Some people with gluten sensitivities have discovered that einkorn bread and other products don’t make them hurt! Einkorn DOES contain gluten, but there are some big differences between einkorn and wheat. You’ll need to bake differently with einkorn, but if you can tolerate it, you’ll be so thrilled!
That aroma of yeasty goodness filling the house, invading your sense so that you can almost taste the soft crumb of BREAD that is heading for your mouth…
For many of us in the current culture, that experience is a thing of the past. We’re more likely to say, “Oh, I miss bread!” than, “Mmmmmm, buttered toast please!”
Sure, there are gluten-free breads and recipes, and even some that are pretty good, but it’s no fun to juggle the many flours and finesse GF bread recipes require (except this amazing pumpkin muffins recipe!) and the cost, availability, and potential for iffy ingredients in commercial gluten-free sandwich bread.
Many with gluten sensitivities, like my husband and an estimated 18,000,000 other Americans, simply skip the bread most of the time. Same goes for those who are generally avoiding most gluten because of bad reports about it or wanting to avoid empty carbs, like me.
But I miss it terribly!
Bread is such an easy thing to have around for any meal of the day, and the beauty of grabbing a recipe that you KNOW will work out and be delicious can’t be understated in this world of Pinterest gambles.
The big question we have to ask when discussing gluten sensitivity is this: Is your body messed up or the wheat?
10,000 Years Isn’t Actually Very Long for Wheat
One theory on gluten sensitivity is that people can’t adapt as quickly as plants – so while wheat has changed its form a number of times over the last 10,000 years and significantly so in the last 50-100 years, humans can’t quite keep up with our adaptations.
So although 10,000 years is a really long time to wait for the pizza delivery to show up…it’s not long enough for our bodies to be ready for the pizza crust.
Important note: Celiac and gluten sensitivity are two very different things. Celiac is an autoimmune response to wheat and is chronic. Any exposure to gluten (found in wheat, barley, rye, triticale, spelt, and a few more) is detrimental to someone with Celiac. A person with Celiac may have NO gluten at all, and even gluten cross-contamination in kitchen utensils can spell sickness.
What if we could turn the clock back…not to when we ordered the pizza so that we could get a gluten-free crust, but all the way to the original wheat? Would gluten sensitive bodies be able to handle the wheat then?
When I talk about traditional foods, I call them “foods we’ve eaten for hundreds, if not thousands of years.” Einkorn fits that description well. It’s old. Seriously geriatric. But it still makes good pizza.
Einkorn IS a form of wheat, but it is pretty different from the white or whole wheat flour you might have in your cupboard. Here’s why:
1. Einkorn has Aged Differently Than Wheat
Like an old Indian woman with gorgeous deep wrinkles and leathery skin, no one will accuse einkorn of using expensive facial crèmes or plastic surgery to stay young. Einkorn has aged gracefully, staying the same for 10,000 years, while wheat has been hybridized both purposefully and accidentally many times over.
Einkorn was first planted by humans, we think, about 10,000 B.C. It had been growing wild in its 14-chromosome form for millennia before that. Most plants have 14 chromosomes.
Modern wheat is the result of quite a few “edits” and additional chromosomes:
- 8,000 BC Emmer Spontaneous hybridization of wheat and goat grass (28 chromosomes)
- 6,000 BC Spelt Emmer seeds intentionally hybridized with goat grass near the Caspian Sea (42 chromosomes)
- 4-5,000 BC Durum and Soft Wheat Over time, farmers were able to shift emmer into durum (used in pasta) and spelt into soft wheat (pastry flour)
- 1940-1960 Dwarf Wheat created via hybridization…and the problems began
Einkorn was static during that time, nearly extinct because farmers stopped cultivating it around the time durum and soft wheat became available. It was discovered and replenished by Jovial Foods after the founders discovered their gluten sensitive daughter could consume it without problems.
Note: Some will say that even the first wheat is too hard for humans to digest, that no one should be eating grains at all. Today we’re leaving that door open, of course, but we’re also demonstrating that einkorn is making a difference for gluten sensitive people and paving its own way nutritionally (see point #5).
2. Einkorn Grows Differently Than Modern Wheat
Modern wheat grows on a shorter plant, has a stronger gluten and five times the yield of einkorn plants.
It’s the secret sauce for big food companies who want more growth, faster, on less land on the agricultural side, and faster rising, fluffier, lighter bread on the processing side. The gluten protein is responsible for the structure of bread, the ability to rise with yeast, and therefore it was advantageous to create a wheat with a stronger, tougher gluten.
Bread companies also add additional gluten to whole wheat bread to make it rise faster and higher, so humans are consuming far more gluten than our ancestors, even if we eat the same amount of bread. The rise in gluten sensitivities seems to point at the fact that this tweaking of nature has not been without physical health consequences.
It’s important to note that wheat is NOT currently genetically modified (GMO), although some experiments are being run and there have been some literal “escapees” from the lab, meaning that GM wheat has been found where it doesn’t belong. It could potentially infiltrate modern wheat unannounced.
3. Einkorn Nourishes Differently
We can’t interfere with a living thing without a ripple effect of consequences. In the quest for bigger/faster/more efficient, modern wheat lost a ton of nutrients.
Einkorn not only has 40% more protein and 15% less starch, it takes the blue ribbon in all these categories:
- more than 2x the lutein of modern wheat (lutein is the “good guy” in tomatoes)
- 42% more zinc
- 80% more manganese
- 25% more magnesium, a mineral that most agree Americans are widely deficient in
- 22% more iron
- 20% more fiber
- einkorn even has nearly twice the antioxidant (cancer-fighting) activity as durum wheat (30% more than modern bread wheat)!
Imagine how high the protein content is when you bake these einkorn peanut butter applesauce muffins!
4. You Must Bake with Einkorn Differently Than Wheat Flour
Gluten-free baked goods are difficult to master because of the lack of gluten in the flours. Gluten is the “sticky” in bread dough, the component that creates structure in the loaf, that holds everything together. It automatically has the balance of starch and protein needed for modern baking recipes.
Einkorn has a different gluten structure, and as we already established, it also has more protein and less starch.
For most recipes, you can’t just drop in an equal part einkorn flour for your wheat flour and be rocking and rolling.
The founder of Jovial Foods has been working with einkorn flour since 2009, and she has developed recipes to perfection with the ancient grain. Over 100 of them are now collected for the first time in the Einkorn Cookbook, an indispensable resource for anyone wanting to experiment with einkorn.
It includes basics like sandwich bread, pizza dough and crackers as well as pies, pastries and even a whole section on “street food” – culinary adventures around the world like chimichangas, kibbeh, tabbouleh, crepes, churros and more.
Recipes that stood out to me include:
- Roasted root vegetables & chicken country-style pie
- Slow-rise sticky cinnamon buns
- Classic apple pie, chocolate chip cookies, carrot cake, brownies and cupcakes
- Italian cream puffs
- Almond crunch tart
- Dairy-free coconut pound cake
- Olive oil and wine cookies
- Bacon and cheddar buttermilk biscuits
- Whole grain caramelized banana bread
- Slow-fermented Belgian waffles
- Plus a slew of breads, pretty much anything you could want, from ciabatta, baguettes and boule to whole grain bread, sandwich bread and even no-knead overnight bread, plus tortillas, bagels, cornbread and more!
The cookbook also instructs on the finer points of einkorn. If you like to geek out on science a little, you’ll love stuff like this:
When scientists measure the amount of gluten in flour, they must first mix dough, because dry flour in itself does not contain gluten – instead, it contains groups of proteins called glutenins and gliadins, which bond together to form gluten when mixed with liquid.
Glutenins are further classified as high molecular weight and low molecular weight proteins; modern bread flours are considered of good quality for baking when they have a high content of high molecular weight proteins, which can influence the dough’s mixing times, elasticity, and gluten strength – and thus the finished loaf’s volume.
While einkorn has enough gluten for bread baking, it is lacking in certain high molecular weight proteins, and you can feel how much it differs in its extreme stickiness and reduced elasticity. Gliadins are classified into four groups of protein, and when researchers analyzed the gliadin composition in einkorn, they found that entire groups of y-gliadins that are present in all other types of wheat are absent in this ancient grain.
Einkorn also has a complete imbalance in the ratios of these proteins compared to other wheats, with a much higher ratio of gliadins to glutenins. (p. 3)
My friend Wardee also teaches an entire class on baking with einkorn, and it’s amazing! Learn from her wisdom on that topic and many others at Traditional Cooking School and grab the free no-knead sourdough einkorn bread recipe!
5. Einkorn May Be Tolerated by Gluten Sensitive People
Perhaps precisely because of the gliadin/glutenin differences, many people with gluten sensitivities are finding they can tolerate einkorn without difficulty.
There’s no hard science to prove this, but I don’t think there’s a lot of hard science about gluten sensitivities in the first place. (Some gluten sensitive people notice that they can handle spelt as well.) It’s all about how you feel and how your body reacts.
Again, einkorn has the same amount of gluten as modern wheat, but of a different quality. The stronger gluten structures have potential to be harder on digestion.
Please remember that Celiac disease is not about digestion, but rather an autoimmune response. Einkorn is NOT safe for people with Celiac.
In our family, we’ve eaten “gluten light” for 4-5 years now. My husband has a seeming gluten sensitivity, but it is strangely intermittent and doesn’t act up every time he consumes gluten, only every once in a while. So we’re not a good testing ground for einkorn, although we’ve enjoyed some of Jovial’s einkorn pasta in the past.
If you or someone in your family is gluten sensitive and you’re willing to experiment, this may be the magical way to get your bread back.
I can’t wait to see the creations you make with einkorn!
And I’m even more curious to hear you share whether einkorn has been a successful experiment if you have a gluten sensitivity. I’d love to collect stories of people realizing they only have a “modern gluten” sensitivity and can still eat einkorn! Comment on this post or hit me via social media any time with your results.
Photos used with permission from Jovial Foods. I received a copy of the book and sample of flour for purposes of writing this post, but all opinions are my own.