins.   Moreover, in the last 50 years, plant scientists have altered in a variety of ways gluten-coding genes, mostly in the DD genomes of Triticum aestivum, in part for improved baking, such as a lighter texture and loaf volume.4  But, as we know from systems theory, altering a single gene can trigger a cascade of unpredictable and untoward results.5

 

As described by  Katherine Czapp:

 

“Recent genome mapping of modern bread wheat with an eye to its toxic influence in celiac disease has isolated a small chain of peptides on a portion of the gluten protein which is directly responsible for stimulating the reactions in those with the celiac genetic inheritance.  The plant genes responsible for contributing these peptides in wheat gluten are located on the third set of chromosomes that the hexaploid variants inherited from their wild parent.  It is very interesting to note that neither the diploid nor the tetraploid cereal grains contain this genetic material.”

 

And, Dr. Davis in Wheat Belly comments:

 

“It is…the D genome of modern Triiticum aestivum that, having been the focus of all manner of genetic shenanigans by plant geneticists, has accumulated substantial change in genetically determined characteristics of gluten proteins.  It is also potentially the source for many of the odd health phenomena experienced by consuming humans.”6

 

Beyond the DD set of chromosomes and their manipulation, other factors in the chemistry of wheat may also be at work to trigger allergic reactions and celiac disease.  A potential culprit is the way that wheat is commercially processed and bolstered with additives to create processed foods, bread, and snacks.

Wheat Processing and Baking Methods

 

One of the earliest and most dramatic shifts to convenience foods in the United States was ushered in shortly after the turn of the last century by cereal companies like Post and Kellogg, as well as by baking companies such as Continental.  The Continental Baking Company commercialized bread baking, transforming it from an artisanal art to a high-speed industrial process.   In 1890, of all bread consumed in the United State, 90 percent was baked at home, with the remainder purchased from local neighborhood bakeries.  By 1930, the year that Continental Baking Company introduced sliced Wonder Bread nationwide (and unveiled Twinkies), these ratios had totally flipped.7  Baking a nutritious, easy-to-digest, delicious loaf of bread with nuanced flavors from the slow development of proteins and carbohydrates requires time, usually by sprouting and/or souring, such as soaking with sourdough.  Modern processing methods used to turn out “instant” bread by the millions of loaves can itself be a factor triggering allergic reactions to commercially-baked bread.

 

This is easy to imagine from the three major assembly-line bread production methods described by Katherine Czapp in “Against the Grain:”

 

  • The continuous mixing method was first used in the 1950s to create bread (think Wonder Bread) that is soft, cake-like in texture with no holes, no fermentation, and hence no flavor or aroma.   The process calls for all ingredients to be mixed together from the beginning and the “slurry of flour and yeast and ‘improvers’ travels via conveyors without pause (and proofing) to the oven.”  This method explained 60% of all bread baked in 1970 but has since been virtually abandoned due to the tasteless end product.
  • The “No-Time” Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP) developed in 1961 uses high-speed mixers, chemical oxidants, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and large amounts of yeast and water to produce a loaf in three and one-half hours.  CBP is popular in countries where wheat has been bred to tolerate commercial CBP machinery by which “wheat is milled under tremendous pressure to force open starch cells so that the flour will absorb the maximum amount of water during processing.”  Hydrogenated oils are used to prevent loaves from collapsing when baked.

In CBP, “flour, chemical oxidants and ‘improvers,’ water, yeast, fat and salt are pumped into vast computer-controlled mixers and the dough is violently shaken for three minutes.”  This energy overheats the dough, requiring computer-controlled cooling systems.  Air pressure is also carefully controlled to create a partial vacuum to control gas bubbles that might otherwise escape the surface of the dough.  This method, well-suited to soft wheat but not the high-gluten wheat of the United States, produces 80 percent of the bread in the U.K., Australia, and India.

  • The conventional batch mixing method is the process most often used in commercial bakeries in our country today.  The majority (60%) of ingredients are mixed and allowed to ferment for two-four hours, after which the complement of ingredients are added and loaves are then baked.   This method also adapts to “no-time” methods.  It requires chemicals to “condition the dough during mechanical processing, as well as impart anti-staling and moisture-retentive properties to the finished product.”  This is the process used not only for commercially baked bread, but also hamburger and hot dog buns, as well as frozen loaves for on-site baking.8

 

I come away from these descriptions wondering not only about the quality and character of wheat that has been genetically modified to withstand the abuse of our modern commercial “no patience” commercial bakeries, but also about what might happen even to the best of wheat varieties subjected to these treatments.  Might we wonder about the health implications of wheat abuse associated with these industrial processing methods?

 

Chemicals and additives.  Chemicals and other additives used in bakery products and snack foods are another part of the wheat allergy, inflammation, chronic disease story.   Commercial baking companies resort to chemicals and additives, including extra gluten, to fill gaps in flavor and texture that result from “no-time” methods.

 

For fun on a recent trip to the store, I purchased a loaf of the healthiest-sounding bread that I could find:  Arnold’s “Whole Grains—100% Whole Wheat Bread, From Grains to Glory.”  Reading the label from the top after whole wheat (dwarf) flour, water, and sugar, other sweeteners, and bran, we find, in order of importance…

 

  • Wheat gluten—even more gluten must be added to compensate for the lack of proofing time; this is of course gluten derived from mutant dwarf wheat;
  • Soybean oil—from GMO soy; for volume and a softer crumb;
  • Monoglycerides/Diglycerides—softeners, emulsifiers, used to keep bread tasting fresh for days;
  • Calcium propionate—a mold inhibitor linked to irritability, insomnia, and attention issues;
  • Calcium sulfate—to control moisture;
  • Datem—dough strengthener to keep the dough from collapsing from, in this case, the addition of bran;
  • Citric Acid—a preservative; provides a “faux” sour flavor to enhance taste;
  • Soy lecithin—from GMO soy; an emulsifier; for freshness and uniformity;
  • Whey—a milk product; powdered whey is a denatured product (see July/August 2012 Newsletter).

 

There are many other chemical additives to be found in “less healthy” breads.  One ingredient missing above that is often used in commercial bread is potassium bromate, a recognized carcinogen that makes dough more elastic to endure the abuse of high-speed mixing.  You might find it interesting to research the chemical additives not only in bread, but also any packaged, processed food created for a long shelf life.

 

Conclusion.  Wheat intolerance, obesity, and chronic disease have many causes.  Science may ponder these for some time; meanwhile Big Agriculture and Big Food will continue to roll out new products while many more people experience “mysterious” wheat allergies and intolerance little known a century ago.   Blaming wheat with a broad brush is easy:  Einkorn and Emmer, Red Fife and Dapps have no powerful constituency or lobby on Capitol Hill.  They need our recognition and appreciation.

Reading Resources

 

Ben Atlas, “From Einkorn to the Mutant Dwarf Wheat on Your Table.”

Tara Cochrane, “Rare Varieties of Wheat.”

Katherine Czapp, “Against the Grain,” The Weston A. Price Foundation.

William Davis, M.D., Wheat Belly

Daily Lipid, “Wheat Belly—The Toll of Hubris on Human Health”

G.F. Sallkneckht, K.M. Gilbertson, and J.E. Ranney, “Alternative Wheat Cereals as Food Grains:  Einkorn,

Emmer, Spelt, Kamut, and Triticale”, Center for New Crops & Plant Products; Purdue University.

 

Contemporary Sources of Heirloom and Quality Grains:  Everything Old is New

 

Hopefully, Wheat Belly and the Paleo Diet will inspire you to try more heirloom grains and support the farmers and suppliers who are investing time and money to revive grains from the past.  Some of these are available through local health and specialty stores, while others require ordering by phone/email .

 

Anson Mills in South Carolina, under the leadership and inspiration of Glenn Roberts, is a leader in the movement to revive heirloom grains.  Anson Mills has brought back traditional varieties of wheat (including Einkorn), rye, oats, buckwheat, corn, and rice.  For sourdough bread baking, I depend upon Anson Mills’ Red Fife Whole Wheat flour and Abruzzi Rye, as well as Fiddlers’ Green Farm’s Whole Wheat flour made from Dapps.9  You will find your own favorites, either at your local specialty store, or perhaps by trying some of the following sources:

 

Sources familiar to me:


Anson Mills, for a wide variety of heirloom grains that are stone-milled and hand-sifted.  As mentioned, I like their Red Fife and Abruzzi Rye.  www.ansonmills.com  803-467-4122

 

Fiddler’s Green Farm, for Whole Wheat Bread Flours from Dapps, a wheat flour particularly good for

sourdough bread.  www.fiddlersgreenfarm.com   800-729-7935

 

King Arthur Flour, for First Clear, a high-ash flour well-suited for feeding and growing sourdough starter.

King Arthur is also a good source of baking supplies.  www.kingarthurflour.com  800-827-6836

 

Other sources recommended by Maria Speck in Ancient Grains for Modern Meals include:

 

Bob’s Red Mill, www.bobsredmill.com  800-349-2173

 

Arrowhead Mills, www.arrowheadmills.com  800-434-4246

 

Bluebird Grain Farms, www.bluebirdgrainfarms.com  888-232-0331

 

Wild Hive Farm, www.wildhivefarm.com  845-266-5863

 

Gustiamo, www.gustiamo.com  877-907-2525

 

Alter Eco, www.altereco-usa.com  866-972-6879

 

Enjoy exploring these websites for a variety of eating pleasures.  Most offer gluten-free grains like the delicious black quinoa from Alter Eco.  If you wish to stay away from gluten and want to explore alternative grains, there are many to enjoy from this list.

 

Cookbooks Featuring Grains…

 

Whole grains are the most economical source of energy and, if processed with care, are a rich source of B vitamins, vitamin E, and minerals such as magnesium, zinc, potassium, iron, as well as calcium, phosphorus, copper, and selenium.  Some cookbooks to try…

 

Barbara Grunes and Virginia Van Vynckt, All-American Waves of Grain

Joanne Saltzman, Amazing Grains

Maria Speck, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals

Rebecca Wood, The Splendid Grain

 

Traditional Bread Baking—A Note on Sourdough, the Time-Tested Way of Preparing Wheat Flour:

 

Long before modern science, traditional cultures seemed to appreciate the magic wrought by using a soaking/souring medium combined with patience and time.  They relied upon sourdough as a leavening agent to enhance taste and digestibility and to act as a preservative.  Science now confirms much of what our forebears seemed to know intuitively.   Sourdough:

  • boosts lysine, an essential amino acid, to make wheat flour a complete protein;
  • diffuses phytic acid, which is a nutrient and enzyme blocker;
  • reduces the glycemic effect of wheat flour, since the yeasts and bacteria in sourdough consume much of the carbohydrate that can otherwise spike blood sugar;
  • enhances flavor and texture; and
  • acts as natural preservative.

In addition, research on sourdough and celiac disease suggest that soaking with sourdough may neutralize the chain of peptides associated with gliadin proteins that are linked to celiac disease.10

 

In exchange for a donation to Island Grown Schools, I offer sourdough bread baking classes on Martha’s Vineyard.  Baking sourdough bread is a skill taught me some years ago by my good friend Ellen Arian, www.ellensfoodandsoul.com .  My habit of baking and eating sourdough makes me truly appreciate why bread is “the staff of life.”  I plan to write more about sourdough, the subject of my dissertation, which I may write as a newsletter, or at least on the “Slow Food” section/Recipe tab of my website.

 

Copyright 2012 Pathways4Health.

  1. Derived from Stallkneckht, Gilbertson, and Ranney, “Alternative Wheat Cereals as Food Grins:  Einkorn, Emmer, Spelt, Kamut, and Triticale.”  I have also included rye, not a wheat, of course, but to show its simply structure and its link to triticale. []
  2. Stallkneckht, Gilbertson, and Ranney. []
  3. Katherine Czapp, “Against the Grain,” 2,3. []
  4. PR Shewry, NG Halford, PS Belton, AS Tatham, “The Structure and Properties of Gluten:  An Elastic Protein from Wheat Grain,” qtd. in Davis, 38. []
  5. http://pathways4health.org/2010/04/11/foods-as-systems-physics-fractals-and-food/ []
  6. Dr. William Davis, Wheat Belly, 39. []
  7. Aaron Bobrow-Strain, White Bread:  A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf. []
  8. Czapp, 5,6. []
  9. Dapps is a conventional-height, hard red spring wheat, a cross between Kitt, Amidon, Grandin, and Stoa, grown in North Dakota.  Red Fife dates back to 1840 when David Fife brought it from Scotland to Canada. []
  10. R. DiCagno, et Al.  “Sourdough bread made from wheat and non-toxi flours and started with selected lactobacilli is tolerated in celiac sprue patients,” AEM, Februrary, 2004, 1088-1096, 70:2, qtd. in Czapp. []