Whether wheat is healthy or not seems to confusing a lot of people these days! A common question is, “What about heirloom wheat varieties consumed for thousands of years?”
As a result, interest is growing in the ancient wheat known as einkorn, the only completely nonhybridized form of wheat on Planet Earth. This is wonderful, as reviving the foods and preparation methods of our healthy ancestors is the most basic key to recovering wellness in this modern age filled with nutritional half truths.
The kitchen is where it’s at from a prevention and health maintenance perspective! Unfortunately, there seems to be quite a bit of confusion pertaining specifically to the many varieties of wheat available to home bakers and their hybridization status.
Heirloom Wheat Varieties
For example, this comment below on an article about the good gluten in einkorn pertained to the heirloom variety known as White Sonora Wheat. This variety was introduced by a Jesuit priest name Eusebio Francisco Kino in the 1700’s in the Sonoran region of Mexico and Southern Arizona. It was a staple for the western United States and particularly California for almost 200 years. It is also one of the oldest surviving heirloom wheat varieties in the world.
White Sonora Wheat
I’m curious how Einkorn compares to ancient White Sonora Wheat? Anyone able to give a technical comparison?
Another question regarding heirloom wheat was emailed to me recently. It pertained to the heirloom wheat (also referred to as heritage wheat) variety known as red fife, the oldest known form of wheat grown in Canada. This wheat is named after David Fife. The seed came from Scotland to Canada in 1842 and is believed to be a relative of the Ukranian heritage wheat known as Halychanka.
Einkorn is not the only non hybrid wheat on the planet. Red fife wheat is nonhybridized.
The certainty of this person’s statement was troubling as she had obviously been given wrong information possibly by a heirloom seed company.
In addition to Red Fife, Halychanka, and White Sonora Wheat, there are many other heritage or heirloom wheat varieties around the world depending on the particular geographical location.
Here’s the bottom line to remember about heirloom wheat: these varieties date back a few centuries as opposed to einkorn which dates back many millennia.
Heirloom Wheat: Too Many Chromosomes to Be Unhybridized
It is true that heirloom wheat varieties are potentially easier to digest than modern wheat. This is because they did not undergo the aggressive, irradiating, gene mutating technology that drove hybridization during the Green Revolution. This period took place from the 1940’s through the late 1960’s. However, they are hybridized nonetheless.
This is easily proved scientifically by examination of the sets of chromosomes each wheat variety possess.
Red Fife, for example, is a descendant of spelt, a sub-species of common wheat, Triticum aestivum. This means red fife has 6 sets of 7 chromosomes for a total of 42.
Emmer, another wheat variety sometimes called farro and incorrectly believed to be unhybridized, has 4 sets of 7 chromosomes for a total of 28.
Kamut and Durum often used to make bulgur are both descendents of emmer. Therefore, they are hybridized as they also have 4 sets of 7 chromosomes.
Truly unhybridized wheat has only 2 sets of 7 chromosomes, for a total of 14. The only wheat variety that meets this scientific definition is einkorn.
Einkorn is the only wheat variety on Earth that has 2 sets of 7 chromosomes each (male and female) which indicates a completely unhybridized state.
Now that we’ve got the hybrid versus nonhybrid wheat thing straightened out, one more thing need clarification.
No Variety of Wheat is GMO
The rumor that wheat is genetically modified needs to stop being repeated!
Wheat is NOT currently genetically modified! It is true that unapproved GMO wheat was discovered growing in Eastern Oregon in 2013. However, genetically modified wheat is NOT approved for use in the food supply anywhere in the world as of this writing. Monsanto reached a $2.4 million settlement with Pacific Northwest wheat farmers over the contamination. Hopefully, this situation is no longer occurring!
Bottom line? Hybridization is NOT the same as genetic modification (1).
Heritage Wheat Probably Not OK for the Gluten Intolerant
Are you are non-genetically gluten intolerant? Are you seeking a variety of wheat to eat that is easily digested? If so, try einkorn first. Using heirloom wheats like Red Fife or White Sonora Wheat is not likely to produce any improvement.
The brief story below from Carla Bartolucci, author of the fanastic cookbook Einkorn: Recipes for Nature’s Original Wheat, hopefully describes why.
When we first moved to Italy, my neighbor was organically growing a comparable type of Italian heritage wheat [to Red Fife] at his farm and this is the type of wheat I started baking bread with, but my [gluten intolerant] daughter did terrible with it. Sensitivities aside, heritage wheats or landraces are varieties that did not undergo the aggressive breeding that occurred during the Green Revolution and thereafter. Durum wheat, which is a descendant of emmer, which only has 4 sets of chromosomes, is believed to be more digestible (according to some researchers). Before finding einkorn, I fed my daughter emmer, which is available in Italy, and still her symptoms remained severe.
The good news is that Carla’s daughter does fine with einkorn. This is true even though she cannot eat heritage wheat varieties without severe symptoms.
Please be very careful when believing stories of this or that heirloom wheat variety being unhybridized. Only einkorn is unhybridized. All other wheat varieties even those used for centuries contain a more complex gluten structure likely to trigger symptoms.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
More Information on Wheat
Can Celiacs Eat True Sourdough Bread?
No Knead Einkorn Sourdough Bread
Make Your Own Sourdough Starter
Kefir Soaked Einkorn Loaf
Einkorn: The Good Gluten You Can Probably Eat Just Fine
Einkorn Sourdough Crackers with Nut Butter
The 4 Reasons Why I Switched to Einkorn Wheat
Excellent info Sarah.
Where do you get your Einkorn from?
It’s very hard to find right now, unfortunately. Jovial usually has some!
Is there a difference from wheat berries grown in Italy(jovial) vs wheat berries grown in USA. (Breadtopia) said a small farm in Nebraska is where they are grown. Thank you
Thank you Sarah for sharing the truth in your article and in the comments. I appreciate it!
how many sets of chromosomes does spelt flour have?
Sarah Pope MGA
Spelt, an heirloom wheat, is the result of hybridization between cultivated emmer (4 sets of chromosomes) and another wild grass (2 sets of chromosomes). Thus, spelt contains six sets of chromosomes.
If spelt was truly unhybridized, it would contain only TWO sets of chromosomes, like einkorn. Einkorn is the ONLY unhybridized wheat on earth.
Heirloom does NOT necessarily mean unhybridized when it comes to wheat.
Do you have any documetation on the fact that Einkorn is the only non hybridized wheat? Because everything I’m reading says, that among others, Spelt and Kamut are non hybridized heirloom varieties as well. I once purchased whole Einkorn and it wouldn’t even sprout. It appeared to have been pearled. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed with it. I baked with it also and the breads were gummy like white flour. I do however love Spelt and Kamut. I would appreciate some links to validify your claims. Thanks.
Sarah Pope MGA
Spelt and kamut are both hybridized. Their genetic structure proves the point. Einkorn is the ONLY wheat in the world that is diploid. This means that contains only 2 sets of chromosomes. About 2,000 years after einkorn wheat, nature created emmer via the hybridization of 2 wild grasses. Consequently, emmer has 4 sets of chromosomes. Kamut and durum (bulgur) wheat are both descendants of emmer.
Spelt, an heirloom wheat, is the result of hybridization between cultivated emmer and another wild grass. Thus, it contains six sets of chromosomes. Modern wheat is a descendant of spelt.
Sarah, is apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon, safe to use when sprouting Jovial einkorn berries? How do you sprout the einkorn berries? I appreciate you introducing us to this wonderful ancient wheat. My whole family enjoys it.
Sarah Pope MGA
You don’t use apple cider vinegar as part of the sprouting process. ACV is used for soaking but not sprouting.
Here is a video plus recipe on how to sprout wheat berries. Einkorn would be exactly the same. https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/video-thursday-sprouting-flour/
Is durum wheat hybridized, compared to kamut?
Yes, durum wheat is hybridized. The only completely nonhybridized wheat on planet Earth is Einkorn. There are some heirloom wheats that have been used for centuries as outlined in this article, but they are all hybridized.
I am currently making a sourdough starter from Kamut flour, is it just as good as Einkorn flour?
Is kamut just as good as Einkorn flour? I am currently making a sourdough out of it.
Kamut is fine. I prefer einkorn.