Tag: Spelt

Indigenous Ingredients | Spelt

Andrew Workman surveys one of his spelt fields in Dunany, county Louth, Ireland

Lucius Annaeus Seneca was the most distinguished of the Spanish writers of the Roman imperial age.

Born in Corduba in Andalucia to a Roman equestrian family, Seneca was brought to Rome as a child and seemed destined for a political career. Instead, he became a stoic philosopher, producing wise words that carry moral echoes down the ages to us.

Seneca grew up in a Rome that distributed welfare in the form of free grain, spelt among barley and emmer, an expedient consequence of the food riots, 60 years before he was born, in 59 BC.

An ancient hardy grass thought to be native to both Persia 8,000 years ago and south-eastern Europe 4,000 years ago, spelt was cultivated throughout the continent from the Caucasus to Scandinavia.

Three thousand years ago, river valley communities in the south of Ireland were cooking with spelt berries.

The ancient Greeks and Romans expanded its use. Roman armies lived on spelt (along with barley), making an early version of polenta.

Nearly one thousand years ago, Abbess Hildegard von Bingen of Rupertsberg wrote enthusiastically about spelt. ‘It makes people cheerful with a friendly disposition,’ she said. ‘Those who eat it have healthy flesh and good blood.’

Spelt has been making a comeback in recent decades, largely in southern Germany and in nothern Switzerland, where older varieties have been cultivated.

Known as urdinkel (old spelt), the range of flours milled from spelt are going into every type of bread and pastry, replacing wheat in many recipes.

It is also becoming increasingly popular in Ireland, where Andrew and Leonie Workman grow, mill and package spelt berries and flour from their farm in Dunany, on the coast below the ancient land of Oriel above the Boyne Valley.

Spelt, with barley, einkorn and emmer wheat, remained a staple in Europe until the 20th century, when it fell out of favour for numerous reasons, not least the problems associated with harvesting, separating and milling it into flour.

The Workmans have got round these problems with modern machinery. Now spelt is one of their biggest sellers and they have high hopes for the berries, which can be used in salads and stews, to make risotto and soaked whole to be baked in bread.

Spelt Berries

Dominick Gryson, a Louth man who has experimented with ancient grains to find strong shafts for thatching, believes the Workmans have found a great artisan product.

‘Spelt does not give the same yield as modern wheats, which do not grow well here in our climate,’ he says. ‘Spelt, on the other hand, is suited to the soil and the climate and can be sold as a high-value organic product.’

Dermot Seberry, who champions the Workmans’ produce in his book, A Culinary Journey in the North-East (of Ireland), agrees. ‘They fit in with the super food group and are a substitute for risotto rice and barley in the likes of stews and black pudding,’ he says.

‘For me, it is personal. They are low-gluten and have high nutritional content, particularly for the over-thirties, who have become hyper aware of inner health. Not a trending product but very much the next big little food!’

Spelt contains beneficial minerals, unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins (B and E), and has six of the eight essential amino acids that stimulate the production of happiness hormones, just as the abbess said.

But it is the low GI (glycaemic index of carbohydrates) that makes spelt a primary health product. With 35 compared to 40 for wheat and 70 for rice, spelt releases glucose more slowly into the bloodstream, balancing out blood sugar levels.

Spelt saved the early Roman Empire but it also sustained the tribes of barbarians who brought about the fall of Rome and allowed their descendants to supplant Roman power throughout Europe.

Something that powerful is worth promoting, especially now that modern wheat has lost its allure and the wisdom of the ancients, Seneca and von Bingen among them, is finally being listened to.


Ingredient | Spelt (Ireland)

Andrew Workman surveys one of his spelt fields before harvest

Andrew and Leonie Workman grow, mill and package organic / bio rye, spelt and wheat from their farm in Dunany, in county Louth, servicing a desperate need for good quality flour and grains in Ireland.

There has been an increasing interest in spelt in Ireland, which has seen bakers all over the country struggle to supply the demand.

The Workmans are being supported in their efforts by bakers and chefs, who are making spelt products with the flour and grains from Dunany.

Irish Spelt Bread

Irish Spelt Bread
  • 250 g strong white flour
  • 230 ml milk or whey, warmed
  • 200 g wholemeal spelt flour
  • 50 g spelt berries, soaked for an hour in 100 ml water, drained
  • 20 g yeast
  • 20 g honey
  • 10 g salt Butter, for greasing

Dissolve honey and yeast in milk or whey. Add to flours, knead for ten minutes into a smooth dough, working in berries at the end.

Desired dough temperature 25°C.

Leave to rise at for an hour.

Degas, leave to rise for a further hour.

Divide into two equal-sized loaves, place on buttered tray, leave for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200°C oven.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Spelt Berry Salad

Chef and food educator Dermot Seberry devised this recipe to promote spelt berries.

  • Soak 250 grams of berries in 1.5 litres of water overnight.
  • Rinse, then simmer in 1.5 litres of vegetable stock for one hour.
  • Drain and leave to cool.
  • In a separate bowl add a selection of ingredients, to give colour and texture.
  • For crunch, 1 stick of finely diced celery, carrot and bell pepper.
  • For softness, 10 halved green grapes.
  • For pop, 1 tbsp of capers.
  • For aroma and flavour, chopped fresh chives, fresh mint, crushed garlic.
  • For tang and zing – a squeeze of lemon juice, lemon zest and a good pinch of salt.
  • For bite, a small sprinkle of dried chilli flakes.
  • For presentation and garnish, use the purple flower petals from the chives and pomegranate.
  • Mix in cooked berries and leave to marinate for five minutes.

A Culinary JourneyFood Educators

The story of Dunany spelt is featured in




Noodles made from grain flour were an integral aspect of the daily diet in central Europe long before the Polos came back from China with their stories about the food they ate in Asia.

Spelt, which thrived in poor soils, was a popular cereal across Europe because it was high in protein. By the 18th century it was being used to make the pasta noodles known as knöpfle and spätzle.

Several regions in the mountain areas around the Alps regard these noodles as their ‘national’ dish, the principality of Liechtenstein being one.

250 g spelt flour 
4 eggs
100 ml water 
50 g semolina
15 ml aromatic oil
1 tsp salt
300 g Appenzeller or Gruyère, grated
3 onions, cut into rings 
15 g flour
Clarified butter

Sieve flour and salt into a large bowl with the semolina.

Beat eggs with water and oil.

Pour egg mixture into flour, beat with a spoon to produce a thin smooth dough. Leave to rest for 30min.

Boil a large pot of salted water.

Using a spatula, push dough through strainer holes into boiling water.

Cook knöpfli until they rise to the surface, about 3min, lift out, drain.

Keep warm in 80°C oven.

Dredge onion rings in flour, fry in butter until crisp.

Dress knöpfli in cheese, top with onions.