The Wheat of our Ancestors
Mini-Medical School #3, June 2, 2018
Stephanie Taylor MD PhD
Wheat-related Medical Problems:
Celiac disease is an absolute gluten intolerance. It is cause by an immune reaction to wheat proteins, specifically gliadin and glutenins. These proteins are found in bread wheat, spelt, durum, barley, Kamut, barley and rye. They also occur in some types of oats. The only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet. The incidence rages in different populations from 1/40 to 1/300. The uncertainty is due to the difficulty of diagnosis, especially in mildly affected persons. Written historical refer to celiac disease as long ago as 100 C.E.
Wheat Allergy-This is an immune reaction mediated by a different antibody and to a different part of the wheat. Twenty-seven different proteins are implicated as causing Wheat Allergy. Estimates of the frequency of this intolerance varies with a maximum of 3/10 persons affected. This estimate is confounded by symptoms due to the high incidence of glyphosate (Round-up) in conventionally farmed wheat.
The Ancient Wheats
Wheats are usually categorized by their number of chromosomes, by their preferred growing season (winter, spring) or by the anatomy of the hull’s resistance to threshing.
Diploid (Fourteen chromosomes)-Einkorn
Tetraploid (Twenty eight Chromosomes)-Emmer, Durum, Kamut (Khorasan)
Hexaploid (Forty two chromosomes) – Bread wheat (Green Revolution), Spelt.
Another, more nuanced categorization is the term “Landrace wheat”. Landraces are locally adapted plants or animals. There is more genetic diversity in landraces than in cultivated monocrops or purebred animals.
Clearly, most of the wheat now consumed is bread wheat. This is a homogeneous wheat bred for high yield, easy threshing and resistance to lodging (falling over). It is also heavily sprayed with herbicides because it does not compete well with weeds, unlike the older landraces. It requires heavy nitrogen fertilization, and it does not re-charge the soil as do landraces.
Green revolution bread wheat has a fourfold the increase in the amount of gluten. This was necessary because industrial bread kneading requires a tough gluten to tolerate the mechanical kneading. Hand kneading develops gluten more gently over time. In addition to the higher gluten, Bread Wheat has a significant increase in one of the most active gluten epitopes that trigger celiac disease.
The bran and germ are taken out of wheat bread, as the germ does not have a very long shelf life, and synthetic vitamins are added back to the white flour making it “enriched”. If you remember Adele Davis (1904-1974), wheat germ was probably a part of your life. She published several nutrition books that were quite influential in the 1950s.
Sourdough starter is also another aspect of the nutrition story. Sourdough pre-digests the wheat and makes it more digestible and nutrients more available.
Clearly, individuals with celiac disease should avoid all wheats. However, it is clear from this short summary above that some wheats are more likely to cause problems, with our current bread wheat at the top of the list.
New Old Friends:
Einkorn- The mother grain, the first domesticated grain with a 12,000 year relationship to humans. It has higher levels of protein, phosphorus, magnesium, Vitamin B6, beta carotene, lutein, and essential fatty acids. Gluten level is low. In studies, it has a very low glycemic index (ability to increase blood sugar).
Emmer- Commonly known as farro. Many different landraces.
Khorsan/Kamut-high in protein (7 grams per serving) selenium, zinc, magnesium and iron.
Red Fife-This was hugely popular in the 19th century as a bread wheat, and is making a comeback. It is Prince Charles favorite wheat.
Sonora- Introduced by Spanish missionaries in the 16th century. It has a buttery, nutritious taste.
Methow- Bluebird grain’s methow flour is milled fresh to order from spring planted Methow Hard Red Wheat berries. The protein ranges from 12-13%. It is a pleasantly bitter flour with floral tones and nutty crumb. It can be used just like your common “whole wheat flour” in breads. Experience the difference of fresh milled flour in your baked goods, we promise you will never turn back!
Pasayten- Pasayten Hard White Wheat is a plump chewy whole grain berry with a delightful mild flavor and high protein content (12-14%, depending on the growing season). Its high protein, mild flavor, and soft texture allows for ultimate baking versatility.
For more information:
https://californiagrains.com/- promotes education and access to regionally produced, whole foods.
http://wholegrainconnection.org/- promotes education and access of bakers to whole landrace grains.
www.farmermai.com- she is completely amazing.
Restoring Heritage Grains by Eli Rogosa- A luminous book.
Einkorn by Carla Bartolucci Everything you need to know about working with a low gluten grain.
The New Bread Basket by Amy Halloran More good stuff.