Q: “Hey Doll! Ancient-grains! Flour substitutes! Oh so confusing!!! Which is better… or leave them out completely???” —Candice from London, ON
A: Grrrainsss… All the information about ancient grains circulating out there can kinda make us feel like food zombies with no real clear answer. Are they better than wheat? Can we bake with their flours? To hopefully help you guys understand the nature of ancient grains, let’s talk about two ancient grain varieties that are common today: Spelt and Kamut.
Spelt and Kamut are the primitive ancestors of modern wheat. Yet they came from wheat. So yes, this means that they, too, technically are wheat. But! For those who suffer from wheat sensitivities, Spelt and Kamut may be tolerated by those who are following a rotation diet; this means that they are only consumed every 4 days (or longer intervals, ideally as a sensitivity to Spelt and Kamut may also result). However, Spelt and Kamut are not tolerated by those who suffer from gluten sensitivities because, although they contain a lesser amount, they do contain gluten.
To use Spelt and Kamut flours as substitutes to regular all-purpose wheat flour can be a little bit tricky and can take some experimentation on a recipe-by-recipe basis. Some favour Kamut for its rich-tasting flavour, making it a good choice for homemade breads, pastas, and baked goods. Many people say that Spelt can be substituted cup-for-cup for all-purpose flour, however you may encounter differences in consistency as the type of gluten in these ancient grains is more fragile and can break down more easily (this is one of the reasons they are easier to digest for those with wheat sensitivities). From my own personal experience, I have substituted all-purpose flour for Spelt flour in baked goods and have had good results. Some bakers may recommend adding ¼ tsp of baking powder or baking soda to the recipe to help with adding some of the fluffiness that regular wheat provides through its higher gluten content. So for use as a flour, a bread recipe vs. a pasta recipe may yield better results using either Spelt or Kamut flour, and for reasons based purely on texture and esthetics, the recipe may require adding gluten flour to achieve the desired result.
From a nutritional standpoint, whole cooked, sprouted, or cold-milled (into a flour) Spelt or Kamut can contain up to 12 B-vitamins, vitamin E, protein, some essential fatty acids, and trace minerals like zinc, iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorous. Fortunately here in Northern Ontario, we have a few organic producers close by: LoonSong on Manitoulin Island and Poschaven Farms in New Liskeard. To be sure that you are not sensitive to either flour, you can always seek the advice of a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (oh hey!) who can guide you through an elimination diet.
Hope this helps to clear up any old grainy areas you may have had with regards to Spelt and Kamut!
Thank you for your question on our first Q+A Tuesday, Candice!
Much love and wellness to all,