The wheat of our ancestors, einkorn is healthier than many grains today because it has never been hybridized. This makes it naturally good for you and digestible even to those with wheat sensitivities. In The Einkorn Cookbook (Fair Winds Press, 2015), Shanna and Tim Mallon show readers how to easily incorporate this ancient wheat into your kitchen, both as a whole grain and a flour. Check it out for tasty recipes from breakfast to dessert!
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: The Einkorn Cookbook.
A Brief History of Einkorn
Throughout history wheat has been cultivated and hybridized to increase yield, increase disease resistance, and develop desirable baking characteristics, such as increased elasticity in the gluten. As new varieties of wheat with these characteristics took over the market, the original einkorn wheat became less well-known.
The hybridization of wheat changed the genetic makeup of what was originally a simpler, more digestible version of the grain. Einkorn, for example, is what’s called a diploid (i.e., made up of two complete sets of chromosomes) and contains fourteen total chromosomes, while later varieties of wheat — such as emmer, kamut, and durum — contain twenty-eight. More modern varieties such as spelt, hard red wheat, and soft white wheat contain even more still, at forty-two chromosomes. This is significant for a few reasons: First, the more the genetic structure of the grain has been manipulated, the more likely that its proteins — such as the gluten and gliadins found in gluten — can cause intestinal distress. In the 2010 Springer Theoretical and Applied Genetics, for example, it was shown that modern wheat breeding practices may have led to an increased exposure to celiac disease epitopes (the part of the molecule that causes the body to attack it via an antibody). Second, the genetic changes that wheat has undergone have affected the way the plant takes up nutrients from the soil, resulting in less nutrients in the final product. This means that einkorn, being nonhybridized, has the distinct advantage of being both easier on the digestive tract, and more nutritionally dense.
Why Cook with Einkorn
There are many reasons we love cooking and baking with einkorn. First, as we’ve talked about, einkorn is the most nutritious of the wheat varieties and easier to digest than others. It naturally contains more protein and has a different gluten structure than other varieties of wheat. It is rich in beta-carotene, vitamin A, lutein, and riboflavin. What’s more, it lacks the D genome present in modern wheat, a factor that is of note since significant, potentially harmful structural changes to the gluten in wheat were introduced through the D genome. In addition, a 2006 study in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology showed einkorn lacked toxicity from one component of gluten, based on biopsies of the intestinal lining of celiac patients.
Beside its health advantages, we simply enjoy the taste of einkorn (and other ancient and heirloom varietals). Growing up, neither of us was exposed to many different types of grains or seeds, and now we find that these ancient and heirloom varieties are not only some of the most nutritious options available on the market, but also they are incredibly delicious. By using these varieties, we can better nourish our families, raise awareness about food diversity, and help preserve traditional foodways for future generations.
Using Einkorn in Your Kitchen
While einkorn is in the same family as farro, spelt, and traditional wheat, it does not behave exactly like any of these grains in baking and cooking. Cooked einkorn berries are slightly chewier, for example, and the flavor is deeper and richer. What’s more, the flour reacts with liquids differently than regular flour, absorbing less and generally more slowly. Our recipes take these differences into account, of course, but if you want to adapt your own recipes to using einkorn, try keeping these tips in mind and be forgiving if things don’t go as planned!
Using Einkorn Flour
There are two main kinds of einkorn flour on the market today: whole-grain and white all-purpose. While both are made from the same einkorn berries, the whole-grain version retains all the bran and germ, while the white has had most of the bran and germ removed, allowing for a lighter product that keeps longer. Flour made at home, either by grinding berries in a grain mill or in another processor, is whole-grain einkorn flour. There is also sprouted einkorn flour, as well as the possibility of sprouting and then grinding your own flour at home.
Note that recipes that call for whole-grain einkorn flour will be hearty, dense, and slightly nutty; recipes that call for white, all-purpose einkorn flour will be lighter and more delicate. It is always possible to swap one type out for the other using the same one-to-one weight, but results will vary, and recipes that call for yeast are especially sensitive. For this reason, we provide notations on recipes where swapping is particularly difficult.
Einkorn Flour Weights
For reference, here are the various weights of different types of einkorn flour. Note that sifted einkorn flour is whole-grain flour that has been run through a sifter, with the strained bran discarded, and then weighed.
Whole-Grain Einkorn Flour = 110 g per cup
Sifted Whole-Grain Einkorn Flour = 100 g per cup
White, All-Purpose Einkorn Flour = 125 g per cup
Buying and Storing Einkorn
While some natural groceries carry einkorn, the current best place to buy einkorn berries or einkorn flour is online.
In terms of flour specifically, Jovial Foods (JovialFoods.com) offers all-purpose einkorn flour, a high-extraction flour with most of its germ and bran removed; this option results in a lighter texture and more delicate crumb in baked goods. Whole-grain einkorn flour, is available online from Breadtopia, Tropical Traditions, Simple Origins, GrowSeed.org, Einkorn.com, and others — and you can often find online coupon codes, free shipping deals, and bulk offers from these places in order to save money. It is also possible to make at home by grinding berries yourself in a grain mill. If you would like finer flour, you can sift your freshly ground flour with a fine mesh metal strainer to separate the bran.
As anyone who’s purchased grains in bulk can tell you, the way you store your grains is important. Without proper storage, both einkorn berries and einkorn flour can become susceptible to insect problems and/or rancidity. After learning this lesson the hard way, we’ve begun storing all our grains in sealed glass jars instead of paper or plastic. What’s more, we usually freeze our grains and flours if space allows.
What’s in a Name?
Thanks to its rich history, einkorn goes by various names. Among them are farro piccolo (Italian), shippon (Hebrew), and le petit epeautre (French). In English, an einkorn “berry” refers to the whole kernel, or grain (similar to “wheat berries”).
Economics of Einkorn
Compared with other grains, einkorn may seem expensive, but, like a lot of heirloom varieties, we find that its benefits far outweigh its cost. With distinctive nutritional characteristics that have fallen to the wayside in modern varieties, einkorn’s cost reflects both this fact and the fact that it is more difficult to harvest. Better for the body, plus unparalleled flavor and taste? For us, that’s value we don’t mind paying for.
More from The Einkorn Cookbook:
Reprinted with permission from The Einkorn Cookbook: Discover the World’s Purest and Most Ancient Form of Wheat by Shanna and Tim Mallon, published by Fair Winds Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group, 2015. Buy this book from our store: The Einkorn Cookbook.