Monday, October 29, 2012


Wheat is the staple food grain to millions of people around the world but unlike other grains wheat also offers some problems for some when it is consumed as part of a diet. Gluten allergy or sensitivity which affects about 10% of world population is a problem that cannot be easily wished away. The symptoms of gluten allergy can be almost same as that for celiac disease and wheat allergy, some of them being bloating, abdominal discomfort, head ache, migraines, muscular and bone joint pains, schizophrenia etc. Though wheat may not pose any risk to life as the symptoms can be easily treated, it does affect the quality of life for those diagnosed with wheat allergy. This is where the ancient Einkorn comes to their help as it has been found that the type of gluten in this grain is some what different from wheat gluten and therefore does not pose any threat. The science behind this is that to days wheat, Triticum aestivum is not a pure grain but evolved over thousands of years of history exposing it to natural hybridization process, changing the composition very significantly.

According to historical evidence Einkorn, Triticum boeoticum was consumed since BC 7000 and therefore had about 9000 years for changing some of its characteristics through cross pollination with wild grass species and other similar grains into modern day wheat. According to geneticists a major difference is in the number of chromosomes present in the grains with Einkorn possessing only 14 whereas that in wheat is either 28 or 42 and naturally this should have an influence in the protein make up of these grains. Wheat allergy is often attributed to the properties of the gliadin component in gluten present in modern wheat. Probably Einkorn gluten with different gliadin component is better tolerated by wheat sensitive population and this has given a new status to this ancient grain as a health food. New products based on Einkorn in place of wheat are continuously being developed targeting gluten sensitive consumers.

There are a number of reasons why health food industry is lately focusing attention on Einkorn and if availability is not a critical factor, products made from this unique grain would have captured a sizable market in the wheat based food products. The fact that it is a hulled grain like Paddy grain makes it immune to contamination by pesticides and other man made chemicals. It has one of the highest protein content viz about 18-20% compared to 10-12% in normal wheat. Besides it has 3-4 times more beta carotene (for boosting immunity, prevent cancers and CVD), 2 times more Vitamin A (for healthy eyes, reproductive system and preventing certain cancers), 3-4 times more Lutein ( for preventing macular degeneration and cataracts) and 4-5 times more Riboflavin (more efficient energy metabolism). One of the most interesting data is that in Einkorn gluten the ratio of gliadin fraction to glutelin fraction is about 2:1 while the corresponding ratio in wheat is 0.8:1 which probably may explain the relatively better tolerance of Einkorn by gluten sensitive consumers. One of the constraints in popularizing any food as a replacement for some thing already well established  in the minds of consumers is the quality of products made and it is here that Einkorn may be some what inferior to modern wheat, making it difficult to be seen as a competitor to normal wheat.

Information is scanty regarding the suitability of Einkorn flour for making many popular products like different varieties of bread, biscuits and crackers, pastries etc though with the range of baking technologies available to day it is not beyond the capabilities of baking technologists to develop products comparable in quality to that of similar products made from normal wheat. It appears the dough characteristics of Einkorn grain is some what inferior and water retention lower giving it a sticky characteristics. The dough is similar to that made from soft wheat and hence it should be possible to make biscuit type of products from it with acceptable quality. Some of the bread making studies indicated that white bread made from Einkorn flour was inferior to that from wheat in almost all parameters associated with good quality bread. Similarly pasta products made from Einkorn also are not comparable in quality to normal pasta though some consumers rated them as more pleasant to taste. Ultimately Einkprn will have to exploit its higher nutritive value and practically insignificant gluten sensitivity for establishing any sizable market.

Commercially no relative of the modern wheat Triticum aestivum can compete against it because of the tremendous advances made in the field of wheat science by thousands of scientists across the Globe and there is not much that is not known as far this modern day staple grain is concerned. Closely related grains like diploidal Einkorn (T. boeticum wild or T.monococcum cultivated)  or tetrapoidal Emmer grains or Hexaploidal Spelt grains do not have same properties like the present day wheat which are essential for making high quality processed food products.


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