Why is healthy wheat so hard to get? You may have heard of the words “frankenwheat” or “frankenfoods,” which have been imposed on the public by agricultural geneticists due to the scientific engineering of wheat and wheat food products. This has created a movement away from wheat products due to the damaging effects they may have, in particular the issues people have consuming foods with gluten. This is where einkorn flour comes in.
Dr. Mark Hyman, a collaborator and friend, notes in an article in the Huffington Post that each American now consumes about 55 pounds of wheat flour every year. It isn’t just the amount of wheat consumed that’s of concern, but also the hidden components found within wheat that can cause weight gain and disease. (1) This is why wheat gives you a belly.
While this is not the wheat your great-grandmother used, there are some ancient grains, such as einkorn, available today that healthier, easier to digest and, frankly, a superior alternative. So what is einkorn flour? Like two other ancient wheats, emmer (farro) and spelt flour, einkorn is a covered wheat — however, these ancient grains have less gluten and more nutrition than traditional whole wheat. (2) That’s why einkorn flour offers health benefits whole wheat simply can’t. What are they? Read on.
Benefits of Einkorn Flour
Ancient grains are thought by many to be inherently more nutritious than modern varieties. Einkorn flour is the most ancient wheat, offering many essential dietary and trace minerals. It’s a good source of protein, iron, dietary fiber, thiamine and a number of other B Vitamins. It also contains a significant amount of the powerful antioxidant lutein with higher antioxidant levels than durum and bread wheat.
There is a much lower percentage of nutrient loss during processing of einkorn, and it can be substituted for whole wheat flour in most recipes, though it may result in a different texture. Regardless, the results are worth exploring, especially since the nutritional benefits likely outweigh other options. (3)
1. Reduces the Risk of Eye Disease
The process of sprouting can provide significant benefits to many of our foods. In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, sprouting times and illumination conditions of carotenoids found in spelt, durum, emmer and einkorn were investigated. It revealed that carotenoid levels significantly increased during sprouting, particularly under light exposure, though concentrations of some other lipophilic antioxidants produced a smaller effect. (4)
Dietary carotenoids are thought to provide health benefits in decreasing the risk of some diseases, include eye diseases like macular degeneration, because the beneficial effects of carotenoids are thought to be due to their role as antioxidants. Lutein, zeaxanthin and β-carotene, found in einkorn, may be protective in eye disease because they can absorb damaging light that enters the eye. This information gives way to the idea that wheat sprouts could be a potential functional ingredient to increase the nutritional value of cereal products. (5)
2. Limits Allergy Symptoms
The number of wheat-allergic patients has increased in recent years, presenting the need and desire for less allergenic wheat varieties. The aim of a recent study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology was to screen 324 varieties of wheat chosen from various parts of the world. To ensure the best screening, testing was examined with major wheat allergens or components of gluten, including glutenin and gliadin. The patients’ antibodies reacted to these three allergens, making them suitable for the primary screening for the less allergenic wheat varieties so there was a reliable comparison.
Several varieties, including einkorn, were noted as less allergenic. These findings will lead to additional research of less allergenic wheat options and likely become mother plants for breeding with the goal of helping wheat-allergic patients to help eliminate or treat food allergies. (6)
3. Helps You Lose Weight
When our bodies are able to digest foods better, it can ultimately help with weight loss. There are 30 percent more people who are obese than undernourished in the world, and much is due to the increased amount of frankenwheat in our foods. In fact, it’s been reported that each American consumes about 55 pounds of wheat flour every year!
Einkorn flour is a healthier choice, and while it’s best to consume all wheat in moderation, choosing einkorn ancient grains over more modern wheat can help reduce the risk of obesity and may help you lose weight, in particular because studies show that the quality of einkorn surpasses other wheats.
While einkorn wholemeal is limited in dietary fiber, it’s rich in proteins and unsaturated fatty acids, fructans, and trace elements, such as zinc and iron. The good concentration of several antioxidant compounds combined with these trace elements contribute to the excellent nutritional properties of einkorn flour. Functional foods have become more important, and the health benefits of einkorn suggest that it may play a significant role in human consumption and the development of new or specialty foods that contain the best nutritional quality. In any case, to get the benefits, make sure the einkorn product is in its purest form and not combined with chemicals or miscellaneous ingredients. (7)
4. May Help Delay the Onset of Type 2 Diabetes
A study conducted at the Department of Endocrinology and Internal Medicine at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark investigated the physiological effects of ancient wheat whole grain flour diets on the development and progression of type 2 diabetes, specifically to look at the glycemic responses. An intervention study was conducted, involving the consumption of five different diets, including emmer, einkorn, spelt, rye flour and refined wheat, for a period nine weeks.
Testing revealed a downregulation of hepatic genes, the process by which a cell decreases the quantity of a cellular component in response to an external variable. The spelt and rye induced a low acute glycemic response. The wheat group had higher HDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. The study concluded that ancient wheat diets decreased cell production relating to glucose and fat metabolism, equivalent to prevention or delay of diabetes development. (8) Thus, it’s a good idea to include ancient grains and flours like einkorn flour in any diabetes diet plan.
5. Prevents the Risk of Disease
The whole meal flour of wheat and einkorn flour is rich in phenolic acids. Phenolic acids, through ingestion of some plants, fruits and vegetables, protect our bodies from oxidative damage and diseases, such as coronary heart disease, stroke and cancers.
Research published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology studied the influence of phenolic acid content and antioxidant activity of whole meal flour water biscuits and puffed kernels of einkorn and bread wheat. Overall, from flour to water biscuit, the total soluble conjugated phenolic acids increased in the einkorn, while some phenolic acids decreased as ingredients were added. The results confirmed that the antioxidant activity increased during processing and was highest under the most drastic puffing conditions of the einkorn and bread wheat. The good news is that the einkorn maintained the nutritional value, even throughout the change in form to a puffed state. (9)
6. Contains Less Gluten
For those with sensitive tummies, ancient forms of wheat like einkorn are typically easier to digest than wheat that’s mass-produced, particularly in the U.S., due to the lower levels of gluten. This is good news for endurance athletes, too, since they often look for a grain-like carb that’s easy to digest before racing. (10)
Different types of wheat have different numbers of chromosomes. Some studies show that the ancient wheats, with fewer chromosomes, tend to have lower levels of gluten, and gluten causes sensitivities for many. Einkorn, the oldest known type of wheat today, has 14 chromosomes, which makes it a diploid wheat. Durum wheat, most often used for pasta, and emmer are tetraploid wheats, containing 28 chromosomes, while modern wheat and spelt have 42 chromosomes, known as hexaploid wheats. However, if celiac disease is a problem for you, einkorn flour is still not safe for consumption. (11)
Einkorn Flour Nutrition
A 100-gram serving of einkorn flour contains about: (12)
- 1,450 calories
- 18.2 grams protein
- 2.5 grams fat
- 8.7 grams fiber
- 415 milligrams phosphorus (42 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram thiamine (33 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram riboflavin (29 percent DV)
- 4.6 milligrams iron (26 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram vitamin B6 (25 percent DV)
- 3.1 milligrams niacin (16 percent DV)
- 2.2 milligrams zinc (15 percent DV)
- 390 milligrams potassium (11 percent DV)
- 312 IU vitamin A (6 percent DV)
Einkorn Flour vs. Whole Wheat
Here are some of the biggest distinctions between einkorn flour and whole wheat. (13)
- Einkorn grains are much smaller than grains of modern forms of wheat.
- Einkorn does not have the crease that’s present on the side of modern wheat grains, which arose in modern wheat due to being genetically altered by choosing seeds that delivered more gluten and higher yields that are ideal for large-scale production and distribution in larger farms.
- Einkorn has gluten, but it may be a healthier version, making it easier to digest compared to the gluten found in modern wheat. It doesn’t contain the D genome but rather the A genome, a significant difference because the most popular test for detecting the presence of gluten is based on the presence of the D genome. Although Einkorn does contain gluten, it’s a different type of gluten and passes the ELISA test, which is a commonly used laboratory test to detect antibodies in the blood.
- Einkorn is a diploid like most plants, meaning it has two sets of chromosomes, while modern bread wheat has six sets.
- Einkorn is clearly the most ancient and purest type of wheat with only two sets of chromosomes, meaning its natural gluten content is low, making it a healthy food.
- Einkorn contains more carotenoids, which can help in preventing serious diseases, such as cancer, whereas carotenoids are harder to find in modern whole wheat.
Origins of Einkorn Flour
Einkorn is an ancient wheat variety and one of the first cultivated cereal grains in history. It was cultivated as far back as the early Bronze Age — however, einkorn and other ancient wheats faded as modern hybrid wheats became a big part of wheat production.
Today, einkorn is grown mostly in Europe, but due to the high protein content and nutritional value it provides, it’s different than our modern wheat. When modern wheat breads were compared to breads made from einkorn in France, the einkorn breads had a light, rich taste, leaving the modern bread wheat products nearly tasteless and less desired. Einkorn grains, berries and flour are used in various food dishes, such as soups, salads, casseroles, sauces, breads, pastries, pancakes and waffles, and einkorn flour may be safer to eat than modern wheats for those that are gluten-sensitive.
This wheat is thought to have originated in the upper area of the fertile crescent of the Near East. Through its wide distribution throughout the Near East, Transcaucasia, the Mediterranean region, southwestern Europe and the Balkans, einkorn was one of the first cereals cultivated for food. The grain protein is consistently higher than modern wheats, though the amino acid composition of einkorn is similar to wheat and considered more nutritious than hard red wheat, based on the higher level of protein, crude fat, phosphorous, potassium, pyridoxine and beta-carotene, according to Purdue University’s Center for New Crops and Plant Products. (14) It’s rich in carotenoids, which are the naturally occurring red, orange and yellow pigments seen in many fruits and vegetables that may help to prevent cancer and other diseases.
Wild einkorn (Triticum monococcum) is thought to have been harvested in the late Paleolithic and early Mesolithic Ages, 16,000–15,000 B.C. Wild grains have been dated to the early Neolithic (Stone Age) time as far back as 10,000 B.C. Cultivated einkorn continued its popularity during the Neolithic and early Bronze Ages 10,000–4,000 B.C. Emmer surfaced during the mid-Bronze Age, but einkorn continued to be cultivated into the early 20th century.
Today, einkorn production is usually found in small, isolated regions within France, India, Italy, Turkey and Yugoslavia.
How to Prepare Einkorn Flour
Many foodies rave about the nuttier taste of einkorn versus the flavor of everyday wheat. Einkorn berries are smaller than wheat, spelt or kamut berries and can be cooked in a water-to-grain ratio of 2:1 for about 30 minutes, then used as a side dish for meats like fish and chicken, tossed with veggies and dressing for a more hearty salad, and simmered with warming spices like cinnamon and served with Greek yogurt. Einkorn flour has a soft texture for making delicious breads, cookies, muffins, waffles and pancakes.
You can usually replace wheat flours with einkorn flour in most recipes, and here’s an einkorn flour recipe to get your started:
Einkorn and Chia Pancakes with Fresh Blueberries and Mango
Serves: 3-4 (about 10 pancakes)
- 1.5 cups einkorn flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 3 tablespoons ground chia seeds
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1.5 cups almond milk
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- Fresh organic blueberries
- 1 cup chopped fresh mango
- ¼ cup pure almond butter
- ¼ cup local honey
- Mix together the honey and almond butter until well-blended. Set aside.
- Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl.
- Add the almond milk, vanilla, maple syrup and apple cider vinegar and blend together. Let sit for 5–10 minutes so the chia can thicken the mixture.
- Use a ¼ measuring cup to scoop out the portions and cook over medium heat in a lightly oiled pan.
- Flip when bubbles appear in the middle of each pancake, then cook for another 3–5 minutes on the other side.
- Serve with fresh blueberries and mango. Drizzle with almond butter and honey mixture.
Einkorn Flour Risks
It’s best to make sure that any grain is safe, especially if you are sensitive to gluten. Einkorn contains gluten, which makes it unsafe for anyone with celiac disease.
Final Thoughts on Einkorn Flour
Einkorn flour is an ancient wheat grain that’s healthier than traditional whole wheat. That’s partly due to its much lower gluten content, and while it’s not gluten-free, it’s much more easily digested and often fine for most people with gluten intolerance symptoms to eat. However, it’s not safe for anyone who has diagnosed celiac disease.
If you don’t have celiac disease, however, einkorn flour is a great choice and definitely preferable to whole wheat. Why? It’s been shown to reduce the risk of eye disease, limit allergy symptoms, help you lose weight, possible help delay the onset of type 2 diabetes and prevent the risk of disease.
So if you’re tired of the negatives traditional whole wheat holds and want a superior wheat, einkorn is just the thing.
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