Einkorn – The Old and New Great Grain

Triticum monococcum Spikelets PI 10474 Triticum monococcum subsp. monococcum POACEAE Cultivar name: EINKORN. Collected in: Thuringia, Germany. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia
Triticum monococcum Spikelets PI 10474 Triticum monococcum subsp. monococcum POACEAE Cultivar name: EINKORN. Collected in: Thuringia, Germany. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia
Triticum monococcum Spikelets PI 10474 Triticum monococcum subsp. monococcum POACEAE Cultivar name: EINKORN. Collected in: Thuringia, Germany. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia

With all the people avoiding wheat for allergy or disease reasons and the popularity of wheat-free  and low carbohydrate diets, I’ve been interested in ancient forms of wheat for years. (Also see my Grain in the Roman Diet and K. Kris Hirst’s archaeological information on wheat.) My recent abortive attempt to make chapatis using wheat suitable for bread one day and success the next grinding and making chapatis from a bag of wheat labelled “Haleem Wheat” has resurrected this interest. Today’s issue of JSTOR Daily discusses the difference between the earliest, Einkorn Triticum monococcum, and the later Triticum aestivum, the resurgence of interest in the grain, and its precarious native home in a war torn area of the world. Read  Great Grains: HOW ANCIENT EINKORN BECAME THE NEW “IT” WHEAT.

In the millennia following einkorn’s domestication, the selection work of ancient farmers (coupled with a bit of good luck) produced a new and unusual kind of domesticated wheat, an extraordinary three-way hybrid among a wild wheat and a couple of closely related weeds in the goatgrass family. This strange new kind of wheat had two small physiological features that had huge implications for the way most of us humans eat. First, the new wheat had a softer and looser glume, the papery husk around the grain, which made it easier to thresh clean. Second, the stemlet connecting the seeds, called the rachis, was stronger and less brittle, meaning that the seeds didn’t fall off the plant before the farmer was ready to harvest. These properties made it a far more practical crop than einkorn. That strange new wheat, of course, is the common wheat (Triticum aestivum) we’re used to today.

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