A Comparison of Heirloom Wheat Varieties for Sourdough Baking

 

Many people don’t realize that the most widely cultivated and sold variety of wheat is not the only one. The modern wheat that is most widely available is actually not the same grain that existed in ancient times and was consumed as “wheat” up until the last century.

The differences come in the hybridizations, the number of chromosomes, and the resultant change in nutrition and chemical structure of the grain itself.

If you are interested in sourdough baking then you may be interested in learning about alternative forms of wheat, known as heirlooms. These heirlooms can be used instead of wheat, in various sourdough baked goods. Each has its own unique use and flavor, and for some, it may be more about the nutrition of the grain than its flavor.

There are three ways wheat's chromosomes can be arranged. There can be either two, four, or six sets of 7 chromosomes in a particular variety of wheat. These types are called, respectively, diploid, tetraploid, or haploid. The various chromosomes in a particular type of wheat will influence its flavor, density, gluten content, protein levels, and more.

Kamut

Kamut, also known as Khorasan wheat, is an ancient wheat variety from the Khorasan region of Iran. It is botanically a form of Triticum turanicum. While it is twice the size of modern wheat, it is also lower-yielding in terms of a per-acre harvest.

The kamut grain is very high in protein and minerals and is a tetraploid wheat.

Kamut is known for its buttery flavor. It can be substituted for whole-grain wheat flour, and is especially suited to things like tortillas and crackers.

Spelt

Spelt, also known as hulled or dinkel wheat, is a hexaploid variety of wheat. It is a subspecies or close cousin to common wheat. It is thought that spelt came about as a hybrid of a domesticated tetraploid wheat, like emmer, and a wild goat-grass.

The spelt grain is rich in carbohydrates, protein, and minerals.

Spelt is similar to wheat in baking, but produces a coarser, less spongy bread loaf than wheat. It is good for biscuits and other baked goods such as quick breads and crackers.

Emmer

The emmer variety of wheat, commonly known as farro in Italy and other regions of the world, is known for giving a good yield even in poor soil.

The emmer grain is similar to spelt and kamut in nutritional value. It is a tetraploid wheat.

Emmer has been used as animal feed, to make bread in traditional Turkish societies, and as a whole grain in dishes in Tuscany.

Einkorn

Einkorn is most similar to what one would find in a wild wheat. It is a diploid wheat, having only two sets of chromosomes, the fewest of any wheat known.

It also has a different type of gluten than the modern wheat gluten that we are familiar with. And while it is less productive in the field, it has also been shown to be easier to digest than modern wheat.

Einkorn can be used to make a whole host of sourdough products, from loaf bread to pizza crust. Because of the different type of proteins the results won’t be exactly like a modern wheat bread, but the flavor and nutrition will blow you away.

Hopefully with the above information you can move forward in your artisanal sourdough baking into a world of ancient, unadulterated grains.


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