Spelt flour is a non-wheat flour made from an ancient cereal grain in the wheat family with a reputation for high nutrition and easy digestibility. Although spelt flour does contain gluten, many people with gluten and wheat allergies can enjoy products made with spelt flour without ill effects. Spelt grains that are stone-ground are left whole, resulting in a more nutrient-rich, high-energy flour.
Like wheat, spelt grains are made up of three parts: the outer layer of bran, the sperm and the endosperm. The sperm can be compared to the yolk of an egg with its rich concentration of B vitamins, unsaturated fats and high-quality protein. The endosperm, like the egg white, makes up for a larger percentage of the kernel and contains trace minerals, incomplete proteins and large amounts of starch and carbohydrates. Since the late 1930s, wheat has been genetically modified to yield a larger endosperm with proportionately higher amounts of starch, generating 40 percent more grain. Spelt is an early variety of wheat and as of 2013 has not been genetically modified.
Keeping the bran, sperm and the endosperm of the wheat together produces the most nutritionally beneficial flour. Conventional flour mills, such as hammer and rolling mills, use heat to process the wheat, soaking the grains first before grinding and separating the bran layers. Stone-milled flours are ground at lower temperatures without first soaking the wheat, keeping the bran layers and more of the nutrients intact. This process takes longer and usually results in a flour with a higher cost per pound.
Spelt flour behaves like whole wheat flour and can easily be substituted cup for cup in recipes calling for whole wheat flour. When substituting for all-purpose or white flour, do not replace more than one-half of the white flour with spelt. It can result in heavier baked goods, so consider bumping up the baking powder a notch to help it rise. It might also be necessary to decrease the amount of total liquid. When making bread with spelt flour, the gluten isn’t as durable and so a shorter kneading time is recommended.
Wheat flours that are made by traditional mills do not contain the whole germ and so have a much longer shelf life. Whole-grain, stone ground flour can turn rancid more quickly due to its natural oils. To keep your spelt flour fresh, refrigerate or freeze in tightly covered containers so it won’t absorb moisture and other flavors. Bring out a few pounds of flour at a time, warming to room temperature before baking. A bay leaf in your flour container also prevents unwelcome weevils.