The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide

Allergy Cooking with Ease

Easy Bread Making for Special Diets

Easy Cooking for Special Diets




The Spelt-Wheat "Debate"

A great deal of confusion has risen concerning spelt recently. The United States Government is now requiring that foods be labeled to indicate whether they contain any of eight food allergens. As part of the implementation of this law, the FDA has declared that spelt is wheat and that spelt must be labeled as wheat. Although spelt and wheat are indeed closely related, they are two different species in the same genus. Spelt is Triticum spelta and wheat is Triticum aestivum. When asked why they had decided that spelt is wheat, an FDA official said that it was because spelt contains gluten. (They had no answer to the question of whether rye would also be considered wheat because it contains gluten, and indeed, bags of rye flour in the health food store are still labeled “wheat-free”). Spelt does indeed contain gluten and should not be eaten by anyone who is gluten-sensitive or has celiac disease, but the presence of gluten does not make spelt wheat. Wheat and kamut are also in the same genus (Triticum) but are different species, so they are as closely related as spelt and wheat, yet the FDA has not ruled that kamut is wheat.

The gluten in spelt behaves differently than the gluten in wheat in cooking. It is extremely difficult to make seitan from spelt. When making it from wheat, a process of soaking in hot water is used to remove the starch from the protein. If the same process is followed with spelt, the protein structure also dissolves in the hot water. Spelt seitan must be washed by hand very carefully under running cold water.

Because the gluten in spelt is more soluble than wheat gluten, making yeast bread with spelt is also different than making it with wheat. The individual gluten molecules join up more readily to form long chains and sheets that trap the gas produced by yeast. This means that it is possible to over-knead spelt bread. There are some bread machines that work quite well for wheat and even other allergy breads but are unacceptable for spelt bread because they knead so vigorously that they over-develop the gluten. See pages 32 to 33 of Easy Breadmaking for Special Diets for recommendations about bread machines to use for making spelt bread.

It is possible that the greater solubility of spelt protein makes it easier to digest than wheat. Undoubtedly, most people have had much less prior exposure to spelt than to wheat resulting in less opportunity to become allergic to spelt.

Whatever the reason, there are many people who suffer allergic reactions after eating wheat but do not react to spelt. (I have talked to hundreds of them). Restricting one’s diet unnecessarily, as the new law will undoubtedly lead people to do, is counterproductive to good nutrition. Although celiacs and those with gluten intolerance should not consume spelt, SOME people with food allergies can eat it without reaction. Consult your doctor about your own food allergy test results and follow the diet recommended for you, but do not unnecessarily restrict spelt consumption based on the faulty logic behind the new government labeling requirements.

The FDA declaring that spelt is wheat says more about how our government deals with food and health issues than it does about either spelt or wheat. In the 1990s, the herb stevia was banned in spite of the fact that it has a long history of safe use in other parts of the world. In my somewhat paranoid opinion, this is because “someone” (the Big Pharma makers of aspartame?) felt that stevia could be economic competition. The spelt-wheat debate reminds me of this situation. However, stevia is no longer on FDA “import alert” and is now on the baking aisle in my health food store, even though the FDA has mandated that is can be sold only as a supplement, not as food. So we can hope that spelt will someday be given a similar reprieve by the government. Talk to your doctor, and follow the dietary advice he or she gives you rather than listening to the FDA.

This page was taken almost directly from Easy Breadmaking for Special Diets © 2007, but most of this same text is also included in The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide, Allergy Cooking with Ease, and Easy Cooking for Special Diets.


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