What Is Spelt Flour and Is It Good for You?

Bowl of uncooked spelt.
John Anthony Rizzo/Photodisc/Getty Images

Spelt is an ancient grain that's similar to wheat in appearance but has a tougher husk, which helps protect the nutrients inside the grain. Flour made from spelt has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and can be used in most recipes that call for regular or whole-wheat flour.

The official name of is Triticum aestivum var. spelta. It was originally grown in Iran around 5000 to 6000 B.C. Spelt has been grown in Europe for over 300 years, and now in North America for just over 100 years.

It's been used most commonly as a feed grain for animals, but, it's gained popularity as a shop grain due to its nutty flavor and nutrition content.

Spelt is my favorite grain and has been since I was introduced to it in the 1990s. Back then, I usually had to order spelt kernels in bulk and use a small kitchen grinder to make flour. But today, spelt flour can be purchased at most grocery stores -- you'll find it in the natural foods or baking section of the store. Spelt pasta is also available in many markets. 

Cooking and Baking with Spelt

Spelt is a gluten grain and spelt flour can replace whole wheat or whole grain flour in most bread recipes. The gluten isn't as strong as wheat gluten and I've found that sometimes it doesn't rise as well so it might help to add a bit of vital wheat gluten to bread made with spelt flour. For other types of baking, I've found that spelt flour works just fine and I regularly use it for baking cookies, spelt bread, and banana bread, and it works just fine as a thickener.

 Whole spelt grains can be cooked and served as a side dish or eaten as a hot cereal.

Nutrition Information for Spelt

Spelt grains and flour contain a little more protein than regular wheat, but otherwise, it's fairly similarly, nutritionally speaking. One cup of cooked spelt grains has 246 calories, 11 grams protein, 1.6 grams fat, and 51 grams carbohydrates, and 7.6 grams fiber.

Spelt is also an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, selenium, zinc, iron, and manganese. It has vitamin E and B-complex vitamins (especially niacin). All in all, spelt is an excellent healthy whole grain.

Can Spelt Flour Be Used in a Gluten-free Diet?

No. Spelt contains gluten, so it's not suitable for a gluten-free diet. Some people claim they can eat spelt even though they're sensitive to wheat, but it's not going to work for people who have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. 

If you're sensitive to wheat or other gluten grains, you should speak with your health care provider before eating spelt.

Sources:

Oplinger ES, Oelke EA, Kaminski AR, Kelling KA, Doll JD, Durgan BR, Schuler RT. "Spelt." Alternative Field Crops Manual. University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin. Updated January 2000. 

United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. "Nutrient data for 20141, Spelt, cooked." 

Continue Reading