Spelt berries are an ancient type of wheat berry. The berry is the plump seed that exists before it is ground into flour or sprouted. Spelt is identified under the scientific name Triticum spelta and belongs to the Poaceae, or grass plant, family. Spelt berries offer an alternative for some people who suffer from wheat allergies or intolerances.
Spelt flour can be traced back to 5000 BC. It is an ancient cross between Einkorn wheat, Triticum boeoticum and a grass called Triticum tauschid. Spelt originated in Iran and spread throughout the Roman Empire.
Spelt is an annual grain crop that is widely cultivated in parts of Europe and in the United States. It grows well in deep soil with good drainage, and a spot in full sun is critical for a good crop. The berries can be sown in the spring, as soon as the last frost date passes. The seeds germinate and emerge within three to four days. The crop ripens for harvest in late summer and early fall.
Though a close relative of modern wheat varieties, people who cannot tolerate wheat can often tolerate spelt. This ancient grain provides more complete nutrition, because it has not been heavily bred for production the way modern wheat strains have. Spelt berries are high in several important B vitamins, including B2, niacin and thiamin. It also contains copper and manganese. Spelt is higher in protein than modern wheat varieties and provides a good source of fiber.
Spelt berries can be boiled, sprouted or ground into spelt flour. The rich, nutty flavor lends itself well to a variety of grain dishes and baked goods. As a cereal grain, spelt berries can be boiled whole for a protein-rich grain dish. Flour made from spelt berries can be used in any way regular wheat would be used, including in pasta, bread and cereal.
Before cooking spelt berries, they should be rinsed and soaked for eight hours to soften the tough seed coat. A combination of one part spelt berries and three parts water works well. As an alternative to water, vegetable or chicken stock makes a flavorful cooking liquid for those berries intended for savory dishes.
Home grinders make it possible to have fresh flour as needed. Spelt flour also can be purchased at specialty food stores. The increasing demand for an alternative to regular wheat products is creating a market for spelt bread, crackers, cereal and other prepared foods.