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Spelt: A high-protein alternative to common wheat

If you want to get away from white flours, Spelt is a great place to start. It's an ancient grain, is high-protein, and also full of dietary fiber, several B vitamins, and numerous dietary minerals. See if it's right for you.

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If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re like me and have a growing interest in what we call “ancient grains”–or food that has been traditionally eaten and not modified by modern industrial practices.

Spelt, an ancient grain, has been growing in popularity because not only is it an easy substitution for regular, all-purpose flour, it also can be eaten as a hot cereal (like oatmeal), used as a substitute for rice, or so many other products like breads, crackers, and flour for home baking​​.

Origin and history

So, where does it come from?

Spelt, known scientifically as Triticum spelta, is an ancient grain that is seeing a resurgence in popularity, particularly among those looking for alternative grains or more health-conscious choices. Its history and origin are deeply intertwined with the evolution of wheat and agriculture.

It’s history includes:

  • Neolithic period: Spelt’s cultivation can be traced back over 7,000 years to the Neolithic period. Archaeological evidence suggests that it was first cultivated in parts of what is now Iran and Southeastern Europe.
  • Ancient civilizations: Spelt was a staple in ancient civilizations, including Greece, where it was known as “zeia”, and in ancient Rome, where it was called “farrum”. It was frequently mentioned by classical writers and was praised for its taste and health benefits.
  • Medieval Europe: In the medieval period, spelt was commonly grown in parts of Europe, especially in regions of modern-day Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. In fact, the German name for spelt, “Dinkel”, is still used today.

Unfortunately, by the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the cultivation of spelt began to decline. This was due to the rise of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), which was easier to process and yielded a softer, more refined flour. Modern agricultural practices and machinery were better suited to bread wheat, leading to its dominance.

But, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, spelt began to make a comeback. This resurgence can be attributed to several factors:

  • Health-conscious movements: Many people perceive spelt as a healthier alternative to modern wheat. It is often touted for its higher protein content and richer profile of vitamins and minerals.
  • Digestibility: Some individuals find spelt easier to digest compared to common wheat. This might be due to its slightly different gluten composition.
  • Organic and sustainable farming: Spelt is more resilient to pests and diseases, making it a favorite among organic farmers.
  • Taste and texture: Spelt has a nutty flavor and chewy texture that many people find appealing, especially in baked goods.

Today, spelt can be found in a variety of products, from breads and pastas to cereals and snacks. Its growing popularity reflects a broader interest in ancient grains and a move towards more diverse and sustainable agricultural practices.

The difference between Spelt and modern wheat

“Is all this worth it?” … Is sometimes how I feel when I’m in the middle of cleaning grains, grinding flour, or making bread from scratch. But then I’m reminded that the convenience of buying bread from the grocery store comes at a cost: it’s made with modern wheat and has lots and lots of thing added to it that I don’t want to eat.

If you want to nerd out with me a bit here, it’s good to understand at the chromosomal makeup of Spelt compared to modern wheat varieties. This can give you confidence if you choose to bake with Spelt versus using the much easier, standard all-purpose flour we grew up using.

  • Spelt, which is scientifically known as Triticum aestivum ssp. spelta, belongs to the group of hexaploid wheats. This means it has six sets of chromosomes (2n=6x=42). Hexaploid wheats, including Spelt, have developed through a process of domestication and hybridization involving tetraploid wheats and a wild goatgrass species. This process has resulted in the introduction of new genomes into spelt, enhancing its characteristics such as cold-hardiness and contributing to distinctive morphological features while keeping its more broad genetic base intact. This means that you’ll see more diversity in Spelt, such as size, color, and flavor. Spelt grown in different seasons or in different locations will vary more than modern bread wheat. And its 42 chromosomes make it easier to digest than modern wheat
  • Modern bread wheat, also a hexaploid wheat (Triticum aestivum ssp. aestivum), shares this basic chromosomal structure with Spelt. However, modern bread wheat has undergone extensive breeding and selection, leading to a narrower genetic base compared to spelt. To make that easier to understand, modern food companies want a consistent product, from crop to crop. It has undergone extensive breeding and selection to make it more “the same” and have little variation

Therefore, while Spelt and modern wheat are both hexaploid and share the A, B, and D genome types, they are very different. Eating foods made with Spelt can get you closer to the foods our ancestors ate, hence why we call it an “ancient grain.”

Spelt against other ancient grains

While Spelt shares some characteristics with other ancient grains like Emmer and Kamut, it also has distinct differences in terms of chromosomal makeup, flavor, and suitability for various culinary uses.

Amaranth and Quinoa, being gluten-free, offer alternatives for those with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease, differing significantly from spelt and other ancient wheats.


  • Like Spelt, Emmer is an ancient variety of wheat
  • It is tetraploid, meaning it has 28 chromosomes, compared to spelt’s hexaploidy (42 chromosomes)
  • Emmer is known for its nutty flavor and high fiber content, similar to Spelt
  • Used in bread and pasta, just like Spelt, but Emmer’s bread is slightly different in texture


  • Einkorn is a diploid wheat with only 14 chromosomes, making it genetically simpler than Spelt, so it can be easier to digest for people who are sensitive to gluten
  • It has a different flavor profile – typically nuttier and more earthy
  • Einkorn’s gluten structure is different, making it less suitable for some traditional wheat recipes compared to Spelt. Einkorn can come with a much steeper learning curve because of it’s different gluten structure (it’s always sticky!)
  • Einkorn bread is denser and “more rustic” compared to Spelt bread, making Spelt a better choice if you or your family is new to 100% whole wheat (see my tips on how to switch your family to whole grain here)

Kamut (Khorasan Wheat)

  • Kamut is another ancient wheat variety with 28 chromosomes
  • It has a buttery and rich flavor, distinct from Spelt’s nutty and slightly sweet taste
  • Kamut is lighter in color than Spelt, making it “feel” more like traditional white bread
  • Higher in protein compared to Spelt
  • Kamut is also used in a range of recipes but has a different texture and nutritional profile compared to Spelt


  • Amaranth is not a wheat but a gluten-free seed
  • Unlike Spelt, it is suitable for those with celiac disease
  • Amaranth is a complete protein source and is rich in iron and magnesium
  • Its small seeds offer a different culinary application compared to spelt, being used in salads, popped, or as flour


  • Quinoa is a gluten-free pseudograin from South America
  • It is completely different from Spelt in terms of plant family and gluten content
  • Quinoa is a complete protein source, containing all nine essential amino acids
  • Its versatile nature makes it suitable for a wide range of dishes, offering a different texture and flavor profile compared to Spelt


Nutritionally, spelt is a rich source of protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins, and numerous dietary minerals, with particularly high contents of manganese, phosphorus, and niacin. It contains about 70% carbohydrates, including 11% as dietary fiber, and is relatively low in fat.

Spelt does contain gluten, making it unsuitable for individuals with gluten-related disorders like celiac disease. However, its gluten structure differs from modern wheat, having a more soluble protein matrix with a higher gliadin to glutenin ratio, which may contribute to its distinct baking properties.

  • Nutritional profile: Spelt is rich in nutrients like fiber, protein, and a variety of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and zinc
  • Gluten content: Spelt does contain gluten, so it’s not suitable for those with celiac disease or severe gluten sensitivity. However, some people find spelt easier to digest than common wheat
  • Flavor and texture: It has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor, and it can be a bit chewier than common wheat
  • Versatility: Spelt can be used in a variety of recipes. It is available in whole grain form, as flour, or as spelt flakes. It can be used for making bread, pasta, and baked goods, as well as a rice substitute in various dishes

Nutritional benefits

Spelt is high in essential nutrients like protein, dietary fiber, and various minerals including magnesium, iron, and phosphorus. Its vitamin content is also noteworthy, particularly the B vitamins like thiamin and niacin. This makes spelt a nutritious option for those looking to diversify their grain intake.

Like any whole grain that includes the bran and hull, Spelt offers numerous nutritional benefits. Below is a table summarizing the nutritional profile of Spelt per 100g (3.5 oz) serving:

NutrientAmount% Daily Value*
Calories338 kcal
Protein14.6 g29%
Total Fat2.4 g4%
– Saturated Fat0.4 g2%
– Trans Fat0 g
Cholesterol0 mg0%
Sodium8 mg<1%
Total Carbohydrates70.2 g23%
Dietary Fiber10.7 g43%
Sugars6.8 g
Vitamins & Minerals
– Calcium27 mg3%
– Iron4.4 mg24%
– Magnesium136 mg34%
– Phosphorus401 mg40%
– Potassium388 mg11%
– Zinc3.3 mg22%
– Vitamin A8 IU<1%
– Vitamin C0 mg0%
– Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol)0.5 mg2%
– Vitamin K3.6 mcg5%
– Thiamin (Vitamin B1)0.4 mg27%
– Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)0.1 mg6%
– Niacin (Vitamin B3)6.8 mg34%
– Vitamin B60.2 mg10%
– Folate (Vitamin B9)45 mcg11%
– Vitamin B120 mcg0%
Remember that Spelt is a naturally occurring grain and these values are approximate and can vary based on factors such as the specific variety of Spelt and growing conditions.

*% Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Health benefits

Spelt, like other whole grains, offers a range of health benefits. Here are some of them:

  • Nutrient-rich: Spelt is rich in essential nutrients like protein, fiber, and a variety of vitamins and minerals (see the chart above!). These nutrients are crucial for maintaining good health and metabolic function.
  • High fiber content: The fiber content in spelt is beneficial for digestive health. Fiber helps in maintaining regular bowel movements and could potentially prevent constipation. High fiber intake is also associated with a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Cardiovascular health: Whole grains like spelt are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. The fiber, vitamins, and minerals in spelt work together to lower cholesterol levels, regulate blood pressure, and improve blood vessel function.
  • Blood sugar control: The high fiber content in spelt also helps in regulating blood sugar levels. Fiber slows down the absorption of sugar, reducing spikes in blood sugar and making it beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes or those at risk.
  • Rich in antioxidants: Spelt contains a variety of antioxidants, including polyphenols and carotenoids. These compounds help neutralize harmful free radicals, thereby reducing oxidative stress and lowering the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Good source of protein: Spelt is relatively high in protein compared to other grains. Protein is essential for cellular repair, immune function, and muscle building.
  • Rich in vitamins and minerals: The vitamins and minerals in spelt, such as B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and zinc, contribute to various bodily functions including energy production, immune function, and bone health.
  • May be easier to digest: Although spelt contains gluten, it is often said to be easier to digest compared to common wheat. Some people who are sensitive to wheat (but not those with celiac disease) find that they can tolerate spelt.
  • Versatile culinary uses: Beyond its health benefits, spelt is also praised for its nutty flavor and versatility in cooking. It can be used in a variety of recipes, from bread and pasta to salads and side dishes.
  • Weight management: The fiber and protein content in spelt can help with weight management by providing a feeling of fullness, thereby reducing overall calorie intake.

Flavor profile

Spelt has a distinct, complex flavor profile that sets it apart from common wheat and other grains. Its taste is often described as nutty, slightly sweet, and earthy. This unique combination of flavors gives spelt a rustic and hearty character, making it popular among those who enjoy whole grains with a pronounced taste.

Milling Spelt berries into flour. I then can use this flour to make bread, cookies, and amazing brownies.

The texture of spelt also contributes to its overall eating experience. When cooked, spelt grains offer a chewy texture, and spelt flour products like bread or pasta tend to have a slightly denser consistency compared to those made with common wheat flour.

Because of its robust flavor, Spelt often pairs well with other strong flavors like those found in root vegetables, mushrooms, and aged cheeses. It’s also versatile enough to be used in both sweet and savory dishes. For example, spelt flour can be used in pancakes, muffins, or cookies where its slightly sweet, nutty nuances can complement other ingredients. In savory applications, spelt grains or flour can be used in salads, soups, stews, and bread, where its earthy qualities can add depth to the overall dish.

Tips and techniques to cooking with Spelt

Unlike Einkorn or Kamut, I found that Spelt was a bit more forgiving and easier to transition to from all-purpose white flour. It’s a great first step and you can typically find Spelt flour online.

  1. Whole Spelt berries: If you want to cook Spelt berries whole and eat them as a hot cereal, it’s best to soak them overnight to shorten the cooking time and make them easier to digest. Boil the soaked grains in water or broth until they are tender, which usually takes about 30-40 minutes
  2. Spelt flour: When baking with Spelt flour, be aware that it absorbs less liquid than wheat flour. Therefore, you might need to adjust the liquid content in your recipes. For dishes like bread, pancakes, and pasta, remember to add less liquid NOT more flour. Start off with about 2/3 the recommended flour and add slowly
  3. Adjustment for gluten: There is a lot of forgiveness when baking with all-purpose white flour. I’ve accidentally left my stand mixer on and because of the high gluten content, it won’t ruin your bread. Spelt is different … Spelt has less and weaker gluten compared to regular wheat, so when making bread, don’t over-knead the dough, and expect a denser texture. Similar to Einkorn, I usually use a dough whisk and a bowl as it forces me to mix it just enough without over-mixing and ruining the dough
  4. Toasting spelt: You can toast spelt grains before cooking to enhance their nutty flavor. Simply toast them in a dry pan for a few minutes until they become fragrant, let them cool, and cook into a hot cereal or pilaf, or grind for flour
  5. Versatility in recipes: Spelt can replace other grains like rice or barley in most recipes. Use it in salads, soups, or stews for added texture and nutrition

Ways to incorporate Spelt into your diet

Incorporating Spelt into your diet can be both delicious and nutritious.

My kids love Spelt brownies!

If you think bread is the only place to try Spelt, I want to expand your thinking. Here are some ideas:

  1. Spelt bread: Replace regular wheat flour with spelt flour in your bread recipes for a nuttier flavor. My yeast Spelt hamburger buns are super easy and ready in only 2-hours
  2. Spelt tortillas: This is one of my favorite ways to use Spelt! With only four ingredients, you can make fresh tortillas that are not only higher in protein, but don’t have any chemical ingredients you can’t pronounce. You can find my Spelt tortilla recipe here
  3. Breakfast cereal: Use spelt flakes as a base for homemade granola or as a hot cereal, similar to oatmeal
  4. Salads and side dishes: Cooked spelt grains can be added to salads or used as a side dish, similar to rice or quinoa
  5. Spelt pasta: Substitute regular pasta with spelt pasta, which is readily available in many stores.
  6. Soups and stews: Add whole or cracked spelt grains to soups and stews for extra texture and nutrients
  7. Baking: Use spelt flour for baking cookies, muffins, pancakes, and cakes. I think Spelt is one of the best grains for brownies. You can find my recipe here
  8. Snacks: Spelt can be incorporated into homemade energy bars or snack balls

Frequently asked questions

Can Spelt flour be used in a 1:1 ratio with regular wheat flour?

Yes, Spelt flour can generally be used in a 1:1 ratio as a substitute for regular wheat flour in most baking recipes. However, due to Spelt’s different gluten content and absorption properties, always add the same amount of Spelt while adjusting the liquid in the recipe. Don’t be tempted to add more flour than the recipe calls for as you inadvertently make it too dense.

Do I need to adjust the liquid content in recipes when using Spelt flour?

Spelt flour absorbs less liquid than wheat flour. Therefore, you’ll likely need to reduce the liquid content in your recipes when using Spelt flour to prevent the batter or dough from becoming too wet.

When changing recipes from all-purpose white flour to whole wheat, always use the same amount of flour while reducing the amount of liquid!

How does the taste of spelt flour compare to traditional wheat flour?

Spelt flour has a nuttier and slightly sweeter taste compared to traditional wheat flour. This distinct flavor makes spelt flour popular in artisanal bread and other baked goods.

Is Spelt suitable for people with gluten sensitivities?

While Spelt contains less gluten than common wheat, it is not gluten-free. Therefore, it is not suitable for people with celiac disease. However, some people with mild gluten sensitivities find Spelt more digestible.

Does Spelt flour change the texture of baked goods?

Yes, Spelt flour often results in a denser and slightly chewier texture in baked goods compared to those made with all-purpose wheat flour. This is due to Spelt’s lower gluten content.

Spelt is also darker in color than all-purpose flour. If you are switching your family over to 100% whole wheat, consider doing 50% Spelt and 50% all-purpose flour and slowly changing the ratio as your taste buds adjust.

How should I store Spelt flour to keep it fresh?

Spelt flour should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. If you plan to keep it for an extended period, storing it in the refrigerator or freezer can help preserve its freshness.

You can read more about how to store four here.

Can I use Spelt flour for both sweet and savory baking?

Absolutely, Spelt flour is versatile and can be used in both sweet and savory baking recipes. Its nutty flavor lends itself well to a variety of dishes.

Does Spelt flour require different baking temperatures or times?

Spelt flour generally doesn’t require different baking temperatures, but the baking times might be slightly shorter due to its different protein structure. It’s advisable to monitor your baking closely.

Are there any special kneading or rising techniques for Spelt bread?

When making Spelt bread, avoid over-kneading the dough as Spelt’s gluten is more delicate. The rising times might also be shorter, so keep an eye on the dough during the proofing stage.

Can Spelt be used to make pasta, and does it cook differently than regular pasta?

Yes, Spelt can be used to make pasta, offering a unique flavor and texture. Spelt pasta might cook slightly faster than regular pasta, so it’s important to check for doneness a few minutes earlier to avoid overcooking.