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Is spelt related to wheat?

Spelt is an ancient strain of a grain that is very closely related to present-day wheat. Both belong to the Triticum family of plants, and spelt is often referred to in scientific language as Triticum aestivum L. emend. Thell. In fact, these grains are close enough in their relationship for many scientists to be comfortable referring to spelt as a species of wheat, or even the term "spelt wheat."

However, spelt is by no means identical to the today's most common species of wheat. Importantly, spelt appears to have far more genetic variability than species of wheat more commonly used in today's agriculture. This greater genetic variability means that spelt is very likely to contain a mixture of proteins that is significantly different than the mixture found in commonly used wheat species. This difference in protein mixture may also mean a lower risk of allergic response to spelt than wheat, even though these two grains belong to the same botanical family.

From a nutritional perspective, whole spelt and whole wheat are generally similar. Whole wheat may contain about one to five grams of additional fiber than whole spelt (per cup of cooked grains), but it will also contain about one to four grams less protein. Still, I would consider both of these whole grains to be making contributions to your diet in terms of these macronutrients.

With respect to vitamins, both whole wheat and whole spelt provide you with many of the B-vitamins. You'll get about 50% more folate in the whole wheat, but about 50% more vitamin B3 in the whole spelt. You're also going to do better with whole spelt in terms of vitamin E and vitamin A, even though spelt is not a concentrated source of either vitamin. The minerals iron, magnesium, and manganese have similar concentrations in whole wheat and whole spelt. Whole spelt comes out more favorably in terms of selenium, potassium, and phosphorus, even though it is not a rich source of these minerals. Calcium is better supplied by whole wheat, though once again, the amount is relatively small. If you are trying to maximize your intake of any nutrient mentioned above, it might make sense to choose whole wheat over whole spelt, or vice-versa, depending on the nutrients in question. But from a very broad perspective, I recommend that you treat these two grains as nutritionally similar and healthy alternatives for supporting your overall nutrient intake.

If you are looking for spelt berries, spelt flour, or spelt baked goods and can't find them in your local supermarket, check the natural food stores in your area since they are more than likely to carry a wide array of products made from spelt.

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