If you’re not already familiar with this edible heirloom grain, let us spell it out for you: Spelt is an ancient whole grain that’s making waves in cutting-edge cooking worldwide. This guide to spelt grain and spelt flour has the information you need to buy and enjoy it in both forms, with links to recipes.
Found in everything from pizza crusts and pasta to hearty breads and wholesome sweets, spelt is now the hottest thing in the bakery aisle since sliced bread. Once the weird scion to what we know as “whole wheat,” this unique variant has been transformed into culinary royalty.
What is Spelt and Where Did It Come From?
Most people are likely to associate spelt with whole grain flour, which has found the most traction in the US in healthier baked goods and hearty doughs. Before it was ever ground finely into a mainstream pantry staple, spelt berries have been enjoyed as a toothsome yet tender stand-alone food for over 5,000 years.
Spelt even shows up in Greek mythology as a gift to Demeter, the goddess of harvest. In the days of the ancient Romans, one of the most important wedding rituals involved the bride and groom sharing a spelt cake, though it was certainly not an elaborate frosted confection, as we might imagine for modern celebrations.
Although archeological evidence traces spelt back to Transcaucasia, the region bordering Eastern Europe and Western Asia, it’s best documented throughout history in Central Europe. It became the principal wheat species and Germany and Switzerland by the end of the Iron Era, in 15 BCE.
By contrast, the United States was quite late to get on board, only beginning to cultivate the crop in the 1890s. Buoyed by the rising health food movement that embraced more whole grains, spelt slowly but surely caught on, particularly in bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, and even beer.
How to Buy and Store Whole Spelt and Spelt Flour
Whole spelt berries, as they’re called, can be found in some specialty markets, though they’re less common than other whole grains. Your best bet is to shop online for a fresher, cheaper, more accessible option. Whole spelt should run about 4 to 6 dollars per pound. In a well-sealed jar, it can keep in a dry, cool, dark place for up to a year. If your kitchen is warm in the summer months, it never hurts to refrigerate whole-grains (and their flours, of course).
Spelt flour is much more readily available in well-stocked grocery stores, especially those that carry natural foods . You’ll find it in the baking section right alongside whole wheat flours.
There’s also a variety labeled as “light” spelt flour, in reference to the color and texture — this type has had the bran and germ removed. Light spelt flour can be used in place of whole wheat pastry flour for more tender cakes and cookies, whereas standard spelt flour has a darker, denser consistency, as you might expect from plain whole wheat.
You may also run into “sprouted” spelt flour, which yields the same results as standard spelt flour but has been germinated before being dried and ground to make the nutrients more readily available and easier to digest.
For the longest shelf life, it’s best to transfer spelt flour into airtight glass jars or containers to keep excess air and pests out. The biggest concern isn’t so much spoilage over time, but possible infestation if packages aren’t completely sealed.
How to Bake with Spelt Flour
Spelt flour can be used in equal amounts in any recipe that whole wheat flour is called for. It has a similar mild flavor that’s subtly nutty.
If you’re adapting a recipe written with all-purpose or plain white flour, it’s best to use half spelt and half white flour, since the results would be very heavy and dense if you switched to all spelt. Light spelt (sometimes labeled white spelt) flour can be used to completely replace whole wheat pastry flour in baking powder-risen recipes like cookies, cakes, bars, quick breads, and other treats. See recipes for baking with spelt flour toward the end of this post.
How to Cook Whole Spelt Berries
If you’d like to cook spelt berries as a hearty whole grain, that’s just as easy, but a bit more time-consuming. The best approach is to cook them like pasta, in about 2 quarts of lightly salted water for every cup of dry spelt berries. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until tender but still pleasantly chewy. Drain off the excess water when done.
Spelt Nutrition Notes
Fiber is the calling card of this whole-grain hero. It contains approximately 30% of the average recommended daily allowance in a single serving, but that’s not all. Spelt is also a great source of protein, with slightly more than standard whole wheat.
In addition to these essential macronutrients, spelt also boasts impressive amounts of iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, selenium, niacin, thiamin, vitamin B6, and folic acid.
Spelt is a form of wheat, which means it does contain gluten and is not suitable for those with allergies or sensitivities. See the complete nutrition profile of whole spelt here, and for the flour here.
Serving Suggestions for Whole Grain Spelt
Soups and Stews: Think of fully cooked wheat berries like unprocessed pasta, and you’ll quickly find a whole world of comforting flavors to explore. Minestrone, “chick’n” noodle, and Italian wedding soup all become more satisfying with this quick switch.
Grain Bowls: Start with whole wheat berries instead of bland white rice for a more robust Buddha bowl. Top it off with your favorite vegetables and proteins, mix and match at will, and you’ll never have a boring meal. See ideas in Beautiful Buddha Bowls You Can Make Without a Recipe.
Salads: For a substantial salad that you can serve hot or cold, at home or on the go, cooked spelt berries are an excellent foundation to build upon. The whole grains won’t soften over time, even when fully dressed in vinaigrette, so it’s a great choice for meal prep that will last the whole week. As a close cousin of farro, you can swap it into any recipe for spelt salads. We have lots of them here.
Uses for Spelt Flour
Bread, Pizza Dough, and Crackers: When baking from scratch, start with more whole grains to make the most of your efforts. Savory applications work particularly well with the wholesome, nutty taste of whole spelt flour, and it’s an easy way to sneak a little bit more fiber into your favorite foods. Pizza dough made with half spelt flour still tastes like a party.
Pasta: Since spelt does still contain gluten, it’s a great candidate for kneading into pasta dough. You don’t even need to add eggs as a binder! All it takes is 400 grams of spelt flour to 200 ml of water, kneaded vigorously until very smooth, and cut into thin strands or otherwise extruded into noodles. Here’s one recipe for spelt pasta without eggs; another is in the recipe listings toward the end of this post.
Cakes, Cookies, and Pastries: If you want to treat yourself but not go overboard, light spelt flour can be a good way to make everyday sort of indulgences. Light spelt or white spelt flour has similar results as whole wheat pastry flour, for which it can be completely swapped in.
Recipes Using Spelt Flour
- Whole Wheat or Spelt Pizza Crust
- Spelt Pizza Crust with Fresh Tomato Sauce
- Vegan Apple Muffins
- Cinnamon-Raisin Bread
- Sesame Tahini Lemon Cookies
- Spelt Pasta
- Fluffy Vegan Spelt Rolls
- Raspberry Jam Spelt Crumb Bars
- Spelt Zucchini Bread with Warm Spices, Walnuts & Chocolate
- Vegan Spelt Pancakes
Recipe Using Spelt Grain
- Grain Salad with Fresh Lemon and Herbs
- Spelt Salad with Leeks & Marinated Mushrooms
- Spelt Salad with Navy Beans, Cherry Tomatoes, & Cucumber
- Mushroom Spelt Soup
- Spelt and Vegetable Soup
- Brown Rice, Spelt, and Quinoa Vegetable Stew
More ancient grain guides
And explore more of this site’s Good Food Guides.
Contributed by Hannah Kaminsky: Hannah has developed an international following for her delicious recipes and mouthwatering food photography at the award-winning blog BitterSweet. Passionate about big flavors and simple techniques, she’s the author of Vegan Desserts, Vegan à la Mode, Easy as Vegan Pie, Real Food, Really Fast, Sweet Vegan Treats, The Student Vegan Cookbook, Super Vegan Scoops, and The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet Pan. Visit Hannah at BittersweetBlog.com.
All photos: Bigstock