Emmer and einkorn are higher in fiber and protein than standard modern wheat and richer in many antioxidant nutrients.
In celebration of Whole Grains Month, I want to share two of my favorite grains, einkorn and emmer. If you’re drawing a blank, maybe the term farro rings a bell. If you were in Italy, farro would, somewhat confusingly, refer to three types of ancient wheat: einkorn (farro piccolo), emmer (farro medio) and spelt (farro grande). In the U.S., farro generally means emmer, whereas einkorn is einkorn and spelt is spelt. Einkorn and emmer, along with spelt and kamut, are forms of ancient wheat, the ancestors of our modern wheat.
What are ancient grains, exactly? According to the Oldways Whole Grains Council, there’s no strict list of ancient grains, but “ancient” generally means grains that have remained relatively unchanged over the centuries.
One thing that distinguishes modern wheat from its ancestors is the number of chromosomes it has. Einkorn, the original or “mother” wheat, is a diploid wheat with two sets of chromosomes, and it has never been hybridized.
Emmer, a hybrid of einkorn and a type of wild grass, is a tetraploid wheat with four sets of chromosomes. Spelt, a hybrid of emmer and another wild grass, is a hexaploid wheat with six sets of chromosomes. Modern wheat is also hexaploid.
Most Read Stories
Here’s why the number of chromosomes in your wheat might matter: All types of wheat contain gluten, but einkorn’s simpler genetic makeup means that its gluten is weaker — gluten is made up of several proteins, and the protein mix in einkorn is different. As a result, some people with nonceliac gluten sensitivity find that they can tolerate einkorn — but people with diagnosed celiac disease shouldn’t try it.
Emmer and einkorn were first domesticated almost 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent. Emmer has been enjoyed by Italians for centuries — it provided sustenance for the Roman legions around the turn of the first millennium — and is still cultivated in Italy. It’s also a traditional food in Ethiopia.
Emmer wheat fell out of favor in the 1960s as modern bread wheat became desirable, but started to enjoy a resurgence in Europe and the U.S. in the 1990s. Einkorn has been discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs, but was largely abandoned 5,000 years ago because it is difficult to harvest…