Einkorn was the first wheat that humans farmed as they shifted from hunter-gatherer to agriculturally based societies in the Mediterranean regions. In those days wheat varieties that produced the most pounds per acre were favored, and einkorn was not one of them so in time was left at the wayside. Many years later it was learned that gluten gives bread its chewy elasticity and lofty rise during the bread making process and armed with this new knowledge wheat hybridization to enhance gluten content became the goal. Wheat is not a genetically modified food however intense hybridization of wheat to contain high concentrations of gluten has created a nutritional nightmare.
Einkorn is a low-gluten wheat that predates spelt and other wheat family members and is still grown for consumption in some parts of Europe. People with celiac disease, a condition first medically described in the 1950’s and the most serious of wheat sensitivities, still need to treat this product with caution. However, others should do well with this antiquarian grain.
This brings us to the other part of my story that begins in the early 1900’s. Baker’s yeast, a fast- acting yeast that substantially reduces the time needed to make bread came onto the market and bread bakers loved it. Unfortunately this shift in baking technique created serious health issues for many people.
Previous to Baker’s yeast people used a mother yeast or sourdough yeast that has an amazing characteristic: it breaks down gluten. So, if we go back in time before the advent of Baker’s yeast and high gluten wheat species, the incidence of wheat sensitivity health issues appear to vanish. In fact, a series of Italian studies done in 2004 with celiac patients maintaining a gluten free diet showed amazing results (Raffaella Di Cagno et al). They had no adverse reactions after consuming wheat products prepared the traditional way with slow acting mother yeast. When these same individuals consumed wheat products made with Baker’s yeast they had severe negative intestinal reactions.
Sourdough yeast and bacteria work together to digest gluten and release carbon dioxide which helps the bread to rise. They also provide the wonderful flavors that vary from one sourdough product to another depending on the specific bacteria and yeast colonies in the starter.
Personally, I love my sourdough pancakes made from a sourdough starter born in our home kitchen. Here are two websites for those interested in making their own sourdough products:
And for more on the subject of nutritionally superior fermentable food I highly recommend Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz
I hope you have enjoyed this month’s newsletter. As always, comments and questions are welcome. Happy New Year!
Jon Dunn, ND