In 2011 and 2012, I came to the realization that wheat was doing nasty things to my body. Over a year of constant diarrhea was my biggest symptom. I tend to be skeptical of nutrition and diet fads that claim a laundry list of symptoms can be cured if you just follow this very super special eating program. However, I obviously needed to do something, and since GI problems were my biggest issue, I went after the most common culprit and eliminated wheat. Bingo! Problems solved. Living gluten free is a huge deal, though, especially living in a large family where everything is bought and cooked in bulk. I didn’t stay gluten-free, drifting in and out as my symptoms came and went.
After hearing about spelt from a friend, and reading the book “Wheat Belly“, I came up with a very workable solution for my health and my family: switching from wheat to spelt. The book “Wheat Belly” gives a lot of information to explain why wheat might be causing health problems. (Yes, the book goes completely off the deep end, as all diet books seem to do, but the first few chapters are very good.) This gave me the scientific information I needed to support a switch to spelt. Trials of spelt eating showed that my body could tolerate this grain just fine, with none of the symptoms I had been getting from wheat. Also, around this time I realized that Kender also had a sensitivity to wheat, and he also did well switching to spelt. Even our family doctor supported the change!
Going to spelt for the whole family has a lot of benefits. It eliminates something close to 90% of processed food from our diet, immediately, especially when combined with my aversion to high fructose corn syrup. (No, I’m not on that bandwagon for health reasons, purely taste.) This means that we instantly started eating a much fresher, home-cooked diet. Because I didn’t want to spend my entire life in the kitchen trying to duplicate what could previously just be bought, many of our meals became simpler. Our dinner choices broadened out from typical American and Texan fare to include curries and stir-fries. My favorite restaurant changed from Texas Roadhouse to Thai Princess.
Making the switch to spelt seems to be difficult for a lot of people. I found a very easy way to simplify it: measure your flour by weight, instead of by volume. Really, this is a good idea for bakers anyway, and it is a suggestion that Alton Brown constantly harped on for producing consistent results. Because spelt has a different density from modern wheat, using volume measurements to convert wheat recipes to spelt tends to have disastrous results. Trying to compensate for this by fiddling around is tedious and way too much work for me. When I was in the process of transitioning, I just weighed out what I considered a standard cup of flour and found it to weigh 138 grams. I made a note of that weight, and that is what I use now. Whenever I make a recipe, the spelt gets measured in grams using an 11-pound digital kitchen scale. This works fantasticly nearly every time.
A second property of spelt that particularly affects baking is that it is delicate, with somewhat less gluten content than modern wheat. It will not want to create the same delicate, airy, fluffy bread results. However, you can get nearly as good by increasing your leavening agents slightly (baking powder, yeast), and by decreasing the amount of mixing or kneading that you do. When making sandwich bread or rolls, for example, I only mix the dough until it comes together. I do not knead the dough any further. When punching down and shaping the dough for the second rise, I handle it as little and as gently as possible. Doing this helps preserve the structure of the dough, and allows me to get much lighter breads. Sometimes I will also add eggs to a recipe, even if it did not originally call for them, to help the final bread be less crumbly.
In this section, I will be posting some recipes that I have perfected using spelt flour, with more detailed instructions on how to get the best results.