Research explores spelt nutrition
Manufacturers are increasingly using the ancient wheat variety spelt as a substitute for conventional wheat varieties in flour used to make bread, pasta, crackers, breakfast cereal and baking mixes.
Originating in the Middle East and Europe, spelt wheats have a thicker husk or hull encasing the grain compared with modern wheat varieties.
This husk helps protect the grain from pests and diseases, plus seasonal and climatic conditions, and may also assist in nutrient retention. The tougher husk also makes spelt more difficult to process because it needs to be de-hulled before it can be milled.
Some studies have suggested that spelt may be nutritionally superior to conventional wheat varieties. However, the nutrient composition of spelt appears to vary depending on the variety and the environmental conditions where it is grown.
Belgian research examining milled and wholemeal grain samples found that de-hulled spelt contains more copper, zinc, iron, magnesium and phosphorus than soft winter wheat.
Another study in Italy showed that spelt contains more protein and soluble fibre than conventional wheat varieties. This research further showed that bread made from wholemeal spelt flour has less total starch and more resistant starch compared with bread made from white flour (milled from both spelt and conventional wheat).
However, other research has shown no significant difference between the nutritional content of spelt and (hard red) winter wheat in terms of protein, fibre, vitamin and mineral content. The exception was zinc content, which was found to higher in spelt wheat.
Such contrasting findings may have resulted from the different spelt and conventional varieties examined as part of the research. As a consequence, further research exploring the nutritional and health benefits of spelt wheat is needed.