Einkorn is an heirloom grain—the simplest wheat of all. Among cereal grains milled into flour, it is one of the easiest to digest. Like its other heirloom cousins (emmer, spelt and Khorasan), einkorn bakes into a delicious, nutty, deeply flavored, dense bread.
When I lived in Germany 40 years ago, there were two specialty breads: Vollkorn Brot and Einkorn Brot. Vollkorn used rugged rye and I thought Einkorn just meant whole wheat. Turns out I was right; I just did not know it was ancient wheat that dates back 5,000 years.
History of EinkornEarly farmers cultivated einkorn in the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago. This makes Einkorn the earliest wheat strain we know and the only one we haven’t hybridized.
Wheat is critical. According to the University of York, wheat is the most common crop worldwide. It is also “the most important food grain source for humans, lying at the core of many contemporary culinary traditions.”1 Because of domestication and “a mixed plant cohort of wheat, barley, millet and green peas”2 in central Eurasia, einkorn nearly became extinct during the Bronze Age.
In its pristine form, einkorn is likely the purest and oldest food grain in existence today. This was evidenced in a frozen mummy, named Ötzi for the Ötztal Alps between Italy and Austria where he was found.
Because Ötzi was found at 10,500 feet (3,210 meters) above sea level encased in ice, he was preserved well enough for research, including the eventual dissection of his intestinal tract, wrote Martha Levie. “In his gut,” she said, “they found a meal that included grain and concluded it was this ancient wheat strain, but it was not like our modern grain.
“It was a different shape, and it only had 14 chromosomes compared to modern wheat, which has 42. It had different gluten content, a different flavor, and a different look. They named this grain einkorn, a German word for ‘single grain.’ It is the most ancient wheat known to man.”
Today, Triticum monococcum (its scientific name), still goes by einkorn in Germany and the USA. You may see other names on your shelf. In Italian, it is known both as small-spelt and farro piccolo. The French also have two names for it: engrain and le petit épautre. Other names include tiphe in Greek, siyez in Turkish, and sifon in Hebrew.
Characteristics of Einkorn
To me, einkorn tastes very similar to commercial wheat until you ferment it. But when you combine it with other flours, einkorn seems to add a kind of a deeper, nuttier taste than modern wheat does. For that reason, I find a way to work it into nearly every recipe I bake. “But,” cautioned Martha Levie, in a recent demonstration, “if you make bread with einkorn, you will notice you’re not going to get quite the rise you would normally. That is because the gluten content is different.”
Levie pointed out that “researchers have been able to study einkorn and compare it to our modern, over-hybridized wheat, and the difference is amazing. It is very delicious, and it’s good for you. Lots of people with limited gluten tolerance, even if they don’t ferment Einkorn, can eat this grain because it’s not as altered as our modern wheat.”
What sets Einkorn Apart
Jade Koyle at Einkorn.com, in Teton Idaho, believes the renewed interest in einkorn is related to “the health food craze and mounting interest in flour options for consumers with gluten sensitivities,” as he explained in an interview for CapitalPress. “Though einkorn contains gluten, Koyle explained it’s a different type than modern wheat, and gluten-intolerant customers around the world tell him they can digest it with ease. With just 14 chromosomes, Koyle said, einkorn is also genetically simpler than modern wheat, which has 42 chromosomes.”3
Koyle’s Ancient Grain site explains, “The wheat we eat today isn’t like they ate thousands of years ago.” Ancient grain is, they explain, a “more nutritious grain. Einkorn contains higher levels of protein, essential fatty acids, phosphorous, potassium, pyridoxine (B6), lutein and beta-carotene (lutein).”
Koyle goes on to explain that einkorn flour has “high protein, high ash, a very high carotene content, and small flour particle size when compared to the modern bread wheats. There’s a reason people ate this stuff for thousands of years and called it the staff of life,” Koyle concludes.
This week I will share my three-try adventure in using 100% Einkorn flour. Needless to say, the third time was the charm.
Tell us if you have a favorite Einkorn recipe in the comment section below
1 University of York. “Archaeologists find key to tracking ancient wheat in frozen Bronze Age box.” ScienceDaily, 26 July 2017.
2 Robert Spengler, Michael Frachetti, Paula Doumani, Lynne Rouse, Barbara Cerasetti, Elissa Bullion, Alexei Mar’yashev; Early agriculture and crop transmission among Bronze Age mobile pastoralists of Central Eurasia, Proc Biol Sci. 2014 May 22
3 , “Teton farmer specializes in ancient wheat subspecies,” CapitalPress, Jun 7, 2016
Author: Darryl Alder lives with his wife in Riverside Lodge, which is their home, along the Provo River in Utah. He is a retired career Scouter and outdoorsman who spent many hours over a campfire using a Dutch oven and loves sharing recipes for the kitchen and the campfire alike. You can read many of his recipes on this site by searching for Sourdough Saturday or Recipes on the top right-hand side of the blog