It’s believed that spelt flour was first used almost 8,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest cultivated crops in human history. Spelt flour, also known as dinkel wheat or hulled wheat, is a grain or cereal that’s closely related to wheat.
Spelt was an important staple in parts of Europe — from the Bronze Age to medieval times. Today, it’s rising in popularity and has found a new market in health food stores.
Because more and more people are dealing with wheat sensitivities, spelt offers an alternative to wheat flour. Although it does contain gluten, it seems to be tolerated more easily than wheat. Plus, it’s an excellent source of nutrients and can easily be used in common baked good recipes.
Spelt flour is not gluten-free, so people with conditions like celiac disease or gluten sensitivities likely cannot tolerate spelt. But compared to wheat flour, it may be easier on the digestive system and offers a nutrient-dense flour option.
What Is Spelt Flour?
Spelt is a species of wheat that was cultivated thousands of years ago. It serves as an excellent wheat flour alternative because it tends to be easier on the digestive system because it’s more water-soluble.
The earliest archaeological evidence of spelt is from the fifth millennium B.C. in Transcaucasia, northeast of the Black Sea — although the most abundant and well-documented archaeological evidence of spelt is in Europe.
In the 20th century, spelt was replaced by wheat bread in almost all areas where it was still grown; however, the U.S.’s organic farming movement revived its popularity toward the end of the century, as spelt requires fewer fertilizers than wheat.
The many health benefits of spelt flour are responsible for its current comeback. Spelt aids blood circulation, boosts the immune system, builds strong bones and aids digestion.
People with varying health conditions can benefit from spelt flour, particularly those with weak and brittle bones, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, and hypertension.
Spelt flour has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor, similar to that of whole wheat flour. According to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, when compared to wheat flour, spelt flour nutrition has higher contents of copper, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus.
Overall, spelt is loaded with nutrients, including manganese and niacin, too. It’s also considered a high-protein food, particularly for a flour.
According to the USDA, one cup (194 grams) of cooked spelt contains approximately:
- Calories: 246
- Total Carbohydrates: 51.2 g
- Fiber: 7.6 g
- Total Fat: 1.7 g
- Protein: 10.7 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 9.7 mg (0.4% DV*)
- Manganese: 2.1 mg (91% DV*)
- Copper: 0.4 mg (44% DV*)
- Niacin: 4.99 mg (31% DV*)
- Magnesium: 95.1 mg (23% DV*)
- Phosphorus: 291 mg (23% DV*)
- Zinc: 2.4 mg (21.8% DV*)
- Iron: 3.2 mg (18% DV*)
- Thiamine: 0.2 mg (17% DV*)
- Selenium: 7.7 mcg (14% DV*)
- Vitamin B6: 0.16 mg (9% DV*)
- Potassium: 277 mg (6% DV*)
- Folate, total: 25.2 mcg (6% DV*)
- Riboflavin: 0.06 mg (4% DV*)
- Vitamin E: 0.5 mg (3% DV*)
*Daily Value: Percentages are based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day.
1. Aids Circulation
Iron helps transport oxygen throughout the blood. In fact, research shows that an iron deficiency is most commonly linked to the development of anemia, which is a condition that is due to a lack of healthy red blood cells being produced.
Iron helps metabolize proteins and plays a role in the production of hemoglobin and red blood cells, serving as a natural treatment for anemia.
2. Builds Strong Bones
With an impressive range of essential minerals that strengthen the bones, spelt is a natural choice for boosting bone health.
Calcium and phosphorus, for example, bind together to form crystals that make up bones and teeth. Together, they strengthen bones and keep them strong for a lifetime, according to a study at the University of North Carolina.
With 23 percent of your recommended daily value of phosphorus in one cup of spelt flour, you are well on your way to providing for your bones. Foods high in phosphorus, like spelt flour, also maintain the body at the proper pH level and help with energy extraction.
3. Helps Boost Immune System
The vitamins and minerals in spelt flour help to boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
Iron, for example, is closely linked to the immune system, according to research published in the Journal of Neural Transmission. It’s also needed to properly digest and absorb other nutrients from food, due to its role in the metabolic enzyme process.
In addition, iron helps bring enough oxygen to damaged areas of the body, including damaged tissues, organs and cells that are prone to infection or disease development.
According to research published in Biochemistry, thiamine plays a role in immune system activation. That’s because thiamine helps maintain the muscle tone along the walls of the digestive tract, where much of the immune system is actually located — and spelt flour’s thiamine count helps prevent thiamine deficiency.
It also wards off inflammation and helps fight chronic stress, which can impact your immune system greatly.
4. Aids Digestive Function
Consuming high-fiber foods is very important for digestion, so its high fiber content allows for another slept flour benefit.
Fiber actually contains zero calories since it essentially can’t be digested by humans, and although it’s found in carbohydrate foods like spelt flour, it doesn’t contribute any carbs to our diets.
Due to its structure and our inability to absorb it, fiber passes through our digestive system unabsorbed by digestive enzymes within the stomach — taking with it toxins, waste, fat and cholesterol particles and removing them from the gut.
In the process, it helps improve our digestion and heart health, makes us feel full, and supports detoxification.
Due in part to its fiber content, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, spelt flour bread is rapidly digestible, again touting its digestive benefits.
A high-fiber diet also helps prevent digestive disorders and diseases like diverticulitis, colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. This is because prebiotic fiber helps improve immune function and maintains better colon and intestinal health, while also clearing away harmful waste from the digestive organs.
5. Decreases Cholesterol
Not only does the dietary fiber present in spelt flour help with digestion, but it also helps the body lower cholesterol levels naturally. Fiber targets LDL (bad) cholesterol and eliminates it from the body in order to regulate the balance of fatty acids.
A 1999 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine evaluated the blood cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber. After a 51-week treatment period, where participants were given a fiber supplement daily, there were clear, positive results.
The fiber supplement provided significant and sustained reductions in LDL cholesterol, without reducing HDL cholesterol or increasing triglycerides. Because of spelt flour’s high levels of dietary fiber, it has the power to aid the reduction of cholesterol levels.
6. Reduces High Blood Pressure
Because spelt contributes to a high-fiber diet, it essentially lessens a person’s likelihood to experience hypertension and other risk factors of heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
A 2005 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that increasing the intake of fiber in Western populations, where intake is far below recommended levels, may contribute to the prevention of hypertension.
Elevated blood pressure is when the pressure on the arteries and blood vessels becomes too high and the arterial wall becomes distorted, which causes extra stress on the heart.
This stress can lead to serious health conditions like heart attack and stroke. It’s important to add foods that can lower blood pressure, like the consumption of spelt flour and other high-fiber foods, into your diet and lifestyle.
7. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
Spelt flour helps regulate the amount of glucose and insulin that’s released in the body. This is due to its high fiber content as well.
Studies show that a high-fiber diet may help prevent type 2 diabetes, lower insulin and blood sugar levels, and improve cholesterol and triglyceride (fats in the blood) levels in people with diabetes.
A telling clinical study compared people with type 2 diabetes, who were eating 50 grams of fiber daily, with people getting the recommended 24 grams of fiber daily. After six weeks, people on the higher-fiber diet had better control of blood glucose, insulin and blood lipids.
8. High Source of Manganese
One cup of cooked spelt flour has over 91 percent the daily recommended value of manganese. Manganese is an important trace mineral that’s needed for many vital functions, including nutrient absorption, production of digestive enzymes, bone development and immune-system defenses.
One of the most vital benefits of manganese is its ability to reduce bone loss. When it’s combined with other minerals, including calcium, zinc and copper, it minimizes bone loss, especially in older women who are more susceptible to bone fractures and weak bones.
9. High Source of Niacin
Niacin is a part of the vitamin B complex, and it’s a water-soluble vitamin that’s important for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system and metabolism — especially balancing blood cholesterol levels.
Niacin foods help with brain function, healthy skin formation, and preventing or treating diabetes.
There’s evidence that niacin can help to lower the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, eye disorders like cataracts, acne and skin flair-ups, osteoarthritis, circulation problems, migraine headaches, dizziness, and learning disorders like ADHD.
How to Use
Because spelt flour is gaining popularity due to its health benefits, so you can find it again in your local health food store. Stores are selling pasta, bread, crackers and baked goods that are made with spelt.
When you buy spelt flour, make sure there is no sign of moisture in the package or container. You also want to purchase spelt from a store that has a high turnover to ensure it’s a fresh product.
Once you get the flour home, it should be refrigerated, unless you plan to use it within a few days. In order to keep the flour fresh, store it in an air-tight container in a cool and dark place.
There are two different types of spelt flour sold at the store, just like wheat flour.
- You will find white spelt flour, which has had the germ and bran removed and has a lighter texture in baked goods.
- There is also whole spelt flour, which gives you the full array of health benefits. Whole spelt flour is similar to whole wheat flour — but won’t give you the same belly as wheat — and you can swap out the wheat flour from recipes and add spelt instead, especially if you are sensitive to wheat but still want to enjoy homemade baked goods.
When you substitute whole spelt flour for whole wheat flour, keep in mind that spelt is more water-soluble so you may need to use less than what the recipe calls for.
Start with a little less liquid when cooking or baking with spelt, and then add slowly until you get the perfect consistency. Also, be careful not to over-knead spelt flour — you will notice that it is a bit more fragile than wheat flour and needs less attention when preparing.
Because of the way wheat and gluten-containing products are prepared today, more and more people experience sensitivities and intolerances. When looking at spelt flour vs. wheat flour, spelt contains only moderate levels of gluten, and it may be more easily digested than wheat flour, especially for people with a gluten sensitivity.
When you are following recipes that call for gluten-free flour, you can try using spelt flour instead, but keep in mind that it’s not gluten-free, so people with a gluten sensitivity or allergy may not tolerate spelt.
When swapping flours, start with less liquid than the recipes calls for and add it in slowly. You will begin to get a feel for what each type of flour requires.
There are many ways to incorporate spelt flour into your diet. Remember that it does contain gluten, so if you have an intolerance, you want to stick to gluten-free flour in your baking recipes. But spelt flour is wheat-free, so many people who are sensitive to wheat have no reaction to spelt flour.
Here are some simple ideas on how to use spelt flour:
- You can swap out gluten-free flour and wheat flour and add spelt flour instead. A way to test this out is with this Almond Butter Chocolate Cookie Recipe. These delicious cookies are an alternative to the classic cookie recipe.
- You can also try replacing gluten-free flour with spelt flour when preparing our Banana Nut Muffins. These muffins have banana, dark chocolate and walnuts.
You can also try incorporating spelt flour into healthy pancake recipes. Here’s how to prepare it:
- 4 cups spelt flour
- 3 tablespoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of sugar (you can maple syrup or agave nectar instead)
Risk and Side Effects
Spelt does contain gluten, which is a problem for people who have celiac disease. Celiac disease is a serious digestive disorder that is increasing around the world.
This condition is also known as celiac sprue, nontropical sprue and gluten-sensitive enteropathy, and it’s sometimes triggered or activated by childbirth, pregnancy, severe emotional stress, surgery or a viral infection.
According to a 1995 study conducted in Germany, when spelt flour was investigated for its toxicity on celiac disease patients, the results suggested that spelt is a coeliac-toxic cereal and has to be avoided.
You also want to avoid or limit gluten, like spelt flour, if you are gluten-sensitive. A gluten intolerance is 30 times more prevalent than celiac disease. In fact, one in seven people are sensitive to gluten but test negative for celiac disease. They suffer many of the same symptoms and are known as non-celiac gluten-sensitive (NCGS).
If you are gluten-sensitive, after consuming gluten you may experience diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, irritability, skin rash, muscle cramps, joint pain, upset stomach, or weakness and fatigue.
Spelt flour may also exacerbate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome in some people. This is because it’s considered a FODMAP, or a processed short-chain carbohydrate that can trigger digestive conditions in susceptible people.
Lastly, spelt flour does contain antinutrients that may interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Phytic acid, lectins and gluten are all present in spelt flour. Choosing sprouted and fermented grains helps to reduce the antinutrient content and improve nutrient absorption.
- Spelt flour is a grain or cereal that’s closely related to wheat. It can be used in baking not only spelt flour recipes, or as a substitute in recipes calling for other types of flour.
- Spelt flour is not gluten-free, as it does contain moderate amounts of gluten. It is, however, known to be more easily digested than wheat flour because it’s water-soluble.
- When baking with spelt flour, start with a smaller amount of water than you’d use with wheat flour or gluten-free flours and keep adding more until you get your desired consistency.