Winter is fully upon us here at VHF and I wanted to take some time (instead of going out into the cold) to talk about the grains we grow.
The newest addition to the farm is einkorn wheat (triticum monococcum). Einkorn is considered to be the oldest strain of wheat in existence, originally domesticated over 5,000 years ago in the mountains of Turkey. All modern varieties of wheat come from this ancient grain, although unlike modern soft wheats, has not been hybridized for specific traits. Einkorn’s genetics have survived to this day only by natural seed selection by farmers who grow it. The reason this variety has gained so much popularity in the last decade in the United States (it’s much more common in Europe) is because of this genetic purity but also it’s gluten configuration, and nutrient density.
One of the triumphs of einkorn is it’s digestibility. The types of and arrangement of the starches in einkorn are situated in such a way that they are released more slowly which means they don’t spike blood sugar levels the way modern wheat does. And then there’s the dreaded word… “gluten”. Without getting too dry here, einkorn has a reduced and different configuration of gluten than modern wheat which makes it more balanced and natural for the body, but means it doesn’t rise in the same way as high gluten wheat (check the ingredients list on a loaf from the store sometime. Often, extra gluten is added in, above and beyond what is already there, for a better rise and chewy texture). Although the gluten make up is different and many gluten intolerant people can eat einkorn without a problem, it does contain gluten and should not be considered safe for those with Celiac Disease.
Einkorn also has a greater nutrient density than the average modern wheat. Einkorn is consistently higher than modern wheat in vitamin A, Riboflavin, Beta-Carotene, Lutein, and trace minerals. While modern wheats have been hybridized to contain larger heads and higher starch, einkorn has 30% less starch and 30% more protein than modern wheat. And, as a whole grain, you are getting all three parts of the wheat berry and thus all the nutrients possible.
There is a reason, however, that large-scale agriculture has moved away from einkorn. Einkorn is a tall plant and will blow over more easily. Einkorn has a much smaller head and is a hulled wheat which creates another step in the milling process while yielding less. and finally, einkorn bakes differently. With reduced starches and gluten, it doesn’t make bread that is as soft and chewy as we have grown to expect today but can be made into wonderful, delicious baked goods and pastas with a little extra knowledge.
There are also reasons why einkorn is great for the farm, not just the consumer. The best part of all, for me, is saving seed. I love the feeling that we are participating in keeping this variety alive and diverse. Without seed costs, we can be more profitable and sustainable with reduced dependence on seed companies. Also, winter wheats (planted in fall, harvested the following year) like einkorn are a great part of our rotation because they can be planted after soybeans and require no cultivation or soil disturbance until after harvest (even in organic!). Einkorn is also a niche crop which helps us, as a small farm, to be more profitable per acre than with modern wheat varieties.
There are many sources on the internet to guide you through the history, nutritional facts, and baking uses of einkorn. More and more information is becoming available as the grain grows in popularity across the country. We hope you find this grain as exciting as we do.