Once revered by the ancient Romans as their primary and most beloved cereal, spelt held a sacred place in their culture until the advent of wheat. Its illustrious history dates back to the Neolithic era, making it the oldest cultivated grain known to mankind. References to spelt can even be found in the Bible and among the treasures of Egyptian tombs.
The significance of spelt in Roman society extended beyond mere sustenance, with religious festivals like the Fornacalia and Carnalia honoring its divine essence. Its importance was underscored by rituals such as the confarreatio, a matrimonial ceremony reserved for the elite whose parents had wed in similar fashion.
In the culinary realm, spelt flourished as the cornerstone of Roman legionnaires’ diets, used to craft libum, bread, and plus—a precursor to modern polenta. The grain underwent a meticulous process of roasting and milling, yielding farrina, a term synonymous with flour in contemporary Italian.
From a botanical standpoint, spelt encompasses three distinct varieties—triticum monococcum, triticum dicoccum, and triticum spelta—each flourishing in the region stretching from the Mediterranean to the Caucasus. Despite its lower gluten content compared to common wheat, spelt remains unsuitable for those with celiac disease.
Beyond its historical significance, spelt boasts a nutritional profile that rivals its modern counterparts. With a higher percentage of B vitamins, proteins, and water, spelt emerges as a wholesome alternative. Its unique carbohydrate composition supports blood coagulation and stimulates the immune system, while its protein and fiber content promote satiety, making it a favorite among those seeking weight loss.
In the kitchen, spelt’s versatility shines through in a myriad of culinary creations. Whether boiled or ground into flour for bread, cakes, or fresh pasta, spelt offers a delightful addition to any dish. The market offers two main varieties—hulled spelt and pearl spelt—each lending its distinct flavor and texture to culinary endeavors.
Moreover, spelt extends its utility beyond the confines of the kitchen, with spelt chaff employed in the creation of therapeutic pillows renowned for their pain-relieving properties.