Turkish bakers tell a story about their patron saint Adam and his expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In exile Adam met the archangel Gabriel, who taught him the secret of bread making. Adam then swore this secret to his descendants, who carry it today into the everyday bread of the Fertile Crescent countries including Anatolia, the Caucasus and Egypt.
Wheat flour has a long history in the region – einkorn was domesticated in the mountains of eastern Anatolia – and it is probably fair to argue without much contradiction that the bakers of Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey are without comparison when they employ their skills to produce dough that is made into crescent bread, loaf bread, flatbread, ring bread, small bread and into the various types of pastries. Gravitas, quality and tradition epitomise these breads and pastries, which are baked early and consumed fresh throughout the day from homes and local bakeries across the region and throughout Europe where migrants from these countries have settled.
Bulgur, with a tradition more than 10,000 years old, has remained popular, especially in Turkey where it was known as the ‘senior of the home’. There was a time when every household would boil the whole wheat, dry it in the sun, then grind it in a large bulgur mill during an annual community event. Bulgar is now made commercially, fine ground for use in köfte (meatballs) and coarse ground for use in pilaf (rice). Superfine bulgur is almost as fine as flour, and is used to make soup.
During the Ottoman period the breads and pastries of Anatolia, the Levant and Persia made their way westwards. The techniques became known as Viennoiserie, penetrated western Europe in the late 1800s, and changed the traditional attitudes toward the sourdough bread culture of France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Scandinavia and Switzerland and the aromatic flatbreads of the Mediterranean countries, which had also begun to infiltrate the outer reaches of Europe.
The issue over gluten might weaken wheat, it is difficult to know. For now, in the countries with a wheat tradition, it is still in the ascendency. Somehow though there is a sensibility that suggests a move toward other grains, especially spelt which can be grown on marginal land and a grain we have forgotten about.
The Turks have another story. A tree’s roots are in the earth, a man’s roots are in bread. Wheat no more, the future of bread will be different. So is triticum monoccoccum, the origin wheat grain we know as einkorn. An Anatolian native, einkorn is a hardy grain. It can tolerate extreme climatic conditions and is resistant to diseases and pests, and it could become the saviour once again. Modern wheat varieties pushed grains like einkorn into the background, now the role has been reversed. Einkorn is back in the ascendancy!
Called siyez in Turkish, einkorn is grown in the Balkans, France, Morocco and Turkey, where it is seen as a healthy alternative to modern wheat, especially genetically modified wheat. Like spelt, that other ancient grain that has regained prominence, siyez has a low glycaemic index and is therefore easily digested. It also has a low gluten content. It contains twice as much vitamin A as modern wheat, more iron and more zinc.
It began with ancient einkorn and it could continue with modern einkorn.