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After a long hiatus, pasta is back for many of us! Why? Because pasta isn’t synonymous with wheat anymore. You can get chickpea pasta, lentil pasta, rice pasta, and more. There’s another (ancient) option you may have seen recently on store shelves… einkorn flour.
While shopping in the “healthier pasta” section, you may have come across one based on something called einkorn. You won’t find it labeled gluten-free, but this ancient grain-based pasta is more tolerable than wheat for many people. Here’s what you need to know about einkorn.
What is Einkorn?
Einkorn comes from two German words meaning single grain. Einkorn wheat (triticum monococcum) is known as “man’s first wheat” and was grown at least 5,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. Similar ancient wheat varieties include emmer and spelt. All three grains are considered “farro,” an Italian word for ancient hulled wheat.
Einkorn is now primarily grown in Morocco, France, Turkey, Yugoslavia, and other parts of the former Soviet Union. It’s also grown in Italy. Because it’s protected by a thick hull/husk, einkorn can grow in a variety of soils and harsh climates.
These are the grains that were around during Biblical times. “Our daily bread” back then was much higher in protein, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber than our modern variety. It was also free of chemical additives, synthetic vitamins, corn syrup, and preservatives. Bread made with ancient grains wouldn’t have contributed to our modern diseases.
This health-promoting flour has a nutty flavor that enhances the taste of pasta and baked goods.
How Einkorn is Different From Modern Grains
Modern grains, in general, aren’t great for us. The introduction of modern semi-dwarf wheat came with many problems, which I explain here. Basically, modern grains are lower in minerals and higher in anti-nutrients like gluten and phytic acid compared to ancient grains like emmer, spelt, and einkorn. Modern wheat is also much higher in gluten.
Einkorn is genetically very different from modern wheat. While modern wheat has 42 chromosomes, einkorn only has 14. That simplicity also reflects a weaker gluten structure. Because it’s weaker, it breaks down more easily. Some people who are sensitive to gluten do fine with einkorn bread.
Dr. William Davis goes deeper into this topic in his popular book, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health. You can read my book review and thoughts on Wheat Belly here.
Another big difference between regular wheat and Einkorn is the glyphosate levels. US grown wheat is often sprayed with glyphosate to help it dry faster before harvest. Wheat fields saw a nearly 30% increase in glyphosate use from 2004 to 2017. While devastating for soil, it can also wreak havoc on our gut health.
Even unsprayed, organic wheat in the US can have glyphosate residue from neighboring farms. Testing from 2015 showed glyphosate in organic grains was only slightly less than in conventional options. Einkorn is grown in other countries with stricter pesticide standards.
Health Benefits of Einkorn Flour
Higher in protein, carotenes, manganese, and vitamin A, einkorn is nutritionally superior to many modern wheat varieties. It also has over triple the amount of the antioxidant lutein which improves memory and brain health. And, einkorn is usually easier to digest for most people.
Typical modern wheat can contribute to inflammation and gut damage. In lab studies, einkorn bread actually had anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also high in polyphenols and antioxidants.
If you’re looking for an easily digested bread, sourdough may be the best option. Sourdough fermentation breaks down phytic acid and better preserves the vitamin A content in einkorn. While einkorn is higher in the antinutrient phytic acid than modern wheat, it also has more phytase. Phytase is the enzyme that breaks down phytic acid.
Research from 2023 looked at the phytic acid content in various wheat species. Surprisingly, they found that using a rye flour sourdough starter with einkorn and other types of wheat drastically reduced phytic acid. Rye flour is much higher in phytase than most grains. Fermenting einkorn on its own still had a positive effect on unlocking more nutrients though.
How to Use Einkorn
You can find einkorn in many forms. It’s available as whole einkorn wheat berries, all-purpose einkorn flour, einkorn baking mix, pasta, crackers, and even packaged cookies. Einkorn flour works well as a substitute for modern all-purpose flour.
You can easily use whole grain einkorn flour instead of regular whole wheat flour in recipes.
However, you’ll need to make some adjustments to make up for the different densities. It’s a good idea to weigh the flour rather than relying on cup measurements. Sometimes the amount of liquid in the recipe needs to be reduced by about 15-20%.
Because einkorn is slower than wheat to absorb liquids, give the dough some time before adding more flour.
Where to Get Einkorn Products
My favorite einkorn company, which has widely available products, is Jovial Foods. They’re based in Italy, where glyphosate is heavily regulated. Jovial Foods has organic einkorn flour, plus sourdough crackers, a few varieties of pasta, and some tasty cookies.
They also have the einkorn grain berries, which you can crack in a food processor and use as cereal like you would oatmeal. You can also buy them whole and then grind them fresh with a grain mill when you need flour.
Jovial has some helpful einkorn baking tips here.
Healthy Einkorn Recipes
You can easily incorporate einkorn into a healthy diet. Here are some recipes for inspiration:
There are lots of possibilities for using this delicious and nutrient-dense ancient grain.
Who Shouldn’t Use Einkorn
Those with celiac disease probably shouldn’t consume einkorn as it still has gluten. However, research has found it doesn’t have the toxic component gliadin, so some may be fine consuming it. It likely varies with disease severity (Some celiacs cannot enter a bakery).
Those with gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity may be able to tolerate it. Properly preparing it through fermentation like in sourdough further improves digestibility.
What I Personally Do When it Comes to Grains and Einkorn
For the most part, I still avoid grains, especially gluten-containing ones. But occasionally, I’ll consume grains and make them for my family. I just opt for white rice or properly prepared organic einkorn and other whole grains. I’ll soak, ferment, or sprout them first to improve their nutrient levels.
I also make sure grains don’t become a staple in my family’s diet. Instead, we focus on fresh produce, grass-fed and organic proteins, and beneficial fats. Whenever possible, I use vegetables in place of grains. Cabbage works as spaghetti noodles, and sweet potatoes can serve as lasagna noodles. These vegetable-based grain substitutes add more nutrients and flavor.
Still, I love the nutty taste of einkorn, and will occasionally include some einkorn flour or pasta to add variety to our diet.
Have you used einkorn flour or other products? What are your favorites, and how do you use them? Share with us below!