protein. Spelt averages between 14 and 15 percent; some types have even exceeded 17 percent. The grain also has greater concentrations of minerals and vitamins. Even with its lower yield, spelt can produce more protein per hectare than modern breadwheat. And a growing number of consumers are acclaiming the ''nutty" taste of products baked from spelt flour.
Spelt's environmental advantages are proving even more important. "The kernel is protected against fungi or insects by the close-fitting husk," explains Christof Kling, head of wheat breeding at Hohenheim University in Stuttgart. "This means the crop is very appropriate for use in environmentally sensitive areas or where farmers want to use less pesticide, or even none at all."
In the old days, when people had to thresh grain by hand, the very attribute that helps to protect the grain against pests and diseases—the close-fitting husk—was an overwhelming disadvantage. But in our mechanized era it is inconsequential.
Like einkorn and emmer, spelt never disappeared entirely, but until recently it was grown in only a few isolated pockets in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria. Now all that has changed. In fact, enthusiasm for this long-lost grain is so high that spelt in the early 1990s is being cultivated on over 6,000 hectares in Germany alone. Indeed, a special organization (the Dinkelacker Foundation) has been established to help foster this prodigal son's return from the Stone Age.
Recently, researchers in Syria have become excited over emmer. Samples gathered from different parts of the country grew surprisingly well when planted at two ecologically different locations (Tel Hadya and Breda). A wealth of qualities soon became apparent. The researchers concluded that their samples were: "an important genetic reservoir of variability for useful characters such as earliness, short stem, high number of fertile tillers [see picture overpage], long spikes, dense spikes, high number of seeds per spike, weight of kernels per spike, and protein content."
They also noted that most of the emmers exhibited traits suitable for cultivation in the arid areas. "Tolerance to drought is also one of [the] traits, which could be used in breeding wheat for the dry areas," they said.