A relative of the wheat family, spelt (triticum spelta) has been cultivated for thousands of years. At some stages, spelt cultivation was quite common, but it declined in the late 1800s due to competition from higher-yielding relatives. In recent years, there has once again been an increasing interest in spelt, because it is known to be significantly healthier than other grains. Spelt has a strong, multi-layer shell providing the grain with excellent protection against impurities. Spelt is the most valuable grain in the spelt family. As a hexaploid wheat, spelt has 3 sets of 14 chromosome pairs for a total of 42 chromosomes, whereas durum, for example, is a tetraploid wheat having 28 chromosomes (2x14).
Spelt originated from around the area of modern-day Iran, where it is known to have been cultivated already as early as 6000-5000 BC. Spelt was introduced into Europe some four thousand years later. In the Middle Ages spelt, along with millet, emmer (farro) wheat and barley, was one of the most important varieties of grain in North Europe. Finns believe that all the great feats of our nation were achieved by the power of rye, but perhaps we would be an even greater nation if we had eaten more spelt, because the successes of the pharaohs of Egypt, Alexander the Great and the armies of Rome are all said to be based on spelt bread. This same diet provided the young Olympic athletes of antiquity with their performance abilities. A nun who lived in the Middle Ages, Saint Hildegard von Bingen was a famous healer who swore that spelt was the greatest medicine for any and all ailments; "It provides its consumer with good flesh and good healthy blood and provides a happy mind and joyful spirit". Spelt’s most remarkable strength may nonetheless be its extraordinary, slightly nutty flavour, to which it is easy to become ”addicted”.
Botanically, spelt and wheat differ by just one gene. Visually, the difference is in the head; wheat grains are attached in the rachis, but the spelt head is composed of spikelets, to which the seeds are attached. When threshed, the spelt head breaks into pieces or spikelets, in which the grains are tightly in their shells. As with wheat, spelt comes in summer and winter varieties,
but only winter spelt, due to its growth cycle, is suitable for Northern Europe.
Spelt can be used in the kitchen for all kinds of baking and cooking.
The shell percentage of spelt is 20-30% and for mill use it must be hulled. Mills handling large amounts of spelt have separate stone pairs or drum hullers. For household use, hulling can be performed, for example, using and old-fashioned stone mill. Devices intended for hulling oats are too rough to be used with spelt, since the loss percentage might, at its worst, rise as high as 70%, but with a few slight changes these can be used.